THE HISTORY OF INDUSTRY & ENGINEERING IN SHEFFIELD
Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough of South Yorkshire, England. The city has an international reputation for metallurgy and steel production, and thus a strong association with the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Today the population of the city is 540,000, making Sheffield the 4th largest city in England. During the past decade Sheffield has undergone extensive redevelopment and regeneration and after many years of decline, the Sheffield economy is going through a strong revival.
THE ORIGINS OF AN INDUSTRIAL GIANT
It is likely that the origin of the present-day city of Sheffield is an Anglo Saxon settlement founded at the confluence of the River Sheaf and River Don between 6th Century and 9th Century AD. The name Sheffield is Old English in origin, deriving from one of the city’s main rivers, the River Sheaf; ‘Shef’ being a corruption of ‘sheth’, meaning divide or separate; ‘Field’, deriving from ‘feld’, meaning forest clearing.
After the Norman conquest of 1066, Sheffield Castle was built to protect the local settlements and thus the nucleus of a modern city was born. By 1296 Sheffield had developed into an important market town and as far back as the 13th Century, Sheffield had become known for the production of high quality knives.
Sheffield’s geographical position lent well to development of industry; nestled in a natural amphitheatre of several hills and at the confluence of 5 fast flowing rivers. These early knife and cutlery industries developed on the banks of Sheffield’s rivers. The rivers drove water wheels providing power and automation and subsequently provided transport via a canal system, which brought locally mined coal and iron.
The importance of Sheffield as a major town can be highlighted in the Elizabethan period. Between 1570 and 1584, Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned in Sheffield Castle by Elizabeth I. Sadly the castle no longer remains, after its destruction around 1644 following the English Civil War. However a number of historically important landmarks do remain preserved across the city today. The oldest standing building is the Sheffield Cathedral, which dates back to the 13th Century. The oldest domestic building still in use is the Old Queen’s Head Public House built in 1495. Lady’s Bridge, built in 1485 is the oldest surviving bridge in the city. Incidentally Sheffield musician Richard Hawley named his 2007 album after Lady’s Bridge.
By 1600 it had become the main centre of cutlery manufacture in England outside of London. The name Sheffield became synonymous with high quality cutlery produce. To protect the stamp of Sheffield’s cutlery, a trade guild was setup in 1624 by an Act of parliament. Named the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, the body, which still stands today in the centre of Sheffield, would maintain only the very highest standards for cutlery and steel products from Sheffield. Today as in the 17th century, cutlery produce that bears the ‘Made in Sheffield’ moniker are associated with high quality and prestige throughout the world.
In the 1740s Benjamin Huntsman perfected the crucible steel process which allowed the creation of better quality steel. At the time Sheffield was responsible for producing around 200 tons of steel per year; 100-years later that amount had risen to over 80,000 tones per year – almost half of Europe’s total production. Huntsman’s findings coincided closely with Thomas Boulsover’s discovery of the Sheffield plate technique in 1743. Together these two industrial processes would allow Sheffield to develop from a small township into a major European industrial town.
THE VICTORIAN AGE & THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The Victorian era of the 19th Century is referred to as the golden age of the English Empire. Marked by some very unique and historical achievements in the field of engineering and technology due to the efforts of some of the greatest pioneers. One such pioneer was an engineer called Henry Bessemer. In 1855 Bessemer filed a patent for the Bessemer process, a new process for steel production. He erected a steelworks in Sheffield and started production. The Bessemer process would revolutionise the steel manufacturing process; decreasing its cost from £40 per ton to £6-7 per ton. In doing so Bessemer ushered in the modern era of steel production and fuelled the industrial revolution which would see the arrival of skyscrapers, iron hulled transcontinental ships and the with them the modern age.
Sheffield was at the heart of the revolution and between 1801-1901 the towns population increased 10- times from 60,000 to 450,000. In 1893, Sheffield was granted a city charter. Like all Victorian towns Sheffield was dirty and unsanitary. However due to the heavy industries pertaining in the city, it was particularly polluted. The characteristic back to back rows of housing associated with the slums of the Industrial revolution lined Sheffield’s streets.
RATIONISATION & SPECIALISATION
After World War I the heavy industries of Sheffield entered a recession as important export sectors were lost. This led to a trend of specialisation within the steel industries. In 1915, Harry Brearley of Brown-Firth research laboratory in Sheffield, filed a patent for a corrosion-resistant alloy, subsequently named Stainless Steel alloy. This was the start of an age of specialisation and rationalisation of the industries across England.
Developments in Sheffield’s steel industry continued with the work of F.B. Pickering a British metallurgist working for the British Steel Corporation. Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Pickering laid the foundations for much of the physical metallurgy of high strength, low alloy steels.
THE MODERN AGE
Today Sheffield is a very different city. The widespread slum housing and huge acres of industrial sectors have been cleared and redeveloped. Sheffield now has more trees per person than any other European city and 61% of the city is now green space. What remains of the industrial revolution is a streamlined, efficient industrial base still regarded as leading edge within the manufacturing and engineering sectors.
Forgemasters, founded in 1805, is now the sole remaining independent steel works in the world. The company has a global reputation for producing the largest and most complex steel forgings and castings and is certified to produce critical nuclear components. Forgemasters has the capacity to pour the largest single ingot (570 tonnes) in Europe.
The Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) located in Sheffield, is the UK’s premier advanced manufacturing technology park, providing world-class advanced manufacturing technology solutions. Technologies on the AMP centre on materials and structures, covering metallic and composite materials; typically used in precision industries including; aerospace, automotive, medical devices, sport, environmental and energy, oil and gas, defence and construction.
Technology developed on the AMP is already being utilised in leading edge projects, such as within Formula One and the next generation of military and commercial aircraft.