Tributes paid as 'special' Sheffield ‘buffer girl’ dies aged 99

A soft-spoken great grandmother who dedicated half her life to working as a 'buffer girl' in Sheffield has passed away peacefully in her sleep aged 99 on Sunday.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 12:29 pm

Harriet Dawson, who worked for about 50 years at a George Butler's buffing store on Sidney Street, died at her home in Arbourthorne after spending five weeks in the hospital.

A buffer is used to describe a worker in the Sheffield cutlery industry who used the polishing machinery on metal tableware; a hot and dirty job that required protective clothing.

While other 'buffers' were often considered 'rough', Harriet was part of a breed of ‘special’ ladies, said longtime friend Vincent Malone.

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Harriet Dawson at work as a 'buffer girl'

He said: "I knew her during my privileged years working in the cutlery industry, Harriet didn’t fit the profile of buffers, she was quietly spoken and unlike the other buffers.

"I never heard her curse or complain about anything in the buffing shop on George Butlers that was situated on Sidney Street. Unknown to many people the site is now just a horrible car park and the building that stood there held some great memories for me and some horrible ones but Harriet slots nicely into the great memories, from the very first time she spoke to me with a soft ‘hello’. From that time on she was a friend.

"The buffing shop was dark and dirty, it was a job that as soon as the ladies started work they were covered in buffing sand. It was everywhere but the ladies did their best to keep their little dinner table and its area clean as they could but Harriet always brightened up the dismal shop.

"She will be sadly missed by everyone who knew her. I know I will and it’s sad she didn’t reach her 100th birthday and get her card from the Queen.”

Harriet and her family.

Harriet’s daughter, 64-year-old Susan Ault, said her mum’s passing left a huge void in her life as she used to do almost everything with her in her younger days.

"My mum was very laid back, very quiet but we had so many memories growing up. We would go camping and shopping together as we were both shopaholics,” she said.

"She just loved her family so much… She loved working at the buffing shop, even though it was a hard job.”

Harriet and her family.

She added that Harriet quit her job as a buffer to care for her late husband when he had cancer before he passed away in 1992.

"My mum was in hospital for five weeks and was desperate to come home. Luckily, we got home in time and she passed away really peacefully in her sleep with me and my sister-in-law both with her,” she said.

"She was looked after really well and was always thanking people and was so nice to people she hadn't met before."

Susan, who lives in Intake, added: “It is going to be really strange not going (to her house) and seeing her. We used to go to her home because that’s where everybody met, with all her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Harriet Dawson in her protective gear when she worked as Sheffield's buffer girl in George Butler's buffing shop

"It’s just going to be strange not having somewhere where we all can go and can meet up together. It’s going to be different now because of what we used to.”

Harriet left behind two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.