Derek and Fred Smith: The Historian and The Evangelist

6 February 2020

Derek Smith was born and bred in northern Sheffield: having lived his whole life there, he wouldn’t have had it any other way! Born in an old cutler’s cottage in Walkley, he grew up surrounded by Sheffield’s primary industry: the famous steel cutlery. He spent much of his childhood wandering through the abandoned mills of the Rivelin Valley, which sparked in him a keen interest in local history. He was a regular contributor to local history society publications and journals in the area and published several books and articles of his own, primarily concerning the cutlery industry of the area. You could say he had steel in his soul. Unfortunately, much of his collection of tools, cutlery, paintings and documents was lost at his death, but the heart of it, the 18th-century cutlery and pocketknives, still survives to this day at Sheffield’s Kelham Island Museum.

The Kelham Island Museum
The Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield | Source:

Derek spent his life in Sheffield, although he did travel around Britain and overseas for holidays. He was very happy to stay there and focus on the history that surrounded him. His mother’s family, the Woods, were similar, and most live in Sheffield to this day.

It was his paternal cousin, Fred Smith, who took a different path. Orphaned at an early age, and raised by a next-door neighbour, Fred took to religion. He left Sheffield and travelled the country, recorded first as a ‘colporteur evangelist,’ that is an itinerant preacher and seller of religious tracts. Colportage was more of an American practice than a British one – there were only around a hundred people recorded as colporteurs in 1939. It must have been a difficult and tiring way to make a living. Fred himself would later settle into a Baptist church in rural Gloucestershire, where he married and had family of his own.

Rural Gloucestershire where Fred Smith settled
Rural Gloucestershire

The two cousins lived very different lives, yet in their own way were very similar. Both were taken by their passions and pursued them, it just so happens that one was taken far away to roam the country and the other found what he wanted right on his doorstep.

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