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Sheffield was once the undisputed iron, steel and cutlery captial of the world. The city's association with metalworking is almost as old at the city itself. Evidence of cutlery dates back more than 700 years.
The city's hills provided it with the necessary raw materials for the industry that led to it becoming known as 'Steel City': coal, iron and millstone grit for the grinding wheels of its workshops. And its seven rivers provided the water power it needed in the days before steam, while its forests supplied it with plentiful supplies of wood and charcoal.
As early as the 14th century Sheffield was noted for the production of knives by Geoffrey Chaucer in his book The Canterbury Tales.
In the 16th century Sheffield became more famous for its cutlery. Before 1500 watermills were adapted to grinding tools and the cutlery trade boomed. By 1600 Sheffield was the main town in England (apart from London) for cutlery.
In 1624 The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire was formed to oversee the trade. Examples of water-powered blade and cutlery workshops surviving from around this time can be seen at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel museums.
The city reached its zenith in the 17th and 18th centuaries Thanks to three major innovations. In the 1740's, two developments took place that put Sheffield at the head of the new techniques that were to revolutionise steel production and cutlery manufacture:

Benjamin Huntsman

Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), who operated a foundry at Handsworth, invented the crucible steel process in 1742 following many years of experimentation. He was the first person to cast steel ingots.
Until the mid-18th century, the quality of steel produced was unreliable. Steel was made by heating iron bars, covered with charcoal, for up to a week. The end product was called "blister steel". Blister steel was then turned into "shear steel" by wrapping blister steel bars into a bundle and re-reheating them before forging the bundle. The heat and action of the forge hammer welded the bundles together to the required size. Although this steel was used to make razors, files, knives and swords, the process was extremely laborious and no more than 200 tons a year were produced in Sheffield in this way. Benjamin Huntsman's invention of the crucible steel process changed all of that. He was the first person to cast steel bars, producing tougher, high-quality steel in larger quantities (from less than 200 tons of steel a year to more than 20,000 tons, or 40% of total European steel production, a century later).
The demand for Huntsman's steel increased rapidly and, in 1770, he moved his factory to a new site in Attercliffe in the Don Valley. This area later became the main location for the huge special-steel making industry of Sheffield.

Thomas Boulsover

In 1743 a Sheffield cutler, Thomas Boulsover (1705-1788), devised a means of fusing a thin layer of silver to copper to produce silver plate the famous 'Sheffield Plate' that looked like silver but was far cheaper, and was to take silver-plated cutlery into the dining rooms of almost every middle class family in the land.
Boulsover noticed that silver and copper had fused together very strongly after heating. Experiments showed that the two metals behaved as one when he tried to reshape them, even though he could clearly see two different layers. Boulsover carried out further experiments in which he put a thin sheet of silver on a thick ingot of copper and heated the two together to fuse them. When the composite block was hammered or rolled to make it thinner, the two metals were reduced in thickness at similar rates. Using this method, Boulsover was able to make sheets of metal which had a thin layer of silver on the top surface and a thick layer of copper underneath. This silver plate was, of course, cheaper than silver and was very popular for items such as candlesticks and teapots.

In 1773 Sheffield was given a silver assay office.

Henry Bessemer

Bessemer  converterIn 1856, Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) introduced a new method of producing steel, using a special furnace called a convertor. This came after years of experimentation. The Bessemer process was able to produce much larger quantities of refined steel than the crucible process. It was worked by blowing air into the bottom of the furnace so that it bubbled through the molten iron. This burned carbon from the iron producing a great deal of heat as it refined the metal.
The 150th anniversary of this invention is being celebrated. One of Bessemer's converters can still be seen at Kelham Island Museum.

Steam and Bulk Production

In 1850 the production of steel in Britain was about 50,000 tons. About 85% of this was produced in Sheffield.

After the Crimean War (1854-1856), there was a large demand for iron and steel for making armaments and also for supplying steel for the new railways.

