Can a city be defined by its typography?
Can a rich history be told by squinting up and peering down at the signs, engravings, tilework and mouldings on our buildings, walls and pavements? We think it can, and you don’t need to be type geeks like us to agree.
Tales of arson, industrial disputes, mysterious tunnels, daredevil steeplejacks, great floods and secret societies can all be unearthed by blowing the cobwebs off those faded, peeling, rusty bits of type.
Sheffield’s industrial past is well known, but did you know that it was once home to one of the largest type foundries in the country? Before the Apple Mac and desk top publishing made it all so user friendly and easy, the Stephenson Blake type foundry had been casting metal typefaces for 200+ years. The foundry held out until 2001 and is now the site of one of Sheffield’s newer industries: education. The student flats located here are fittingly called ‘Impact’ after the chunky 1965 typeface of the same name. The University is doing its bit to preserve the legacy however, digitally recreating two fonts from the foundry’s old catalogue to use as their corporate typefaces; aptly named ‘Stephenson’ and ‘Blake’.
Our tour leads you to points of typographic interest across Shefﬁeld. Most are easy to find, others might require a bit of detective work. Some may not have long left before they get permanently erased. Some type is chosen for its inherent beauty, some for the stories behind it, and some for the building on which the type is found. You might think some of the selections are ugly: but without the cheap takeaway signs, would we appreciate the stone carvings as much?
Or why not make your own typographic tour? We’d love to hear about your typographic favourites on twitter @faveplaces. There’s a lot more writing out there waiting to be discovered, appreciated and read – start looking!