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David Mellor

David Mellor (1930 – 2009) David Mellor, a Royal Designer for Industry was a key figure in British design with an international reputation as designer, manufacturer and shopkeeper. He specialized in metalwork, especially cutlery, and also produced other designs including for bus shelters and traffic lights.

Mellor was born in Ecclesall, Sheffield, where his father was a toolmaker for the Sheffield Twist Drill Company. When he was eleven, David began attending the Junior Art Department of Sheffield College of Art where he received training in craft skills. He made his first piece of metalwork – a sweet dish – at the school. He also studied at the Royal College of Art in London beginning in 1950. Mellor’s first cutlery design, Pride, was crafted while he was still a student and the design remains in production.

When he returned to Sheffield after his schooling, Mellor set up a silversmithing workshop-studio where he made one-off pieces of specially commissioned silverware. He attached himself to Sheffield’s Walker Hall where he pioneered the term “design consultant.”

His work included a collection of modern silver tableware ordered by the British government for use in British embassies and intended to give Britain a more forward-looking image. According to the current website for David Mellor, “He felt it his mission to improve design standards over a broad spectrum, directly affecting very many people’s lives.”

A 1952 scholarship to travel to Sweden and Denmark introduced Mellor to modern domestic design. During this period, he developed an interest in street furniture that would lead to designs for street lighting and a reappraisal of the nation’s traffic lights from 1965-70.

Mellor’s Pride design was one of the first Design Council award winners and eventually led him to many official commissions including those for the British embassies, the Embassy range.

In addition to silversmithing Mellor was inspired by the relatively new design potential of stainless steel. His Symbol cutlery, manufactured from 1963 at Walker & Hall’s modern factory at Bolsover in Derbyshire, was the first high-quality stainless steel cutlery to be produced in quantity in the UK.

Mellor was subsequently commissioned by the government to redesign standard issue cutlery for canteens, hospitals, prisons and the railways. He reduced the traditional 11-piece place set to five pieces that cut costs and was named, the Thrift range.

Over the years, these were complemented by other ranges in a range of values: Provençal (1973) and Chinese Ivory (1975) are characteristic of their decade. In the 1980s, Mellor’s cutlery design returned to a more characteristic, voluptuous simplicity.

Minimal (2002) was his next to last range of satin-polished stainless steel cutlery. Its reduced form is complemented by a measured weight that achieved fine balance. The London range followed in 2004.

Mellor worked for the Midlands engineering firm Abacus Municipal on the design of street lighting, bus shelters, public seating and trash bins. Around 140,000 of his bus shelters have been installed since they were first produced in 1959. In 1965 he was commissioned by the Department of the Environment to redesign the national traffic light system as part of an overhaul of traffic signs. Mellor’s redesigned traffic lights are still in use.

In 1973 Mellor began manufacturing his own cutlery designs. To house his factory he renovated a large historic mansion, Broom Hall, in central Sheffield. Working virtually from scratch, machines were moved into the extensive Georgian wing. The conversion of the building received a European Architectural Heritage Award.

In addition to introducing new concepts in cutlery, Mellor rethought traditional methods of production. Workers in the Sheffield cutlery industry had up to then specialized in a single operation, but he introduced a new system where cutlery makers rotated from task to task, increasing job satisfaction through a sense of involvement in the project.

In 1990, Mellor finally realized a long-held ambition by commissioning a new purpose-built cutlery factory designed by Michael Hopkins. This factory, known as the Round Building, was built on the circular foundations of the village gas works in the Peak District National Park, 12 miles from Sheffield.

The first David Mellor shop opened at 4 Sloane Square, London, in 1969. It was followed by shops in James Street, Covent Garden; King Street, Manchester; and 22 Shad Thames, Butlers Wharf, London. A shop was opened in Hathersage, alongside the Round Building factory.

Mellor was the youngest Royal Designer for Industry, elected in 1962 at the age of 32. In the early 1980s he chaired the wide-ranging Design Council Committee of Inquiry into standards of design in Consumer Goods in Britain. He was Chairman of the Crafts Council and a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

He received honorary doctorates from the University of Sheffield, De Montfort University, Sheffield Hallam University, Loughborough University and the Royal College of Art. In 1981 he was appointed OBE and CBE in 2001.

A large-scale retrospective exhibition “David Mellor Master Metalworker” was held at the Design Museum, London, in 1996. There is a David Mellor Design Museum in a building alongside the cutlery factory at Hathersage.

Mellor was married to Fiona MacCarthy, a biographer and cultural historian. They had two children, Corin (born 1966) who followed in his father’s footsteps as a product and interior designer. Corin is the Creative Director of David Mellor Design. Mellor’s daughter, Clare (born 1970), is a graphic designer with her own London practice.

Sadly, the final years of Mellor’s life were affected by dementia which did not, however, prevent him from noticing in hospitals and care homes when his surroundings fell short of his high visual standards.

The current factory manager has worked for David Mellor Design for many years. It should be especially noted that his daughter, Clare controls all the firm’s publications and exhibition lettering.

Mellor’s son, Corin, also a designer, succeeded to management and has continued the success of the family firm. Corin has executed many special design commissions. His public seating can be seen at the Lowry Gallery, the Millennium Galleries and Winter Gardens, Sheffield.

Recent special commissions include spectacular metalwork for Sheffield Cathedral and a collection of sterling silver for a Middle East royal family. Larger scale works include sculptural benches for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House and a current project for a 20 meter link bridge in stainless steel and glass for Sheffield Hallam University.

At David Mellor Design, Corin is responsible for special product development within the company. Since 2007 he has introduced new ranges of kitchen knives, fine bone china and porcelain, table glass and woodware. Corin designed the interior of the new David Mellor Design Museum and Café at Hathersage.

Corin is married to the photographer Helen Mellor and divides his time between the factory and design office in Derbyshire and the London shop, David Mellor Sloane Square.

Among David Mellor’s designs, the following are also noteworthy:

The 1963 Embassy teapot. Made of silver, it was part of the large scale government commission for handmade silver tableware for British embassies. From 1965, Canteen cutlery made of stainless steel and commissioned by the British government as standard cutlery for office canteens, hospitals, prisons, and British Rail.

In 1969, Mellor designed disposable cutlery in white plastic for Cross Paperware that was made by the millions. Following up, in 1977, he created Chinese Ivory Stainless steel with acetal resin handles that were an iconic design of the period and received the Design Council Award for 1977.

In 1986, Mellor created cutlery for people with a physical disability. These were ergonomically designed as part of the Helen Hamlyn Foundation’s campaign to improve living standards for elderly people.

The year 1998 introduced, City cutlery in Stainless steel. This was one of David Mellor’s most spectacular designs and exploited the latest technological advances to arrive at a unique sculptural form.

Obvious to all, the family legacy lives on and demonstrates that the Mellors are not mere knife and fork stylists, but also a family that understands the behavior of metals, the physics of tools, and the designs that best employ them.

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