THEY’RE the world’s best ice skates - and they’re made right here in Sheffield.
As skaters have been gliding and twirling across the rink at the European Figure Skating Championships at Sheffield Arena, many of them have been doing so wearing blades crafted by John Wilson, based in the host city for more than 300 years.
Top skaters regard the company’s products as being the world’s premier blades, made from steel and as sharp as a knife to effortlessly cut through the ice.
George Brumpton, operations manager of John Wilson’s parent company HD Sports, said the blades are a fine example of ‘traditional Sheffield skills’.
“Ninety per cent of the skaters in Sheffield this week will be using our product,” he said. “Our brands are like the Nike and Adidas of the skating world and are manufactured to a really high standard.”
George added: “Skaters using our blades know they will last and that they will look, feel and perform as they should. Our team works hard and we’re proud of our product.”
Millions of television viewers currently see the firm’s blades every week on the feet of contestants and professionals on ITV show Dancing On Ice.
The company can trace its roots back to 1696, when King William III became fascinated with ice skating and asked renowned Sheffield toolmaker John Wilson to make a pair of skating blades for him.
Over the years the firm’s reputation grew, and in the 1840s Queen Victoria instructed the company - by then called John Wilson and Marsden Brothers - to make her and Prince Albert a pair of ice skates.
George still has a pair of blades made for the Royal couple and said they were ‘really beautiful’, albeit completely different from today’s high-precision skates.
“In 1841 Prince Albert was skating in the Buckingham Palace gardens and fell through the ice and almost drowned, it would have changed the course of history if he had gone,” George said.
In the 1890s, the Hattersley and Davidson engineering company acquired John Wilson, leading to the name HD Sports. The firm also owns the MK Blades brand.
George said the company makes 17 different models of blades in 20 sizes at its Neepsend factory, with names such as the Coronation Comet, Four Aces, Majestic and Jubilee. The tips of some of the blades are around 4mm thick.
“We do them in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. We have a matrix of over 340 blades going through the factory at any one time,” he said.
“It’s traditional Sheffield skills. It’s turning steel into a tool - and this tool is an ice skating blade. We start with sheet steel and laser cut it, heat treat it, grind it, braze together pieces and then finish it with the hard edge that’s needed for skating. They’re sharp, and they’re almost a piece of decoration when they’re finished.”
George has been at the company for 30 years, and said the firm is pioneering a new variety of blade called the Revolution.
“Most of the blades for the last 60 years have been made of steel - our newly launched one is made of a carbon fibre upper with a steel runner. It’s very lightweight.
“They have to be hard-wearing, too. I travel the world to go to various competitions and to have the European Championships in Sheffield is fantastic for the city. It puts Sheffield on the map.”