30 November 2013

Steelmen

Sheffield was built on steel. During the nineteenth century,  the biggest steelworks complex in the entire world was developed to the north east of the city - in an area known as Meadowhall. Nowadays, the very same site is occupied by a stonking great shopping centre which is visited by pilgrims every day of the year apart from Christmas Day. They park their cars and with bowed heads wander into their marble temple to pay homage to Mammon.

At one of the entrances, they might stop to briefly admire this bronze trio:-
It's a sculpture by a Canadian artist called Robin Bell. He created it over the winter of 1989-1990 and it is known locally as "The Steelmen" though its real title is "Teeming". It celebrates Sheffield's steel making history and commemorates generations of hardworking people who devoted their lives to the manufacture of steel - a metal that would form the backbone of Britain's industrial triumphs and its empire. Steel was there in our canal system, the railways, tramlines, shipping, major building projects and of course in the wars we fought. It wasn't in London that Britain built its greatness but in places like Sheffield and Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff - hard-working cities where things really got done.
In the torrid heat of the steelworks, men would sometimes
stuff their mouths with wet neckerchiefs.
During World War One, my grandmother - Phyllis White - worked in one of the great steelworks - helping to produce shell casings. She was only fourteen when she volunteered. Many other Sheffield and Rotherham women worked in the steel factories during World War Two. It is heart-warming to note that another statue will soon be erected in Sheffield to honour these women of both world wars whose efforts in those hellish steelworks have until recently largely been overlooked by historians. They say they are going to call the new statue "Women of Steel".

12 comments:

  1. Well, they could hardly have called them, 'Iron Ladies' Not up North, anyway.

    It is about time the ladies got their memorial as well.

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    1. If a statue of Thatcher is ever erected in a public area in this country it will be deservedly attacked within twenty four hours. I know this because I will be first in the queue to do it and later you'll have to bring Alex and his chum over to practise their urination skills.

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  2. Fascinating. Bronze, you say? Steel would have been the obvious choice, but is terribly hard to work into sculpture, I know that. Leaving aside the cost.

    I doubt there was a family in New Zealand that didn't possess a knife or something else made of Sheffield steel. Probably still isn't.

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    1. I had spotted the metal irony too Katherine. It's a shame these days that even in Sheffield, many people now use Korean or Chinese cutlery! Today Shirley and I bought six new "Made in Sheffield" dinner knives from a junk shop. I guess they were made fifty or sixty years ago and were probably put in a drawer and never used. They cost us £12 (for six) - beautiful and bone-handled.

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    2. Of course we all grew up with those lovely knives with bone handles but these days we can't put them in the dishwasher so we don't want them any more.

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    3. Helen - We happily put ours in the dishwasher. The last lovely set has taken ten years to deteriorate and crack a little so these new ones are a replacement set.

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  3. Beautiful statues YP. It is a shame that people are too busy to appreciate the bronze work and heritage on which their city was built. Great find at the op. shop. I can imagine them because my grandmother had a set of bone handled knives for everyday use.

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    1. Your grandmother had discerning good taste!

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  4. I went to Meadowhall once Teeming was the highlight of the day. Good as it is I shan't be going back.......That place is the nearest I've come to experiencing hell on earth.

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    1. And were you playing the part of Satan?

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    2. No. I was being myself. I was a totally confused self. I can't believe people enjoy shopping like this. I like food shopping and camera shopping. I used to love bookshops but have no room for books anymore.
      I did spend almost half an hour inside Meadowhall but couldn't find any proper shops. They all have foreign names T. J. Poxy. Lon Jewish. I like Jewish traders they will always brighten a shopping day with a bit of banter and barter. What the FUK do NEXT sell? I'll stick with local stores where possible and Harrison Cameras for luxuries.
      Just in case you think I was being overly careful I did get a spare phone from a shop called 'EE By Gum'. Very good it is for a tenner.

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  5. So, Meadowhall closes on Christmas Day? Shocking!

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