Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 1743-1993

By Geoffrey Tweedale | Go to book overview

Sustaining a Lead in
Cutlery and Tools

Sheffield cutlery has taken the lead, and kept it, not by any development of the factory system, or wholesale introduction of machinery, but by the simple means of putting the best workmanship on the best materials. Nowhere perhaps in the kingdom are the ideas of masters and workpeople more conservative than they are here. The old methods are universally regarded as the best, and no new-fangled notions are supposed to have any chance against special knowledge and skill of hand and eye.

As regards foreign competition, the mind of the typical Sheffield artisan is strongly imbued and fortified with the notion that it can never touch him seriously. He admits that the low-priced labour of France, Belgium, and Germany will enable those countries to undersell him in the very commonest wares, but he cares little for that; he contends that the business of a cutting instrument is to cut, and if that is what is wanted people must come to him. It takes a great deal to disturb his equanimity on the subject.

Charles Hibbs in Great Industries of Great Britain ( London, 1886), iii. 190, 225.

The contrast between Sheffield's pleasant leafy suburbs to the south-west of the town and the grimy manufacturing districts along the River Don has always been marked. But in a city intersected by so many hills and streams, the character of Sheffield's inner residential suburbs can also offer some surprising contrasts. To the south of the city centre lies an area known as Sharrow. To reach it, a visitor approaching from Sheffield town centre will probably pass through the old tool and steel manufacturing area known as Little Sheffield, and its associated residences. However, only a mile or two distant from the city, the character of these suburbs changes abruptly. Wide tree-lined roads, flanked by large, attractive greystone houses, suddenly replace the narrow residential streets. The roads converge at the stone-arched entrance to an impressive landscaped estate, built on one of the gently sloping valley sides overlooking the River Sheaf. Here, nestling in the trees is the largest mansion of all--Kenwood House--the former home of cutlery manufacturer, George Wostenholm. Built by Wostenholm on the profits of the American trade (and, it was

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