Sh­effield Cutlery

Jo Ah­ern cel­e­brates the long his­tory of the York­shire city’s steel­work.

The People's Friend - - Heritage -

THERE is nowhere more synony­mous with cutlery than the city of Sh­effield, with the first men­tion of “cut­ler” be­ing made about a Robert the Cut­ler in the 1297 tax records of what was the town of Sh­effield at the time.

It’s true that our idea of cutlery may dif­fer some­what from what was pro­duced then, as forks had yet to make their way to us from Byzan­tium, but cutlery, as the name sug­gests, be­gan with knives and all things de­signed to cut, like scis­sors and scythes, and it is there that the his­tory of this fa­mous Sh­effield trade be­gan.

In 1379 around 25% of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion of Sh­effield were noted as be­ing metal work­ers, which shows just how dom­i­nant the trade was in the 13th and 14th cen­turies.

The lo­cal ge­ol­ogy had a part to play in this with its fast-flow­ing rivers and sup­ply of raw ma­te­ri­als like iron ore and char­coal.

The trade needed lit­tle in the way of ma­te­ri­als when com­pared to the ded­i­cated ar­ti­san crafts­man­ship that was – and still is – re­quired to turn out some of the pieces.

Up un­til the death of Gilbert, the Earl of Shrews­bury, the Lord of the Manor in the Sh­effield area, in 1616, the lords took a sus­tained in­ter­est in the trade and the cut­lers’ marks, ap­pren­tice­ships and prac­tice were over­seen by a body set up by the mano­rial court.

Then, in 1624, an Act of In­cor­po­ra­tion was passed in Par­lia­ment, cre­at­ing the Cut­lers’ Com­pany in Hal­lamshire which took over the pro­tec­tion of the trade and its prac­tices in the area.

From the 17th cen­tury, in­dus­try stepped for­ward with the in­tro­duc­tion of new metal-work­ing pro­cesses, but the “lit­tle mesters” (small work­shops spe­cial­is­ing in one as­pect of the cutlery-mak­ing trade, like forg­ing or grind­ing) were still solid pro­duc­ers of the items – and this was the case right up un­til the 1950s when such meth­ods fell out of favour.

How­ever, as with many ar­ti­san crafts, there are still a num­ber of lit­tle mesters mak­ing cutlery to­day . . .

In the early 19th cen­tury, Amer­ica was one of the largest Sh­effield cutlery mar­kets with the Bowie hunt­ing knife, re­port­edly so-named af­ter fron­tiers­man James Bowie, be­com­ing a highly de­sir­able piece.

The Sh­effield Cut­lers made Bowie knives for the Amer­i­can mar­ket un­til the Civil War saw trade to Amer­ica wane and Amer­i­can pro­duc­tion in­crease.

The cre­ation of stain­less steel changed the cutlery in­dus­try com­pletely, with new ma­chin­ery and new pro­cesses sig­nalling a marked drop in the need for a skilled labour force.

Fac­tory clo­sures and eco­nomic down­turn in the 1970s and 1980s saw the cutlery in­dus­try in Sh­effield de­cline even fur­ther, but the le­gacy of the cut­lers is too strong to die out com­pletely.

There are still a num­ber of cutlery firms manufacturing in the city to­day and Sh­effield Cutlery is still con­sid­ered a cut above the rest! n

Work­ing at Vin­ers Cutlery.

The crown hall­mark in­di­cates Sh­effield.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.