David Mellor (designer)
|Born||David Rogerson Mellor
5 October 1930
Ecclesall, Sheffield, England
|Died||7 May 2009(age 78)|
Regarded as one of the best-known designers in Britain, Mellor specialised in metalwork and especially cutlery, to such an extent that he was often referred to as "the cutlery king". He also produced many other designs throughout his career, including the designs for bus shelters and the traffic light system in use across the UK. Sir Terence Conran has described him as 'Britain's greatest post-war product designer'.
Early life and training
Mellor was born in Ecclesall, Sheffield,[dead link] where his father was a toolmaker for the Sheffield Twist Drill Company. From the age of eleven, Mellor attended the Junior Art Department of Sheffield College of Art, receiving an intensive training in craft skills. He made his first piece of metalwork – a sweet dish – at this early age.
He studied at the Royal College of Art in London from 1950. Mellor's first cutlery, "Pride", designed while he was still a student, is still in production and included in many international collections. Mellor also studied at the British School at Rome.
Returning to Sheffield, Mellor set up a silversmithing workshop-studio making one-off pieces of specially commissioned silverware. He was at the centre of the renaissance of handmade silver in Britain in the 1960s, designing for new universities and churches as well as for private clients. His most important work in silver was a complete new collection of modern silver tableware commissioned by the government for British embassies in a drive to give Britain a more forward-looking image.
Alongside silversmithing Mellor was stimulated by the relatively new design potential of stainless steel. His "Symbol" cutlery, manufactured from 1963 at Walker & Hall's purpose-built 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, reducing the traditional 11-piece place set to five pieces and cutting production costs enormously.
Mellor's work for the Midlands engineering firm Abacus Municipal in the design of street lighting, bus shelters, public seating and litter bins made considerable impact on the street scene: around 140,000 of his bus shelters having 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 a total overhaul of traffic signage. Mellor's redesigned traffic lights are still in use.
In 1973 Mellor made the decision to begin manufacturing his own cutlery designs. To house his factory he renovated a large historic mansion, Broom Hall, in central Sheffield. The building was then derelict. The machines were moved into the extensive Georgian wing. The conversion of the building received a European Architectural Heritage Award. As well as introducing new concepts in cutlery he rethought the traditional methods of production. Workers in the Sheffield cutlery industry had up to then specialised in a single operation, but he introduced a new system whereby his cutlery makers rotate from task to task, increasing job satisfaction through a sense of involvement in the project as a whole.
In 1990, Mellor finally realised a long-held ambition by commissioning a new purpose-built cutlery factory from his friend the architect Sir Michael Hopkins. This factory, known as The Round Building, was built on the circular foundations of the redundant village gas works at Hathersage in the Peak District National Park, 12 miles from Sheffield. The building has received numerous architectural and environmental awards.
The wisdom of his early decision to concentrate on manufacturing cutlery for a relatively small, high-level design-oriented market is clear now that the industry in Sheffield has been decimated by competition from imported low-cost cutlery.
The first David Mellor shop opened at 4 Sloane Square, London, in 1969 and immediately set international standards for retailing design. It was followed by shops in James Street, Covent Garden; King Street, Manchester; and 22 Shad Thames, Butlers Wharf, London. A Country Shop was opened in Hathersage, alongside the Round Building factory. The David Mellor shops are the largest outlets for David Mellor cutlery and own-brand tableware and kitchenware.
Public work and honours
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 has been Chairman of the Crafts Council and a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum. He was awarded 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. The recent opening of the permanent David Mellor Design Museum, in a new Hopkins building alongside the cutlery factory at Hathersage, allows the public to view his 50-year career.
Mellor was married to Fiona MacCarthy, a biographer and cultural historian. They have two children, Corin (born 1966), product and interior designer, who is Creative Director of David Mellor Design; and Clare (born 1970), a graphic designer with her own London practice.
- "Tribute to alumnus David Mellor, Sheffield's master metalworker" (PDF). Sheffield Hallam University. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
- "David Mellor: designer, manufacturer and retailer", The Times, 7 May 2009
- "David Mellor Cutlery Designer + Manufacturer (1930–2009)". Design Museum. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
- Sheffield's man of steel Renowned cutler David Mellor, who has always lived and worked in Sheffield, displays unwavering commitment to good design, 22 October 1998, Kenneth Powell, Architects Journal. Retrieved 13 August 2008
- David Mellor Master Metalworker, Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust, 1998.
- Stephen Bayley and Terence Conran, Design: Intelligence made Visible, Conran Octopus 2007
- Lucas Hollweg 'Genius of the knife, fork and spoon', Daily Telegraph, 8 February 1997
- Felicity Lawrence 'Man of steel', Guardian Weekend, 19 July 1997
- Nomie Niesewand 'Fifty years at the cutting edge', The Independent, 25 September 1998
- Fiona Rattray 'Legends of British Design', The Independent Magazine, 2 April 2005
- Kenneth Powell 'Sheffield's man of steel', Architects' Journal, 22 October 1998
- David Mellor Design
- David Mellor – Daily Telegraph obituary
- Obituary in The Guardian
- Obituary in The Independent