The late, great designer David Mellor has reigned supreme as Britain’s ‘cutlery king’ since his teens - but he also ruled over a design domain often overlooked: street furniture. Now a new permanent exhibition, entitled ‘Street Scene’, at his factory and museum in Hathersage will cast a spotlight on this uncharted part of his oeuvre.
His son Corin Mellor, who heads up the studio as creative director, explains how his father’s foray into urban design began: ‘What got him onto it was a sabbatical he took in Rome during his last term at the RCA and he was quite taken by the street lights. They were very traditional, but he thought they were rather beautiful.’
Mellor experimented with new materials such as galvanised steel, foregoing the classic ornamental cast iron. Says Corin: ‘It looks reasonably normal now, but his design for the lamppost was really quite radical.’
Upon Mellor’s return to the UK, the designer drove around the country in his Morris pitching his progressive design to potential clients - the norm, in a pre-Internet era - but without success. It was in Derby that Mellor reached a significant turning point, where he met Jack Pratt, the forward-thinking proprietor of East Midlands company Abacus, who helped turned his lighting columns into reality.
It was the start of a very fruitful relationship for the pair, and Mellor went on to create bus shelters, outdoor seating and bollards for Abacus, which all were rolled out across the country. ‘I think street furniture has moved on a lot now. But at the time my father was around, there was just historical stuff – there wasn’t anything new,’ adds Corin.
The regeneration effort in post-war Britain reverberated quite profoundly with Mellor, who had grown up in Sheffield during the wartime, and he was inspired to continue in the same vein. Mellor’s revolutionary designs for Abacus soon attracted the attention of the Post Office – he designed a square-shape pillar-box that doubled mail collection efficiency – and the Ministry of Transport, for whom he devised the national traffic light system still in place today.
Fifty years on, Mellor’s iconic designs remain as relevant as they did in the sixties and can still be found on virtually every street in Britain. The installation stands not only as a tribute to Mellor’s design legacy, but is an evocative reminder that beauty can be found in the most ordinary of things.