These incredible inventions were made in Sheffield over the centuries

A heritage festival will celebrate the astounding inventions that have come out of Sheffield over the centuries – and everyone is being encouraged to get involved.

By Steven Ross
Friday, 28th January 2022, 9:13 am
Henry Bessemer, born in 1813, made his fortune in Sheffield from his Bessemer process for steel. This was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass production of steel from molten pig iron.
Henry Bessemer, born in 1813, made his fortune in Sheffield from his Bessemer process for steel. This was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass production of steel from molten pig iron.

When you think of inventions that came from Sheffield, innovations to do with steel are probably at the top of your list – it is the Steel City after all.

And while the Bessemer process and stainless steel are a vital part of the city’s history and were integral to its economy for centuries, Sheffield has brought far more ideas and creations to the world stage.

This year’s Heritage Open Days festival has been given the theme of Astounding Inventions, and organisers in Sheffield want to use the event to showcase some of the ideas that didn’t put Sheffield on the map, as well as those that did.

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Sheffield Daily Independent picture of suffragette pilgrims on Pinstone Street, 1913.

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Janet Ridler, Sheffield Heritage Open Days Coordinator, said: “Sheffield has always been a place of ideas and inventions, and people who really broke the mould. We are celebrating the things that people wouldn’t know about as well as the ones they do.

“It is the largest festival of culture and heritage in the country, and every event is free to attend. The Sheffield Civic Trust has a role in coordinating the festival in Sheffield.

"The events are run by organisations big and small across the city. The trust gives them a lot of resources and support and we have made it into one of the biggest places for the festival in the country.

Visitors explore the remains of Sheffield Castle on this Heritage Open Days tour.

"We were really excited when we saw that the theme was Astounding Inventions. The first thing you think about is crucible steel, the Bessemer process, and stainless steel. But the longer you think about it the more ideas come out – Henderson’s, Sheffield delicacies, did you know that mushy peas were invented in Sheffield?”

Izal toilet roll, made from an oily and scratchy material, was both infamous and unpopular, for obvious reasons, when it was manufactured in a Sheffield factory in the 20th century.

For journalists, one of the most useful (or most frustrating) tools of the trade can be traced back to Sheffield. Shorthand, a method of taking notes quickly using a unique alphabet, was conceived more than four centuries ago in the city.

Dan Baxter Sales Director at Abbeydale Brewery with two of their most popular beers. Picture Scott Merrylees

And it’s not just physical inventions that Heritage Open Days want to show off – Sheffield has made great contributions to national culture too.

Janet added: “The music that came out of Sheffield, electronic music, The Human League, it started a trend. Then there are the great radicals of Sheffield back in the 19th century and before. Women’s suffrage was more or less born in Sheffield.”

These are the kinds of ideas and inventions that Janet wants to show off at the festival this September, and she needs Sheffielders help to find even more.

Locals can get involved with Heritage Open Days by submitting unique cultural and heritage based inventions that they know have their roots in Sheffield.

Timothie Bright wrote a book in 1588 called Characterie, laying out the founding principles of shorthand.

Janet added: “If you throw it out to people you will get a lot of different ideas. During the festival buildings and venues that are not normally open to the public will open. People can give talks or guided walks, they can be to do with buildings, places or green open spaces that are connected to the astounding inventions theme.

"We can support people to put these on. If they have a story they want to tell about something that happened in Sheffield we can help people tell their stories.

“We have managed to keep the festival going through the pandemic and we want to be back with a bang this year.”

Sheffield has also contributed much to the world of sport: Sheffield F.C. is the world’s oldest independent football club, and the world’s fastest sled was a Sheffield Hallam creation.

It would certainly be remiss, when writing about the best of Sheffield, not to mention some of the city’s fantastic breweries. Abbeydale brewery is the birthplace of Moonshine, while Kelham Island brewery introduced Sheffielders to Easy Rider. Both drinks are nectar of the gods.

Henderson's Relish factory off Sheffield Parkway. Picture Scott Merrylees

Last year, thousands of volunteers and organisations across the country organised 5,500 events on the theme of Edible England, showcasing local delicacies and food culture.

Heritage Open days are an opportunity to tell stories, explore tradition, and bring local history to life, all while trying new experiences.

If you know of any interesting inventions or cultural contributions with their origins in Sheffield, you can contact Heritage Open Days Sheffield by email at:

Heritage Open Days organiser Janet Ridler.