A master class by Sheffield’s first lady

The Master Cuttler  Pam Liversidge
The Master Cuttler Pam Liversidge
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When Sheffield’s new Master Cutler needs a few sage words of advice from a previous holder of the prestigious title, there is not far to go.

One of them is there on the next pillow.

Flashback to 1998: Doug was Master Cutler and Pam the Mistress

Flashback to 1998: Doug was Master Cutler and Pam the Mistress

Husband and wife Pam and Doug Liversidge share a unique common bond; both have been given the role of Master.

For the first time in its 387-year history, the Sheffield-based Company of Master Cutlers has a woman at the helm... Mechanical engineer Pam stepped into to the history-changing role last week.

Husband Doug, Master of the trade guild in 1998, has also scored a historic first; because of his wife’s appointment, the title of Master’s Consort has had to be created especially for him.

In another ground-breaking move, there are three people at the helm this year - the Master not only has her Consort, but also her Mistress in friend Jean Stone, the wife of a previous Master, David Stone.

Pam, 62, managing director of South Yorkshire engineering firm Quest Investments, knew just how much she was going to need a Mistress, having been one herself.

“She has her own unique role - and lots to do,” says Pam. “I needed Jean on board. She has the new title of Mistress Cutler of Hallamshire and will be very busy attending functions in her own right and organising many of the dinners.

“Doug still works and wouldn’t have the time - but more importantly, he can’t cook; it’s a generation thing,” she grins. Her husband, 75, who has been quipping that the Mistress’s dress allowance wasn’t enough for him, would not be any good either as president of the Sheffield Floral Society, another duty for the Mistress. Says Pam: “His idea of flower-arranging is to shove them in something wet; usually that’s the sink...”

Humour, and a down-to-earth attitude to life, are what forged these two people into one long ago, when Doug was her boss at GW Thornton and she the manager, determinedly standing up for herself in a man’s world. Undoubtedly, these attributes will be brought to their unique new roles, too. Though Pam is fully aware of the responsibility of being the first woman ever to hold the highly-respected position. “The Cutlers’ Company has been around for hundreds of years. It is part of our civic society and an essential part of the local economy,” she says - and then readily admits that being the first woman appointed to uphold its traditions is both thrilling and daunting.

“I can’t afford to do this job in such a way that anyone can say: well she’s just a woman,” she insists.

“I don’t think it does women any favours to make a song and dance about things. And men do not like it when women use their gender as an excuse.

“The company’s forward-thinking step is the start of a new chapter; I hope other women will follow in my footsteps.”

Pam is no stranger to being a woman striding through a man’s world, though. Right from her schooldays, it has been the case.

She was the only girl doing A-level Physics, chemistry and maths at school. When she studied mechanical engineering at Aston University, she was the only woman on the course.

She plunged eagerly into the macho environment of the factory floor - and learned how to survive and thrive the hard way.

““I realised pretty early on in my career I had to be that little bit better to convince the men that I was serious, and that I could do the jobs I was given,” she reflects.

She often encountered sexism; she remembers being told she was being paid less than a male colleague because he had a family to support and she had a husband who worked.

“And if I made a mistake, it was never forgotten,” she recalls. “I once -over ordered steel for a job by five tons. It became a standing joke; the works manager even brought it up at his leaving do 15 years later! When you’re the only woman, you stand out. What you do does too.

“But I’ve been in a male-dominated world for so long it doesn’t register with me any more. And I strongly believe that today, it doesn’t matter what sex you are. We’re human beings, with individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s almost expected now that women will occupy roles previously taken by men.”

She’s the living proof; Pam was appointed the first female president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1997, and in 2004 was one of only a handful of women to be made High Sheriff of South Yorkshire.

And in 1999 she was awarded an OBE for services to engineering.

Much of her success she graciously credits to Doug, 13 years her senior, “the best thing that ever happened to me.

“In the early days it was very much a mentor-pupil relationship. From him I learned how to manage people by working out why they did things and what motivated them and by taking the spirit behind something they said, rather than dwelling on their exact words; how man of us wish we could have bitten off our tongue because something we said came out the wrong way,” she says.

Of course, the tables have now turned. Officially. Pam is now in the big seat. “Strictly speaking, the consort has to defer to me,” says this funny, disarmingly warm woman with a gleam in her eye. “This is going to be interesting...”

Winning mixture of substance and style

A host of formal dinners beckon for the new Master Cutler - and the pressure is on.

Her 372 predecessors have only ever had to face the simplest of style dilemmas; whether they need to wear their white tie ensemble, or their black.

No such luck for Pam Liversidge. She will need a myriad of elegant outfits to see her through her year in style. She admits that wanting to look good - and represent the city well - weighs on her mind. But she has a secret weapon...

She gets a helping hand from her daughter-in-law Joanne Liversidge.

“She has been invaluable; Joanne is an image consultant and personal shopper and really knows what she’s talking about; who better to turn to,” says Pam. “As the first female Master Cutler I want to look right; I think other women will understand. When we you are happy with the way you look, you feel so much more confident.And I want to do the city proud.”

Stylist Joanne has advised Pam on hair and make-up and twice has been the new broom, sweeping through her step-mother-in-law’s wardrobe.

“She came, went through the contents and ruthlessly took about half of it away, saying it wasn’t right for me any more. And she was spot on,” laughs Pam.

Known for her meticulous planning - she admits she doesn’t count sheep to fall asleep, but mentally works out the redesign of another room in her home in intricate detail - Pam has been working on her evening wear collection for the last three years.

“When I was made Junior Warden at the Master Cutler Company, it’s standard procedure that the next year you will become the senior warden, and then the Master. We regularly holiday in Florida, where the shopping is wonderful and much cheaper. I’ve been picking up some great value dresses each time we’ve been.”

Daytime occasions pose no problem, though; Pam is accustomed to wearing business suits. “That’s actually what I feel most comfortable in,” says the woman who chose a skirt suit for her installation last week, though. As she strode from Cutler’s Hall at the head of a line of men in morning suits, there was no mistaking who now wears the trousers.