Thursday 16 June 2016

During the two world wars, with most of the working age men away at war, the manufacturing at steel works and factories in Sheffield and the surrounding areas was more important than ever.

This was the historic time when Sheffield’s ‘Women of Steel’ came into their own. Women from all over South Yorkshire, some as young as 14, were conscripted to work in steel works all over the region.

Woman of Steel Alma Bottomley said: “I started working at Firth Brown Steels when I was 15, more or less straight from school. To be honest, it wasn’t very pleasant. We got on alright because we were all good friends, but it was hard and heavy work. It is took its toll mentally as well as physically. I was a molder and my job was to lift iron boxes off a conveyor belt and onto a machine. I was making links for the tread on tanks. I remember it was so noisy and hot.”

Seventy years later the city of Sheffield is honouring these extraordinary women with a statue, to be unveiled in the Barker’s Pool area of Sheffield city centre on Friday 17 June.

Councillor Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council said: “First and foremost this is about saying thank you to the women of steel. The fantastic fundraising campaign that has raised the money for this statue has been an inspiration to us all, and a reminder of the grit, determination and guts of this city. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed.

“But speaking to these women, what we need to remember is the reality of what it was like for them. This was hard, back-breaking work. They felt they were just doing their bit. But it was so much more. There was a war on, they were taking care of their families, and missing their husbands and fathers. But they went to work every day in the steel works to do difficult physical labour in hot, noisy conditions that we couldn’t imagine today. They deserve our respect and our thanks. I am delighted to speak on behalf of the whole city and say thank you to Sheffield’s incredible women of steel.”

Critically acclaimed sculptor Martin Jennings, whose notable works include the famous John Betjeman sculpture in St Pancras, has created the stunning Women of Steel statue, and will be present at the unveiling.

The day will be even more memorable for the women and their families, because each of them will be presented with a specially produced medallion as an additional thank you from the people of Sheffield. Over 100 Women of Steel have applied for medallions, and over 400 family members of those who have passed away. They are all invited to attend a ceremony, and around 2,000 people are expected to attend the unveiling to honour and pay tribute to the women.

Sheffield City Council is also issuing a call to action for the public to take a picture of themselves ‘arm in arm to say thank you’ with the statue, and upload these to social media.

Councillor Julie Dore continued: “The women of steel have already inspired a generation, are still inspiring the next generation of people in Sheffield and beyond. You can show your thanks for the incredible contribution made by these women by taking a picture with the statue arm in arm to say thank you.”

Follow the hashtag #womenofsteel on social media to see these pictures, and contribute your own.