The go-to Sheffield silversmith who works magic in a graffiti covered building

Hidden on a back street in Sheffield city centre, is a graffiti covered building which looks like it has been abandoned. But there’s magic inside here and the first clue is the scrawl on the wall.

Wednesday, 19th January 2022, 2:33 pm

It says Bob and is more than likely a tribute to the master craftsman who greets you after answering the bell.

This is Bob Lamb, the go-to man of the silversmith world. If you’ve got a problem which nobody seems able to solve, Bob is your man.

Not my words, but those of fellow silversmith Brett Payne, who recommended Bob when we discussed city craftsman.

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Silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees

Brett knows a thing or two about silversmiths, being a liveryman of the worshipful company of goldsmiths. He spoke of Bob with huge respect.

No wonder, at 80 years old, Bob is the epitome of dedication. He still gets the train from his Mexborough home to work in the city centre four days a week.

And where he works is an enigma. Bob has been based on Newton Lane since 1986 but there’s no sign of what he does and even when you get into the workshop, the only real clue is the array of tools.

These have been collected over a career which started when Bob left school at the age of 15.

An example of the work of silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees

He was born in Leicester, the son of a railway signalman. His dad worked around the Midlands and had a spell in the box at the Woodhead Tunnel.

Bob’s family moved to Tankersley and he went to school at Kirk Balk secondary in Hoyland, Barnsley. It was a significant moment for him.

“I was lucky because they had a metalwork room and I was one of the few lads who wanted to do that,” says Bob. “I just took to it from the age of 11.”

It gave him an option others didn’t have. “I left school to do an apprenticeship. In those days the steel works or the pit were the only options for lads my age, but my father didn’t want that.

An example of the work of silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees

“The metalwork teacher came from Sheffield and was a former silversmith. He recommended me to firms in the city.

“I started work at Mappin and Webb on Queens Road on December 31, 1956. Everybody worked New Year’s Eve and I did for years.”

He did six years as an apprentice and was one of 20 silversmiths in the workshop. They made silverware and silver-plate items for the Cunard shipping line and the LNER rail company.

Tea pots and coffee pots made in nickel and silver-plated were bound for the companies’ restaurants.

Silversmith Bob Lamb outside his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees

“What we made went round the world, but in the 1960s stainless steel was coming in and the shipping lines and airlines started using that,” says Bob.

“Our work dropped off so Mappin and Webb linked up with other firms and there was a merger with Walker and Hall.

“There were too many silversmiths so I moved to the silver department at the Walker and Hall building in Howard Street in the city centre.”

It was a huge place as Bob recalls. “There was an 11-storey tower which was taller than the Town Hall.

“We made cigarette boxes, 6-700 a year because so many people wanted them. Not only were they silver, but they were lined with wood and are still desirable now.”

He then moved back to the Mappin and Webb site where a new workshop had opened to make items including sterling silver trays. “Anything you could make in silver, we did.”

Silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees

Bob left in 1966 as the work began to drop off. He was also going to get married to Jean and wanted to earn more money.

The father-of-two said: “I knew there were silver workshops in Sheffield where people were working for themselves.

“I joined a silversmith I knew on Devonshire Lane and stayed there for eight to 10 years.”

The company was called Sterling Silverware and was run by Jack Cheetham. It provided more useful experience which Bob topped up with a year at James Dixon on Shalesmoor.

Now he was ready to go it alone and with colleague Roger Draper, the pair started on Arundel Street in 1971. Roger, now 79, is still working too.

They spotted Newton Lane after it became empty having been vacated by a woodwork firm.

“It seemed quite modern and nice,” says Bob. Thirty five years later and he’s still there. He even likes the graffiti. “They know I’m called Bob so that’s why the name is on there.”

Nowadays, he does mainly repairs. “Everybody knows that I know what to do.

“I’m not frightened of taking silverwork to pieces and putting it right. It is a skill and it’s surprising what you can get - it makes it interesting.

“It’s like a hobby now. I’ve made a living out of it and could do six days a week quite easily, but I do four and pick and choose what I do.

“Every now and then I’ll be asked to make something, like a trophy, and I’ll always have a go.”

So how does he feel about being the go-to silversmith? “It seems to work,” he says, with typical modesty.

“I’m known because of shops, jewellers, who want repairs doing. It is all word of mouth.”

He is linked to Sheffield’s Assay Office with his work on display there and having been a judge of the Starter Studio Programme for Designer Silversmiths and jewellers at Yorkshire Artspace.

Bob wants to encourage more people into the trade.

“I will work as long as people find me interesting, but the skill levels are dying. There is nothing coming through,” he says.

“The people coming out of design colleges don’t want to be silversmiths. I would love to see more silversmiths because some of the new designers are brilliant.”

These are computer designs which Bob marvels at. “I know about metal,” he says.

Bob also knows about sport and this proved a winning combination with his work after he received a British Empire Medal for services to the Preservation of Traditional Skills and voluntary services to sport in Mexborough.

Tennis is his game and Robert played with friends on the Mexborough Miners’ Welfare Institute and Recreation Ground. In 1958, he reformed the tennis section, competing in the local Mexborough league, having served as secretary and chairman.

As a trustee of the Welfare Institute and Recreation Ground, a rare sports facility in the middle of a deprived area, Bob and others on the committee dedicated hours of unpaid time to keep the charity financially viable.

“It’s another life away from work. I was president of the Sheffield and District Tennis League and the Yorkshire Tennis Association.

“I never expected the BEM in my life. You just don’t get things like that! It was a wonderful surprise.

“It's great to have my name on the list and something I never thought would happen.”

Bob previously received the Lawn Tennis Association Meritorious Service Award, nominated by the Yorkshire Lawn Tennis Association, backed by the Sheffield and District Lawton Tennis Association and his Mexborough club.

There’s no end to this silversmith’s talent and achievements. You’d never guess this was possible from his rundown workshop but it just goes to prove, every cloud can have a silver lining.

Silversmith Bob Lamb's workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees
Silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees
An example of the work of silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees
Silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees
Silversmith Bob Lamb at his workshop on Newton Lane. Picture Scott Merrylees