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Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 19:26 UK
Designer of the traffic light
David Mellor

By Stephanie Barnard
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Have you ever been stuck at traffic lights in the rush hour, cursing because they are never in your favour? These lights were introduced in 1965 and were created by Sheffield designer David Mellor. However he is more well known for the cutlery and home-ware he designed before his project for the Ministry of Transport. Mellor influenced many areas of design during his career.
David Mellor, Traffic light
Traffic light designed for the Ministry of Transport, by David Mellor

David Mellor died in May 2009, and this Autumn two memorial services are being held in Sheffield and London. His legacy continues at David Mellor Design Limited where his son, Corin Mellor, is Creative Director.

David was born in Sheffield in 1930, the son of a tradesman, who worked for The Sheffield Twist Drill Company.

From an early age he disliked every subject at school except art. In 1942, just before his 12th birthday, he was sent to a junior art school.

David's son Corin explains his father's passion for design and how it began. "Sheffield has a huge cutlery tradition. He started designing at the Junior Art Department at Sheffield College of Art in 1942. This is where he designed his first set of spoons which started his love of cutlery.

"Six years later he went on to the Royal College of Art in London and designed a range of cutlery called Pride, which was released in 1953. That was his most famous range of cutlery. It was the first student design to be manufactured and was made by the Sheffield firm Walker and Hall. He won around 20 design awards after its launch and it's still being made today, it is David Mellor Designs' best selling range.

Corin Mellor
Son of David Mellor, Corin

But how did a cutlery designer and silversmith turn his hand to work outside this area? Corin explains,

"When you are designer you should be able to design more than one thing. His philosophy was that you should be able to design buildings, tools, anything. He was a designer across a wide spectrum. As a designer you are always looking at things. It is about taking in visual images whilst walking around."

The traffic light filter system and pedestrian crossing signals are just a few of the signs that are down to one man, David Mellor. They are still used to this present day, a testament to good design.

A revolutionary new shape to the good old fashioned, red, curvy British post box was announced a year after his successful slow launch of the traffic light system. Mellor was to redesign the original 1879 bright red pillar box. The Mellor design was unveiled in October 1968, near St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Unfortunately for the Post Office, the public objected to the new design. It was not just for sentimental reasons but 'the new sharp edged boxes posed a greater hazard to drunks!' according to a letter received by the newspaper The Daily Scotsman.

In 1970 Mellor designed a series of saws, the Eclipse hacksaws for the leading Sheffield manufacturer, James Neil. These included the famous Eclipse Junior Saw for school children which is still used.

David Mellor, teaspoons
The first design that David Mellor produced when he was a teenager, two teaspoons

He was instrumental in the design of garden shears which he created for another Sheffield Manufacturer, Burgon and Ball. These were introduced in 1970. This design opened up new markets for a company once known for its sheep shearing implements.

Corin Mellor acknowledges the change in fortune for Sheffield's steel industry, but is determined that David Mellor Design keeps looking forward.

"As a designer you just keep moving on and it is very much about change and being new. We are getting involved in designing a wide range of projects which perhaps a few years ago we wouldn't have tackled. We are getting involved with manufacturers from across the world. We will design something and then it will be manufactured elsewhere which is a new concept for me and quite interesting. It is now quite easy to find a super manufacturer in Poland for example. 20 years ago you wouldn't have been able to do that."

As David Mellor developed as a designer he was determined to appeal to the consumer. He opened his first shop, not in Sheffield, but in Sloane Square, Chelsea in London. This was an opportunity to showcase kitchen and tableware and develop the Mellor brand. He then opened shops in Manchester, Covent Garden and Butler's Wharf.

The Round House Building in Hathersage
The Round House Building in Hathersage

In 1990 the Round House Building in Hathersage was completed. This was a purpose built specially designed cutlery factory in the Peak District. It is now a workshop, café and country shop, the HQ for David Mellor Design Limited and where his son Corin is based.

So how will Corin remember his father?

"His most wide ranging design is by far the traffic light but actually he's not really known for that at all. It's difficult to say exactly what he'll be remembered for because his work is so diverse. Different people will remember him for different things, from the Pride cutlery to people who will be cursing him at the traffic lights. It really is quite varied.

"He was a very determined person, I will remember him for that. He would go on and on and on until something was right. In design that often makes a big difference. Going that little bit further."

In pictures: David Mellor Designs
30 Sep 09 |  Arts & Culture

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