Sheffield was once home to thousands of skilled metal workers, but now they’re a dying breed...

Pictured at Ernest Wright  Ian Chappell at work harding
Pictured at Ernest Wright Ian Chappell at work harding

A HUNT has been launched to track down some of Sheffield’s most endangered species.

But the aim is not to trace rare animals or exotic plants, but people - the last of the city’s traditional skilled metal workers, who are fast becoming a dying breed.

A census is to be carried out by Sheffield Council to discover just how many expert craftsmen and Little Mesters are still plying their trades, as the first step in a drive to pass their talents on to younger generations.

The campaign was launched at scissor makers Ernest Wright and Son at Kelham Island, which once employed over 50 people but now has just three specialists left.

The firm still sends its products all over the world - but without new blood, the company’s future looks bleak.

One of the trio is Cliff Denton, now 67, who has been with Wrights for 30 years and in the industry since he was 15.

“I was an apprentice for years but I was still learning the scissor trade for a long, long time after that,” he said.

“I can tell instantly if a pair of scissors isn’t quite right just by holding them in my hand. A pair may sell for over £100 in the shops but if they don’t do the job then they are just scrap.”

Cliff said he would love to train a young apprentice.

“It would be brilliant to pass it all on to someone dedicated, who was committed to the trade. I had a lad, he was with us for eight years - but he got a better offer and off he went, out of the industry.

“It’s true, I do feel like a dying breed - the rest of us are mostly in the graveyard.”

Cabinet member for culture Coun Roger Davison said that to celebrate and preserve the expertise still here in the city, it was vital to find out what was still going on.

“Without the survey it would be possible for the last metal spinner, independent pen knife maker or grinder to retire before we had a chance to map their amazing skills,” he said.

Ernest Wright and Son company director Nick Wright agreed the census was needed because so many of the craftsmen still operating are one or two man operations. “Many keep themselves to themselves but, of the ones I know about, 75 per cent are over the age of 60, which is a concern,” he said. “These trades are slowly disappearing - if we find out what the situation is, we can do something to stop that.

“But we need special young people - an apprenticeship takes a minimum three years, ideally five or seven.”

Robin Wood, chair of the national Heritage Crafts Association, said the survey would highlight the many wonderfully talented people who are still making quality metalwork in Sheffield.

“We want to see these skills celebrated in the same way Stratford celebrates Shakespeare. It is Sheffield’s cultural heritage and something to be proud of,” he added.