Field Trip: 10th May 2014 | Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

The Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust put on a ‘do’ last weekend at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, and I do like a good do.

It’s a pretty special place, the Hamlet, being one of only a few preserved historical industrial sites in the country.  More than just a museum, it’s a living, breathing place where you can immerse yourself in our local working past.

I loved wandering around with my camera, soaking up the atmosphere, taking time to imagine the place as it would have been.  It wasn’t difficult to do – the place had been restored to what seems like an authentic condition, with tools, benches, vessels and all sorts of artifacts dotted around as if the workers had just down-tools moments ago.

I’m not a believer in the afterlife, or of spirit worlds, ghosts and ghouls, but I did get the feeling that this place held a lot of lost lives within its walls.  Some of the rooms had an eerie atmosphere, I often felt as if I was getting in the way, like a Victorian ‘Teemer’ would barge past at any moment to get back to work.

When I wasn’t wandering around, daydreaming, I enjoyed the buzz of activity in the courtyard: wolfed down an amazing burger from the lovely charity-run Whirlow Hall Farm BBQ; there were rousing anthems from the Escafeld Brass Band; heritage craft displays from forging, to woodworking and weaving; cupcakes, recycled cutlery sculptures, a visit from the Lord Mayor, and displays from the local craftspeople who make Abbeydale their home.

For me, there’s so much potential for inspiration in somewhere like the AIH.  I’d love to spend time writing, playing and recording music in a venue like that.  Whenever I’ve tried writing in a different place, away from my own territory, I’m always pleased with what comes out.  AIH is also a great space for an event, with an enclosed courtyard providing a natural amphitheater, and loads of spaces in which you could set up site-specific installations.  I’m hoping that I’ll get to spend a lot of time there in the future, and that I’ll be able to tell something of its story through the music I make.


Field Trip: 8th May 2014 | The Cutting Edge

It seems there’s always lots going on in Sheffiel .  It’s not surprising given it’s long history of hard work, industriousness and graft.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen events listed on the brilliant ‘Timewalk Project’ Google Calendar and thought “I’ll get to the next one”.

Finally, I have an evening off, and there’s a cracking event for me to dash to in the Punto.  “A brief history of Sheffield’s involvement with the Cutlery trade” a presentation and fundraiser at the Portland Works just off Bramhall lane.

About halfway between the city centre and my house, Portland Works is a place brimming with history brought alive by a dedicated group of volunteers.  Without the hard work and passion of these people, one of the last remaining cutlery works in Sheffield was threatened with development into yet more identikit ‘luxury’ flats.

Instead, it’s now home to a bustling mix of creative and manufacturing industries.  From hand-made custom knife maker Stuart Mitchell, to fine artist Mary Sewell,  vintage vehicle restorer Jimmy Holmes to experimental electroacoustic record label Singing Knives Records, it’s all going on at the Works, where traditional industrial manufacturers work side-by-side with Sheffield creatives.

Many of the tenants were there last night for a special presentation by ‘naturalised Yorkshireman’ and owner of the Famous Sheffield Shop, Paul Iseard.  He told the story of his lifelong love affair with knifes and cutlery, how Sheffield became one of the centres for metal and cutlery manufacturing, and how changes in social dining paved the way for cutlery design innovation and development.  He also shared with us some of his prized collection, a stunning treasure trove of beautifully designed and made pieces.  I’ll be saving up to make a trip down ‘Eccy Road’ soon (I think ‘Pocket Knifes’ is my thing).

After the talk I got to meet some of the team behind the Works, and a few of the businesses based there.  I even got a ‘backstage’ tour from Carl Witham, (who is a local photographer and runs the Portland Works Studio) seeing the cramped ‘village within a village’ layout of the factory from one of the workshop roofs.    It’s easy to imagine the place one hundred years ago when Harry Brearly and Earnest Stuart were making their groundbreaking discovery of stainless steel.  Hundreds of workers, men, women and children, busily going about their back-breaking work, completing the full chain of production from metal working, to grinding, to buffing, packing and selling.

Truly a hive of industry then, just as it is now.  Long may it remain so.