The Livery Masters’ Away Weekend in Sheffield

Thanks to the pandemic, the wonderful tradition of Livery Masters’ Weekend Away has not been able to happen over the past two years. However, the Mistress and I were lucky enough for our year to be open to this once more, with The Lord Mayor deciding to take us to Sheffield as his city of choice for his year’s ‘Class of ‘22’ Year Group, from Friday June 10th – Sunday 12th.

Most Livery Companies were there and represented by their Masters, Upper Bailiffs, Prime Wardens and consorts.

Things started well when, within five minutes of our departure from St Pancras, bottles of champagne were provided for us to enjoy with our six travelling companions, from the Dyers and the Lightmongers.

A convivial glass of train champagne!

It was a great opportunity to get to know our peers a little better and the conversations we had proved a fascinating insight into the workings and activities of other Liveries.

We were hosted brilliantly throughout by the Master and Mistress of the Cutlers of Hallamshire, James and Jo Tear and their team. Founded in 1624, The Cutlers’ Company was established by a parliamentary Act of Incorporation and since that time has sought to maintain the standards and quality of Sheffield manufactured cutlery and steel products and to promote the name of Sheffield.

As manufacturing in the region has changed over the centuries, so the Company reflects this by highlighting the innovation in the region as well as upholding Sheffield’s proud heritage. The weekend served to demonstrate this very well, as we were about to find out!

The Lord Mayor’s welcome

After drinks, canapes and a welcome address from the Lord Mayor in the splendid setting and open space of the Sheffield’s Winter Gardens, adjacent to our hotel, we had private access to the art featured in the Millennium Galleries, the famous Ruskin Collection and Sykes Gallery.

Of course, a trip to Sheffield wouldn’t be completed without pie & mushy peas and our day was made perfect by this simple supper in the excellent company of our colleagues from the Spectacle Makers, Farmers and Basketmakers.

Early starts were necessary on both days if we were to fit in all that had been prepared for our visits.

We separated into 4 different groups in order to fit onto the coaches taking us to our visits for both days.

Saturday morning, we were introduced to 21st century Sheffield manufacturing, with a visit to MetLase. This is a digitally-led, mechanical manufacturing solution company, based in Sheffield which provides added value service through rapid tooling development, digital manufacturing solutions and customised problem solving solutions for high value manufacturer clients.

The tour of technical sites continued with our next visit, the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). They specialise in world-leading research into advanced machining, manufacturing and materials, which is developed as practical use to industry. Their aim is to transform industrial and economic performance by making step changes in productivity, increasing competitiveness, developing new products and processes and training new talent and skills. A truly fascinating visit, perhaps a little too technical for me (and most if us?!) but the young people who took the time and trouble to show us around were as dedicated to their art as any I’ve met. Sheffield has a large claim to be the centre of future training of industrial training and engineering.

Back on the bus and a visit to Persistence Works, Yorkshire Arts Space, a purpose built, award-winning studio complex in Sheffield City Centre.

Comprising 53 studios of varying size to accommodate around 80 artists and makers, its six floors are zoned to suit a broad range of making processes, including light industrial work. Here, we saw skilled artists working with silver, producing the most beautiful and unusual things, from rings and necklaces to napkin rings, goblets and silver measures for spirits – I was sorely tempted!

Temptation never very far away, most of us agreed a much needed drink was in order and, ever the organisers, our hosts had arranged a large open outdoor private space for us a picnic BBQ lunch, in the company of the Glass Sellers and our hosts, at the site of Sheffield’s famous Kelham Island Museum aside the River Don.

An Iron Foundry was built on the site in 1829 and continued in operation until the 1890s. The site was flooded on 11 March 1864, but was replaced by a power station in 1899 to provide electricity for the new fleet of trams in the city. The power station operated until the 1930s when the building was used for storage and workshops. These are the premises now occupied by the museum, along with Russell Works, which now houses the Hawley Gallery and the Crucible Shop, both part of the museum.

The Millowners Arms

Of course the Kelham Island site also houses two of the greatest pubs, the Millowners Arms and the Fat Cat – a must for a visit for any self-respecting real ale lover!

The day’s visits culminated at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, a unique eighteenth century industrial works, which offered us a glimpse of life at home and at work at a rural scythe and steelworks dating back to the 18th century. The Works was once a producer of agricultural tools and the largest water-powered industrial site on the River Sheaf. It is now a group of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

So the day finished at the historically industrial opposite to where it had begun. An intense set of visits, but a very interesting day

Dinner that night, black tie and badges, hosted by the Hallamshire Cutlers in their splendid silver-laden Hall in the middle of the city, in the company of our table, the Mariners, Haberdashers, Barbers and Past Master & Mistress Cutler. A champagne reception, four course meal with wines (but no spirits !!) provided ample fayre for most of us and, with concluding speeches from the Lord Mayor and Master Mercer, we were happy for our beds – but not before I’d spotted a bottle of Jura 10yo on the bar en route which delayed for a little longer … a night cap in the company of the Masters and Mistresses of the Builders Merchants and Needlemakers.

I had been told that there is a very special bond between Livery Masters whose year coincides with one’s own. And so it is proving – meeting as we did on Sunday morning to decide on our Group names for the Year ‘the Platinum’s (of course) and the forming of a committee group who would run our communications and get togethers. The inter-Livery bond is formed for one’s year, friendships made and keeping in touch.

Our final visit before heading for home was to the gardens and house, Wentworth Woodhouse, just outside Rotherham. This extraordinary stately home is one of the largest houses in Europe, that was once the home of the Fitzwilliam family. The house has it’s origins from 1725, and was bought by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust in March 2017.

The Preservation Trust offers guided tours of the house and gardens. The weather was kind and the walk around the extensive estate and house took our morning.

A delicious light summer lunch of poached salmon and salad was provided and in the company of the Solicitors and Feltmakers, in one of the private rooms overlooking the gardens, before which we had a talk from the CEO of The Preservation Trust who explained that they were embarking on a 15 year restoration project to the house this historic attraction in south Yorkshire.

A visit is highly recommended.

A massive debt of gratitude is owed to James and Jo Tear, Master and Mistress of the Cutler’s of Hallamshire.

The photos only capture some of what was a very enjoyable and educational weekend.

I was delighted to have spent such good quality time, getting to know my Year’s compatriots a little better than I had previously.

The Master

I think we had all silently agreed though that there was not to be any talking as we quietly, tiredly but very contentedly made our way home, back t’ smoke of London.

Chris Porter
Master 2021 – 2022