Sheffield family design urban landscape

David's son with some of the iconic street furniture
David's son with some of the iconic street furniture

David Mellor’s legacy lingers almost everywhere. The Sheffield designer’s traffic light design still reigns over Britain’s roads.

Many of us have waited patiently at the bus stops he drew up, and his steel cutlery was the first to be mass produced. And soon, to add to this list, the late creative’s son Corin – also a designer – has masterminded a new bridge, which will span two of Sheffield Hallam University’s buildings.

The bridge is a strange concertina-like structure which Corin himself describes as a ‘toast rack’.

“We’ve made models of the bridge and it does remind me of a toast rack,” he said. “I wanted to design something that reflected old Sheffield and the city’s Victorian working past, but also Sheffield today.

“The structure nods to the past but it’s also wrapped in shiny steel - it’s about the city’s old and new industries.”

Inspiration for the bridge came from a rather unusual object.

“My sister bought me an old-fashioned Slinky and I love the way it moves up and down the stairs,” he said. “That’s what happens, I see something and it just sits in my mind.

“I walk around looking at things a lot. But I work best under a deadline and then I am able to draw on all these different things.”

Work on the bridge will start later this year and the building won’t be in use until 2015, but for now Sheffield Hallam is exhibiting Mellor family designs until November 3.

The bridge drawings will be part of the exhibition, called David Mellor: Steel and Light, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Corin’s father’s seminal cutlery range, Symbol, alongside the centenary of stainless steel.

David Mellor was best known for his cutlery and metalwork, but also worked on other projects such as redesigning the national traffic light system in the 1960s and rethinking street furniture from bollards to bins.

David was Sheffield born and bred, his father made tools for Sheffield’s Twist Drill Company, and would always be making things at home - whether toys or painting pictures on the bedroom floor.

David inherited his father’s knack for craftsmanship and at the age of 12 was sent to the Junior Art Department of Sheffield College of Art. He made his first object at the age of 11 - a beautifully-crafted sweet dish.

In 1951 David started studying at the Royal College of Art and developed his elegant Pride cutlery while still at college.

Then, in 1961, he designed what would become his hallmark collection - Symbol - which was the first high quality stainless steel cutlery to be produced in Britain.

And it’s from this point that the exhibition tells the Mellor story, moving from Symbol through to his simple traffic light which he designed for the Ministry of Transport in 1965, and culminating in the talents of his son, Corin.

Corin - now the Mellor torchbearer - runs the David Mellor brand from the purpose-built Round Building in Hathersage, where the cutlery is manufactured. And Corin, like his father, is interested in designing products where form relates to its material quality, such as stainless steel. As well as cutlery, commissions have included candelabra for a church and, of course, his bridge.

“Bridges are beautiful objects. I like the old Victorian ones that are solid and covered in rivets - the engineering is inherently beautiful because it is just about function,” said Corin.

And not only will his bridge be functional, it’s also symbolic of the continuation of his father’s legacy and also of Sheffield’s industry.

“I like the idea of continuation too,” he says. “Bridges are lovely things. They have a transporting function. They take us from one place to another.”

n David Mellor Steel and Light is at Sheffield Hallam University in the Institute of Arts Gallery until November 3.