Meet the Sheffield blacksmiths helping to keep our roads safe

Blacksmith Sonny Gaughan, pictured Drilling the Tube for the Galvanizor. Picture: Marie Caley
Blacksmith Sonny Gaughan, pictured Drilling the Tube for the Galvanizor. Picture: Marie Caley

Ask someone from outside Sheffield what they know about the city and there will more than likely be two words on their lips – steel and hills. 

Our city is known across the world for its steel industry history and for being built on seven hills.

Blacksmiths Sonny Gaughan and Paul Bower, pictured with a finished product. Picture: Marie Caley

Blacksmiths Sonny Gaughan and Paul Bower, pictured with a finished product. Picture: Marie Caley

One dedicated team of blacksmiths are combining the two by creating specialist road crash barriers and handrails for the city’s roads.

Neil Booth, Paul Bower and Sunny Gaughan all work for Sheffield Council contractor Amey at its Olive Grove depot.

The team manufacture bespoke steel products from scratch to match the needs of the city’s many road surfaces.

Blacksmith supervisor Neil comes from metalworking stock – his dad was a welder – and has been creating barriers, handrails, gates, grilles and other equipment for the council for 30 years.

Blacksmith Sonny Gaughan, pictured Drilling the Tube for the Galvanizor. Picture: Marie Caley

Blacksmith Sonny Gaughan, pictured Drilling the Tube for the Galvanizor. Picture: Marie Caley

“It’s very varied and skilled work,” he said. “The parts we make have to be of a high standard and when the city’s built on seven hills, it’s rare that we make pieces for flat surfaces. The barriers and handrails you can buy from suppliers are difficult to angle and not strong enough to bend into the right position – that’s why we make it from scratch in the Sheffield depot.”

The team also operates a call out service as one of its biggest jobs is to make metalwork safe after accidents.

Coun Lewis Dagnall, the council’s cabinet member for envirionment and Streetscene, said: “For a city that prides itself on its historic steel-making past, it’s fantastic that we still harness the skills of blacksmiths in Sheffield today and that they continue to work on current-day highway contracts, such as Streets Ahead.

“Whilst the type of work may have changed considerably over the years, the role of blacksmiths in our city is still very much needed and relevant.”

Blacksmith Paul Bower, pictured Grinding the Tubes. Picture: Marie Caley

Blacksmith Paul Bower, pictured Grinding the Tubes. Picture: Marie Caley

Not only is the work of blacksmiths recognised from times of ancient mythology right through to the Iron Age, it also formed a poignant part of the industrial era when Sheffield famously became the main centre of cutlery production in England outside of London.

Nowadays, as well as buying in the steel sheet and sections they need, and welding often large and complex configurations into the items, the team at Streets Ahead also applies the paintwork and any finishing touches afterwards.

They make road signs and install bollards and bins and frames to ensure bridle-paths are kept free of motorised vehicles.

A recent piece of work included manufacturing new barriers and handrails for Chesterfield Road, as part of the £3 million scheme to widen the road, extend the peak-time bus lane, strengthen a culvert and re-surface the road.

Carpentry such as benches and wooden planters are also produced by the machinery in the workshop.