Another busy day on Heritage Crafts Association work today, but then my workshop is still snowbound so it’s easier to get into Sheffield. First meeting was a very positive visit to Kelham Island Museum to meet the director of Sheffield’s Industrial Museums Trust, John Hamshere. John was very interested in the work of the HCA, enthusiastic and supportive. We are currently exploring possibilities for an apprenticeship type scheme to try to help some of the craftspeople of the cutlery industry pass on their skills. At Kelham Island they have a row of workshops for traditional cutlery crafts and one of these would make an ideal base for an apprentice to set up. The museum is well worth a visit.

Next it was off to meet Jon Henley of the Guardian. He is  doing a feature on Trevor Ablett pen and pocketknife maker who I have blogged about before. It will be part of his excellent “disappearing acts” series and will be in the Sat 23rd Jan Guardian. But my blog readers get a sneak preview. Jon writing, Chris photographing, Trevor posing.

Jon was so taken with Trevor’s knives he ordered 3 himself.

Trevor normally has a few finished knives in stock but he has been very busy on a large order of Etricks, these are an unusual but traditional design.

Over a hasty lunch we discussed the work of the HCA, the plight of traditional crafts, the fact that at both national and local level we are not recognised within the arts and culture area (where the inovative has been prioritised over the traditional) nor as heritage whish is restricted to buildings and monuments. Just round the corner at Portland Works we saw an excellent example. Portland is the first place in the world where stainless steel was made into cutlery. I suspect that approaching half the worlds population use stainless cutlery today making it a more widely used cultural export than the English language. We visited the workshop where that first cutlery would have been forged which is still used today for forging tools, the last place in Sheffield forging tools like bolster chisels.

They can forge 4 bolsters a minute but still most chisels sold in the UK are made more cheaply in China.

Because it is so special this building is Grade II* listed the highest designation, the fabric of the building is protected but not the culture and the heritage that comes from 150 years of continual use for metalwork trades. A few years ago the building was bought by a speculative property developer who has applied for planning permission to evict the businesses and turn it into flats. There is a group who are trying to oppose the move but under current planning legislation so long as the fabric of the building is preserved then it is difficult to argue that there is a loss of cultural value.

The HCA are working hard to campaign for a change in policy so that this sort of cultural heritage is recognised and valued as much as the buildings. After all Sheffield is known the world over, not for its nice flats that were once metal trade buildings, but for steel and cutting tools. I can’t imagine Stratford turning it’s back on Shakespeare and saying we can’t be stuck in the past we have to be forward looking.

Author Robin Wood

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