I’m proud to say that I’m a Sheffield lass born and bred. This means that I have grown up putting Henderson’s relish on my stew, navigating steep hills (and potholes), and listening to various family members asking the question “Why is it always about Leeds?” whenever the local news is on. Sheffield is my city and no matter where I find myself; it will always be the place I call home.
You can imagine how genuinely pleased I was when Sheffield was featured on the recent BBC documentary, “Made in Great Britain.” Exploring the history of Sheffield’s steel industry, the programme outlined the secret to the city’s success. Right back in the 1740s, Benjamin Huntsman experimented with the use of a clay pot to heat the steel to a much higher temperature. The result was the invention of the crucible process and the production of steel stronger than anything else available at the time. Even back in the 18th century, Sheffield established itself as a city of steel.
As the demand for scythes and farming tools declined, Sheffield adapted and became the world’s leading producer of cutlery. It was the role of the Buffer Girls to polish the cutlery until they could see their faces in it. From what I've read, they were a pretty feisty bunch, but were also great friends and fiercely loyal to each other.
As the Second World War beckoned, the role of women in the steel industry changed significantly. Rather than polishing beautiful cutlery, they were helping to produce weapons and machinery to assist in the war effort. They kept the factories running twenty-four-seven through the air raids while completing physically demanding and dangerous work. Rather than gratefully receiving the extra help, many of the men in the factory were reluctant to teach the women new skills and dismissed the role they played. As the war finished and the women returned to their domestic duties, their valuable contribution was nearly forgotten. In 2011 Kathleen Roberts, Kit Sollitt, Ruby Gascoigne and Dorothy Slingsby decided to do something about it, and in 2016 the “Women of Steel” statue was unveiled in the City Centre.
Throughout history there are countless stories of women battling social inequality, fighting prejudice and straining to be heard. The women of steel faced the same difficulties. Often dismissed by those around them, they developed a resilience forged in the extreme heat of the crucible.
Within the Christmas story, three women demonstrate this core strength. In a society that would have questioned their worth, Elizabeth, Mary and Anna truly were women of steel. This year’s Christmas Shorts will focus on the story of these women and how they remained steadfast and faithful in the most trying of times. Elizabeth was an elderly woman whose lack of children meant she was viewed differently, despite her strong commitment to God. Mary was a teenager, holding her precious bump as she registered the second glances and whispered comments. Anna spent her life as a widow after tragically losing her husband just seven years into her marriage. These women could have made very different choices. Elizabeth could have let bitterness consume her. Mary could have shouted back each time her story was questioned and Anna, rather than praying and worshiping in the temple, could have become consumed with grief.
Instead, they made a different choice.
They chose to become women of steel, strengthened to their very core by the God they adored. Join me this Christmas as we discover how God viewed His precious daughters and invited Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna to become a crucial part of the life of His precious son.