A truly British designer, David Mellor built his reputation on the design of a particular product – cutlery – and by involving himself in its manufacturing. His career was informed by his birthplace – Sheffield, city of steel. When he was growing up there in the 1930s more than half of the city’s workforce, including Mellor’s father, was employed in the cutlery and steel industries.
His up bringing.
Mellor was born in Sheffield in 1930. His father Colin made tools for the Sheffield Twist Drill Company and encouraged his son to make things at home. At the age of 12, while Britain was at war, Mellor enrolled in the Junior Art Department of Sheffield Art School. ‘Junior’ departments provided vocational training for teenagers in the hope that they would become artisans or highly skilled factory workers. Mellor was taught metalwork, pottery, house-painting and decorating as well as conventional academic subjects. Showing a clear aptitude for metalwork he progressed in 1945 to Sheffield Art School, where his teachers included William E. Bennett, himself a former pupil of the Arts and Crafts silversmith Omar Ramsden.
As he carried on...
After graduating in 1954, Mellor returned to Sheffield and set up a studio in Eyre Street next to the silver plating company Walker & Hall. Founded in 1840, Walker and Hall was at the centre of silver plating in Sheffield and specialised in electroplating. It employed Mellor as a design consultant paying him an annual retainer of £1,000. Walker and Hall put his Pride cutlery into production, followed shortly by a silver plate tea service of the same name. In 1962 the company opened a purpose built factory at Bolsover in Derbyshire to concentrate on stainless steel production. Mellor developed the Symbol set of stainless steel cutlery to be made there, and designed it specifically to eliminate the use of handwork in the manufacturing process.
What he designed.
Two years later he received another commission from the Ministry of Public Works, this time for Thrift, an inexpensive set of stainless steel cutlery for use in government canteens in hospitals, schools, prisons and railways. Mellor strove to minimise production costs by reducing the form of each item to the simplest possible shape and by rationalising the standard 11-piece cutlery set to five pieces: a large spoon to be used both for soup and serving; a medium sized spoon for cereals, fruit, puddings; a small spoon for tea, coffee, ice cream or boiled eggs; a single knife and a single fork.