David Mellor was a British artist, craftsman, and retailer who lived from 1930 to 2009.
Mellor specialised in metalwork, especially cutlery, and was regarded as one of Britain’s most well-known designers. He also built bus shelters and the traffic light system currently in operation throughout the United Kingdom, British Crown Dependencies, and British Overseas Territories.
Early years and education
Mellor’s father worked as a toolmaker for the Sheffield Twist Drill Company in Ecclesall, Sheffield, where he was born. Mellor attended Sheffield College of Art’s Junior Art Department from eleven, gaining comprehensive instruction in craft skills. He produced his first piece of metalwork at this young age, a sweet dish.
He finally went to the Royal College of Art in 1951, which was also the year of the Festival of Britain, much of which was designed by RCA staff. The Council for Industrial Design, which was started in 1944 and later changed its name to the Design Council, wanted to raise national design standards at this time. There was a time when people were very hopeful about how good design could help society. Mellor learned a lot from Robert Gooden, the Professor of Silversmithing, at the College. He also got a lot out of travelling. In 1952, he went to Sweden and Denmark on a scholarship, where he liked how the Scandinavians thought that a modern age needs a modern look. The next year, he spent six months at the British School in Rome, where he was impressed by the Italian sense of style and the sophistication of the shops there. Even though his background was limited, or maybe because of it, he was very sensitive to new tastes and ways of making things. In 1954, he left the RCA with the Silver Medal, which was given to the best student of the year.
Mellor returned to Sheffield and founded a silversmithing workshop studio. He produced one-of-a-kind pieces of specially commissioned silverware. To give Britain a more forward-looking image, the government commissioned a range of modern silver tableware for British embassies.
Mellor was motivated by the relatively new design promise of stainless steel, in addition to silversmithing. His “Symbol” cutlery was the first high-quality stainless steel cutlery to be mass-produced in the UK, beginning in 1963 at Walker & Hall’s purpose-built new factory in Bolsover, Derbyshire. The government then tasked Mellor with redesigning standard-issue cutlery for canteens, hospitals, jails, and railways, reducing the usual 11-piece place collection to five pieces and lowering prices.
Mellor designed street lighting, bus shelters, public seating, and litter bins for the Midlands engineering company Abacus Municipal. The street lights were inspired by the steel lighting columns he had seen in Rome’s Borghese Gardens. This was the start of a series of successful designs for use in cities, which ended a decade later with a commission from the Ministry of Transport to change the way the national traffic signal system works. At the same time, Mellor could see that the city around him was changing a lot. The Park Hill flats, one of the biggest housing projects in Europe, and the Hyde Park tower block, which was built right next to it, were two examples. Someone who grew up during the Great Depression would have been very affected by such a big change. Mellor could be critical of Sheffield, but his strong commitment to the city helped bring it firmly into the 20th century.
Mellor started selling things to the public in 1969 when he opened his first store in London’s Sloane Square. He rented an empty space in a new building and borrowed $12,000 from the family of his wife to build and stock the shop. Soon after, in 1973, he decided to open his first factory in Broom Hall, a part-Tudor, a part-Georgian mansion in Sheffield that he bought and fixed up. From then on, he made knives based on his own designs. In the Georgian wing, the machines were kept. Mellor liked things to be neat and clean, so at the end of each day, the floors were swept.
From that point on, Mellor’s career went in a clear direction. He opened more shops in Manchester, Covent Garden, and, most notably, on the ground floor of the building he built at 22 Shad Thames, near the Design Museum in London. Part of the plan to turn Butler’s Wharf into a place for art, craft, and design, was done. Mellor was hurt by the recession and had to change his plans. He sold the building to Terence Conran, who made it his headquarters. Soon, Mellor turned his attention to something else. With the Michael Hopkins Partnership, he built a new factory on the concrete foundations of an old gasometer at Hathersage, outside Sheffield. This circular building was to win many architectural and environmental awards. It had a thick stone rim and a roof that was built inside like a bicycle wheel.
Mellor’s success was recognised by the public when, at the age of 31, he became the youngest Royal Designer for Industry. This happened in 1962. He became a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers two years after that. With his E-Type Jaguar and forward-thinking ideas, he was seen as one of the most forward-thinking people in the design world.
He won the 1950 National Design Competition of the Design and Research Centre for Gold, Silver and Jewellery for a silver coffee set.
- 1957 Design Council Award for his Pride flatware;
- 1953 silver medal from the Royal College of Art; 1957, 1959, 1962, 1965, 1974, 1977 and other Design Council Awards;
- 1975 Architectural Heritage Year Award for conversion of Broom Hall;
- 1981 Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Society of Arts Presidential Award for Design Management.
- In 1962, elected Royal Designer for Industry in 1964. fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers;
- 1979, honorary fellow of Sheffield Polytechnic;
- 1981, liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths; in 1981, freeman of the Cutlers’ Company;
- 1981, QBE (Order of the British Empire). He was made a trustee of the Victoria and Albert museum in 1984.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Spalding, F. (2009, May 08). DAVID MELLOR. The Independent
Wikipedia contributors. (2020, June 22). David Mellor (designer). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:38, March 30, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=David_Mellor_(designer)&oldid=963818
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