The city of Sheffield has long been synonymous with cutlery and steel, and most previous books have understandably concentrated on the momentous changes which industrialization wrought on the area over the last two hundred years. The figures are astonishing: as early as the seventeenth century three out of every five men in the town worked in one branch or another of the cutlery trades and, in all, Sheffield had a smithy to every 2.2 houses; a hundred years later there were as many as six watermills per mile on rivers such as the Don, Porter and Rivelin, driving a wide range of industrial machinery and processes; local innovations included Old Sheffield Plate, crucible steel and stainless steel; during the mid-nineteenth century 60 per cent of all British cutlers worked in the Sheffield area, and the region manufactured 90 per cent of British steel, and nearly half the entire European output; small, specialized workshops producing a wide range of goods such as edge-tools and cutlery existed side by side with enormous steel factories (it has been estimated that in 1871 Brown’s and Cammell’s alone exported to the United States about three times more than the whole American output). Yet, as David Hey shows, the city’s history goes back way beyond this. Occupying a commanding position on Wincobank, high above the River Don, are the substantial remains of an Iron Age hillfort, built to defend the local population. Celts, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons came and left a legacy recalled in many local names. By the twelfth century William de Lovetot had built a castle at the confluence of the Don and the Sheaf, and it is likely that is was he who founded the town of Sheffield alongside his residence. A century later can be found the first reference to a Sheffield cutler, so industry in the area can be said to be at least 700 years old, and no doubt stretches back even further.
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About the Author
David Hey is Emeritus Professor of Local and Family History at the University of Sheffield. He is President of the British Association for Local History and the Chairman of the British Record Society. He grew up in the Penistone district and he and his wife live at Dronfield Woodhouse. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including A History of the Peak District Moors, which Pen & Sword published in 2014.