Video: Open day at Portland Works, Sheffield celebrates 140th anniversary

A historic Sheffield Little Mesters building where Harry Brearley created his first stainless steel cutlery is open to the public on Saturday (May 11).

Friday, 10th May 2019, 1:12 pm

The future of Portland Works on Randall Street is looking bright as it turns 140 years old, now that a Heritage Lottery Fund grant has paid to repair the roofs. The next major piece of work is repointing a tall octagonal steam engine chimney on the site, the work set to be done by volunteers.

A decade of hard work by a group of volunteers has ensured that the buildings continue to nurture Sheffield’s working talent.

Portland Works’ education and outreach officer Stella Howe said: “Derek Morton was one of the leaders and he’s still involved as a volunteer. The volunteers are absolutely brilliant.

Portland Works, showing staff outside in their dinner hour. The Alexander Clark branding was added to the picture afterwards and never appeared on the building!

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“When people meet them, you can see how impressed they are with their tenacity and tireless work. This building wouldn’t be here without them.”

Volunteers have been responsible for refurbishing all the workshops and they are on hand to take on work to preserve the buildings.

Instead of being turned into flats, the buildings are home to a group of small businesses whose owners remain committed to conserving the city’s precious industrial heritage in one of the last few works that remains intact.

Several practise traditional trades such as Andy Cole, who has used the building’s 19th-century forge to make tools since 1978, engraver Mick Shaw, pen, pocket and bowie knife maker Michael May and lino-cutting tools manufacturer Pam Hague.

The cluster of Victorian buildings at Portland Works, Sheffield. The chimney, right, now has scaffolding up

Others are innovators like jewellers Bailey of Sheffield, who have utilised cutting-edge city engineering skills to create high-end stainless steel bracelets, Locksley Distilling, who make the popular Robin of Locksley gin, and Daniels Brothers, who create handmade toys and decorative items from reclaimed timber.

One first-floor room has been turned into the Maker Space, a meeting room that can be hired and can host up to 60 people.

The Maker Space is hosting regular heritage lectures. The next one on June 6 features Sheffield United’s historian John Garrett, speaking about the club’s history.

Portland Works opened in 1879, established by cutlery manufacturer Robert Fead Mosley when he decided to move his business from West Street into the works that he had designed by an architect.

Volunteers at Portland Works take a break to toast the 140th anniversary with a special Anniversary Ale produced by Neepsend Brewery in Sheffield

Mosley later teamed up with London silverware manufacturer Alexander Clark, who produced solid silver and Welbeck Plate goods.

The company continued until it went into liquidation in the late 1960s.

The building eventually went into a decline following its use by a number of different companies.

An extraordinary recent find under some metal waste underlines a key moment in the building’s history.

A visit by Harry Brearley's descendants Anne Brearley (great niece) and Hannah Brearley (great great granddaughter)

The finds were knife blanks made from stainless steel.

In 1913-14 metallurgist Harry Brearley, who was working in Sheffield for Firth’s, looked into improving gun barrels to stop corrosion.

While experimenting, he came across a 12 per cent chromium mixture which he realised didn’t stain.

He brought the new steel to Robert Mosley’s factory and they produced some prototype cutlery.

They gave people samples to try out, saying: “If it stains, bring it back.”

When nobody did, they knew they were on to a winner.

The main Randall Street entrance to Portland Works in Sheffield

The brand was originally called Rusnorstain, before the rather more catchy term stainless steel was coined.

At Saturday’s open day, a limited edition print of Portland Works by Sheffield artist Joe Scarborough is being launched to help raise money. The event runs from 11am to 4pm and activites feature bookable tours with some of the tenants, self-guided tours, open artist’s studio and a chance to visit the Mosley Museum with original artefacts.

There’s also a barbecue run by Whirlow Hall Farm and ice cream, tea and cakes.

Learn more online at www.portlandworks.co.uk

Modern businesses help to keep Portland Works alive
Stella Howe, education and outreach officer at Portland Works, in the Maker Space