Walking through the archway to Portland works, you instantly get a feeling that something is happening. Clanging, grinding, bashing sounds are ringing out from over twenty workshops housed in this historic building. A building that has held a wide variety of makers since the late 1800’s and now is the last fully working integrated steel works left standing in Sheffield.
This particular works is interwoven into Sheffield’s industrial past and produced the first ever stainless steel knife. A steel that was also found right here in Sheffield by Harry Brearley on the 13th August 1913 whilst experimenting for a small arms manufacturer. Harry’s employers weren’t interested in the rust free steel at all, so he bought some from them and took it along to Portland Works, at his own cost and perfected the new steel there.
So our visit to Stuart Mitchell knives was a visit to heart of the steel industry. The building where stainless steel was born and one which has held the Mitchell family for over 35 years allowing them to craft some of the finest knives coming out of Sheffield.
Stuart’s workshop is crammed full of character with numerous machines that look as old as the building, shelving stacked full of metals and off cuts of steel leaning against the wall. All illuminated by the light bursting through the many single pained windows and sky lights.
Stuart welcomed us in and took us on a grand tour of his workshop and then the building, which is now a co-operative bought and proudly owned by 500 shareholders including the current workers, people across the city and the rest of the world. He talked about the process of making the knives, the bespoke nature of what he does, the family history and his ideas for the future. It is clear to see he is proud of what he creates, taking up to three months to perfect every knife that goes out. Working through each process with care and precision, from the initial design and hand cutting to the forging, grinding and finishing. Each knife is numbered emphasising the bespoke nature of this craft and ensuring no two knives are the same. This individuality is something his customers love. Stuart encourages them to come to the workshop so together they can design the perfect knife, allowing customers to have a real connection with the product they are buying.
The quality and time taken to produce each each knife attracts a lot of attention, meaning that if you want a knife from Stuart you will have to join a waiting list of eager clients. Ask anyone who owns a Stuart Mitchell knife and they will tell you it is definitely worth the wait!