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28 October 2014
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Sheffield Grinder's Hull
A Sheffield Grinder's Hull, from illustrated guide to Sheffield, 1879
What now for Sheffield’s Little Mesters?

Sheffield is famous as an industrial city, once known as the capital of the world for steel, cutlery and toolmaking. The heavy industries such as steelmaking and engineering often dominate the city’s image, which can overshadow the importance of Sheffield’s light trades. The light trades were very different in character and structure compared to the heavy industries, but were equally significant in Sheffield’s development. A large part of this significance was due to a network of craftspeople known as the ‘Little Mesters’.

The origins of the term ‘Little Mester’ are uncertain, but it is used to refer to a particular kind of craftsman in the town of Sheffield and the surrounding area. Often described as the backbone of Sheffield’s cutlery and toolmaking industries, the Little Mesters enjoy a reputation as highly skilled and specialised workers. They worked for themselves, sometimes alone, and sometimes employing apprentices or another worker or two. At the height of their population in the mid 1800s, they were making a vast contribution to the variety of products with a Sheffield stamp on. Today, there are a handful of these craftsmen left in Sheffield, and the future for the continuation of their skills is looking uncertain. More...

Words: Emma Green and Natalie Murray

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