New book celebrates Sheffield’s industrial history

Sheffield at Work
Sheffield at Work

Mel Jones smiles as he recalls his starring role on an Aussie soap

“It was the late 80s,” says the South Yorkshire author, and self-confessed history buff.

Mel and Joan Jones

Mel and Joan Jones

“I'll never forget one afternoon watching Kylie Minogue, in a scene on Neighbours, showing up to Jason Donavon's house to study - carrying my textbook under her arm!

“It was my claim to fame for a while,” he laughs.

Mel, a former geographer, and visiting professor at Sheffield Hallam University until his retirement, is no stranger to seeing his works on display, as the author of over 90 books and textbooks which have sold well everywhere from Hong Kong, to New Zealand.

F or his latest book - Sheffield at Work: People and Industries Through the Years – Mel, of Thorpe Hesley in Rotherham, has joined forces with his wife Joan.

Sheffield as known on the first known map of the town, by Ralph Gosling, dating from 1736

Sheffield as known on the first known map of the town, by Ralph Gosling, dating from 1736

“For centuries, Sheffield produced cutlery, files, a vast range of agricultural implements, Old Sheffield Plate, silverware, crinoline wires, umbrella frames, the railway lines that transformed Britain’s transport system, and shells and armour plate for the armed forces,” said Mel, aged 80.

“And that’s not even mentioning our legendary mushy peas, Liquorice Allsorts, Henderson’s Relish and Izal disinfectant.

“Today Sheffield is a prime example of a post-industrial city and has the reputation of being the country’s greenest city. Its two universities attract more than 60,000 students every year. The Lower Don Valley, described in the 1970s as an industrial wasteland, is now crowded with edge-of-town shopping, entertainment and sporting destinations. Even back in the 19th century the city had a burgeoning retail sector, with four department stores, one of which is still going strong today.

“And throughout all this, manufacturing has continued, with firms manufacturing forged and cast steel for the engineering, nuclear and petrochemical industries worldwide and special steels for the aerospace, oil and automotive industries.

Sheffield at Work

Sheffield at Work

“At the other end of the scale, individual craftsmen – known as the Little Mesters – still produce bespoke knives in small workshops dotted around the city.

“With this book, we cover nine centuries of Sheffield at work, and were really keen to celebrate all that the city has achieved in that time, emphasising the continuity and innovation that has taken place in the steel city.”

Mel and Joan, who have previously co-written over 20 books together, already had a great understanding of Sheffield’s industrial heritage before they began work on this latest book, having spent many decades researching the subject matter for other works.

“We’d written many books on Sheffield before, so we had a good base,” says Mel.

“What was great with this book, was they we really got the chance to delve into the heart of the industrial city, meeting incredible people – like Stan Shaw, a 92-year-old who still has a workshop at Kelham Island and makes the most fantastic pen knives.”

 Joan, aged 70, a former deputy head and senior lecturer, agrees: “It was wonderful to see, on closer examination, how many of these great old firms were still going strong - like Wentworth Pewter, that sells wonderful goblets and ornate pictures frames in stores like Harrods in London, and Burgon & Ball at Malin Bridge, who are the biggest producers of sheep shears in the world.

“There is also Sheffield engineering firm, SCX Group, which has just completed the second year of a three-year project to construct a foldaway roof for No.1 Court at Wimbledon which will be ready in 2019.

“ In terms of digital technology too, we found it quite uplifting to learn about all that was going on in the city, in terms of enterprise and innovation.

“We do hope this book is a celebration of an incredible past, of what makes Sheffield unique, with our history and heritage, but also to the way we have preserved what makes us great in so many different ways.

“ We think Sheffield’s footprint is different to most cities and we want to shout proudly about it. We think that’s the reason that so many people  come to univers ity here and end up staying forever, it’s a special place.”

The couple, who run a local history group, Chapeltown and High Green Archive, took a year to write the book, which was published last month.

S heffield at Work is available from local bookshops priced at £14.99, from Amazon, and direct from the publishers at amberley-books.com