The Pedestal in conversation with Matthew Beddall
Design For Living, held on 10th November, featured an impressive heavy gauge five-piece silver tea and coffee service by Sidney Beddall, hallmarked Sheffield, 1973 and 1976 and stamped ‘Designed Hand Made by S. Beddall’ to the bases. The appearance of this super-stylish silver at auction prompted The Pedestal to find out about the career and life of this prodigious, talented and ‘under the radar’ silversmith; and who better to guide us, than his son, Matthew Beddall.
Sidney Beddall was born in Sheffield in 1932, at a time when over half the working population of the city was employed by either the steel works or in cutlery manufacture. Sidney’s father worked a steel jack hammer, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, travelling 3 miles to and fro for around 50 years. However, Sidney turned against working in steel, having witnessed how the years of physical toil had diminished his father. From an early age he had demonstrated skills in art, craft and design, but with scant encouragement from school, due to his then little-understood dyslexia, he left aged 14 to pursue an apprenticeship at Walker & Hall – the Sheffield firm founded in the mid-19th century renowned for its electro plate, cutlery and silver. Sidney started out in the cabinet making division, but soon moved to silver smithing, and by the age of 16 he was combining his day job with attendance at evening art classes. As for many of his contemporaries, National Service was to interrupt civilian life for close to 2 years, and Sidney joined the RAF spending most of the duration stationed in Egypt. In June 1953 as a serviceman he had a ringside role in Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation when along with others from the forces he helped to control the large, excited crowds lining the route to Westminster Abbey.
David Mellor – perhaps best known for his cutlery and the pioneering kitchenware shop on Sloane Square, opened in 1969, and less well-recognised as the designer of the UK’s traffic light system and bus shelters – was a contemporary of Sidney’s at Walker & Hall. In 1954 Mellor had just graduated from the Royal College of Art and was taken on to modernise Walker & Hall’s increasingly old fashioned post-war range of goods. Mellor’s forte was in design, but not in manufacture, and he relied upon Sidney to realise his creations through the making up of prototypes for approval by the company’s Board. By the early 1960s Sidney had decided he could work for himself – from designing through to manufacture – and he set up a workshop under Sheffield’s railway arches, and here he worked not only in silver, but in copper, a extremely popular material at the time.
Matthew recalls that Sidney was able to visualise all manner of designs whilst also possessing a practical understanding of materials and construction in order to make the pieces himself. In 1966 Sidney and his wife had moved to the picturesque Lake District town of Ambleside, overlooking Lake Windermere. An example of Sidney’s approach to fixing something he felt wasn’t designed properly or fit for purpose was when he knocked down a wing of his Ambleside house, as it ‘didn’t feel right’ to him, and with no prior building experience he re-built it by himself.
By the late 1960s Sidney had moved out from his garage and was working from his own purpose built workshop and showroom in Ambleside. By the early 1970s he was also designing and making jewellery in silver, gold and platinum – another self-taught skill. In the 1980s he was approached with a lucrative retail opportunity in Harrogate but he turned it down preferring to stay in control of his career by continuing to handle all steps of the silversmithing process.
He received commissions through word of mouth, and many clients travelled from all over the UK to Ambleside to discuss pieces with him. Matthew believes that our Design For Living five-piece set was probably one of only two or three similar such services made by Sidney. Alongside many items made to order, including a letter opener for the Royal household, Sidney made jewellery for his wife and cufflinks for his twin sons, and for their 21st birthday he created two solid silver goblets, which would not have looked out of place at the court of Henry VIII. His output and its range were remarkable, yet, his pieces are rarely seen on the secondary market, perhaps as they have tended to stay within the families who first acquired them.
Sidney Beddall closed his business in 1995 although he still retained a full workshop through his retirement. He is one in a unique cohort of Sheffield gold and silversmiths who developed and honed their skills in the 1950s and 60s, and as Matthew notes, the profession of individual craftsman doesn’t constitute a crowded or growing field. Sidney was from a generation untroubled by the internet and social media, and in his lifetime he never sent an email. A consequence of working in the pre-digital age is his major legacy of primary sources: an extensive library of drawings, albums of designs and images of his work, along with his pristine silversmithing tools – their form has not changed over the centuries and they would be recognised by the earliest silversmiths. The family passed on these tools to silversmiths working at Yorkshire Artspace – one of the first studio groups to be set up outside London providing affordable working spaces and development programmes for artists and makers – a gesture Matthew knows for sure would have delighted Sidney.
The next Design For Living auction will be held in Spring 2021. To request an auction valuation contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | +44 (0)207 281 2790