John Brown

In 1860, John Brown (1816-1896) of Sheffield took out the first licence to produce Bessemer steel. Bessemer set up a works in Carlisle Street, next door to Brown's Atlas Works. John Brown quickly recognised the importance of Bessemer's process and obtained a licence to use it for the production of steel rails.
Using the Bessemer process, steel-making companies in Sheffield were able to supply cheap steel in large quantities for railway parts, armour plating and construction. Sheffield firms continued to produce high quality steel for precision tools.
In the same year, Brown turned his attention to the production of armour plate by rolling instead of a forging process which was used elsewhere. He set up a rolling mill and started to produce the material which, by 1867, was used in three quarters of the British Navy's armour plated ships. John Brown became the first Sheffield steelmaker to be knighted in 1867

The Bessemer boom made Sheffield the kings of world steel. Its products were sent all over the world. In 1871, two firms (Browns & Cammell's) exported to America three times as much railway track as was produced by the entire American domestic industry.

By 1880, production of Bessemer steel was over a million tons out of a total steel production of about 1.3M tons.

By the end of the 18th century, there were 97 recorded water-powered wheel sites in Sheffield, compared with a third of that number at the beginning of the century. It was the development of steam power and the bulk production of steel that led to the really massive expansion of the industry and the city in the 19th century.

Harry Brearley

Chemist Harry Brearley (1871-1948). In 1907 Brearley returned to Sheffield from abroad to take charge of the Brown-Firth Research Laboratory. Five years later he was investigating the corrosion (rusting) of rifle barrels. As a result of his investigations, he developed a chrome alloy steel which was much more rust resistant than the steel which had been used until then. This is now known as Stainless Steel. Brearley's chrome steel formed the basis for the wide range of stainless and special steels which are now used so widely.

Dr Hatfield

Brearley's successor as manager of these laboratories, Dr. W. H. Hatfield (1882-1943), is credited with the development, in 1924, of a stainless steel which even today is probably the widest-used alloy of this type, the so-called "18/8", which in addition to chromium, includes nickel in its composition (18% Chromium, 8% Nickel).

Recent History

The city was pivotal in arming the military in both World Wars and continued in full production untli the 1960's. It was a target for bombing raids because of its importance.
In The 1970's the market dipped drastically and Sheffield suffered badly. Employment fell from 60,000 in 1971 to 10,000 in the mid 90's. The downturn co-incided with the decline of the regional coal industry. The city's Labour leaders were in conflict with the government. During the early 1970's many of the steelworks closed.
The 1980s saw the worst of the run-down of Sheffield's industries. In 1984, striking miners fought battles with police at the Orgreave Coking Plant. During this time Sheffield was suffering from unemployment, deprivation and urban blight. This is shown in the film The Full Monty.
Nowadays the city's leaders have turned this around with hugh amounts being spent on eduction and the expansion of the two universities. The injection of large amounts of public funds has helped.

Lustre / Stainless Silver

British experts have pioneered the world’s first non-tarnishing sterling silver in a breakthrough that could revolutionise the silver industry. Researchers in Sheffield have developed a "stainless silver" alloy that resists the discolouring effect of pollutants and retains its bright finish. The new product outshines standard sterling silver by keeping its shine and colour intact, putting an end to regular polishing and high care costs. Marketed as Carr's Lustre Silver, makers hope it will change the public’s perception of traditionally high-maintenance silverware. The new alloy has potential to be exploited in areas other than silverware, e.g. in electrical connectors.
Independent tests at the Sheffield Assay Office and the Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association have proven its resistance to tarnishing, which occurs when silver reacts with sulphur containing substances in the air, forming a silver sulphide film that blackens the surface of the metal. Not only does our alloy resist tarnishing, but it can be cast, rolled, worked by silversmiths, soldered, heat-treated and polished without any of the problems that can arise when you change the chemistry and mechanical properties of an existing alloy. It’s also resistant to fire-staining, which makes the production process more efficient.

For more information see:

Hotel Rooms In sheffield