Heritage blacksmith celebrates 20 years in business after storming out of job centre
It is a little over two decades since Nigel Tyas threw a wobbly in the job centre and stomped out vowing: ‘you won’t see me again’.
It was a moment that changed his life forever.
The blacksmith and engineer had just been made redundant for the third time when an official broke the news he was ineligible for benefits.
Nigel said: “Just when I needed a leg up it wasn’t there. I was so fed up I threw a wobbly and walked out.”
After previous redundancies he had retrained to find work. This time he went self-employed as an engineer - but very quickly he decided to go back to his roots.
Today, Nigel Tyas Ironwork employs 10 and is celebrating 20 years in business.
It makes lights, chandeliers, curtain poles and indoor fittings, all heated and hammered out in premises at Bullhouse Mill, Millhouse Green near Penistone.
“I’m quite proud to keep going so long. We’ve had times when it’s great and times when it’s grim. But you can’t get shut of highly-skilled people. Sometimes everyone else gets paid and you don’t.”
Employees include two other blacksmiths, Andrew Shiel and Simon Duerden.
Nigel added: “I’ve always loved working the fire. The hand and eye skills, shaping things and understanding how the metal will react when you hit it, twist it or bend it, you’ve got to understand heat and power.”
It all seems a world away from 1970 when he joined the National Coal Board and started at Elsecar Workshops as an 16-year-old apprentice blacksmith.
At that time coal was still huge and there were pits throughout South Yorkshire. Some still used steam trains and pit ponies.
Under supervision, he made items for use underground, from power hammer picks to railway junctions.
“It was great, it was exciting, working with hot metal and doing dangerous things. I only ever got a few burns. Everyone looked out for each other. But if you were doing something you shouldn’t you got a thump round the earhole. That’s how you got hurt.
“The blacksmiths were proud, skilled men and your mistakes made them look bad.”
Today, all the mines are gone but the workshops survive as Elsecar Heritage Centre.
NIgel lived through the year-long miners’ strike in 1984, returning to work only to be made redundant for the first time in 1987.
It happened twice more before the hammer blow of (a lack of) state support eventually led him back to blacksmithing.
He set up in 2000 after six months researching the market with his wife Elizabeth Stocker. At the time home renovations were taking off.
“People were investing in properties and had a chance to make their dreams come true and they wanted bespoke, handmade products.”
Later, led by Elizabeth, they developed a sophisticated website which now handles 75 per cent of trade.
Nigel knows its vitally important but admits it’s not his forte.“I don’t get that involved to be honest. If you can’t hit it with a hammer I’m not that bothered.”
In recent years he’s spent more time designing products and seeing if they ‘work’.
“It’s great making bespoke items but time can run away with you. If they take all day, you’re not making any brass.”
The firm is a Made in Sheffield licence holder. The world-renowned quality mark helps them trade and Nigel feels they are upholding Sheffield’s heritage of metal working.