Ensuring 270 years of cutlery’s not fork-gotten

CutleryNW'Geoffrey Tweedale
CutleryNW'Geoffrey Tweedale

Professor pens directory of city makers

SOME books do exactly what it says on the tin.

Tweedale’s Directory of Sheffield Cutlery manufacturers 1740 to 2010 is one of them.

In short, this tome of almost an inch thick contains a history of the Sheffield Cutlery trades from the 1740s right up to the present day.

Geoffrey Tweedale, a professor of history at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, has been researching Sheffield’s cutlery industry for more than 30 years.

He’s written several other books on the subject - including Sheffield Steel and America, Steel City Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Technology in Sheffield and the Sheffield Knife Book, a Collectors Guide - but none can be more detailed or comprehensive than his latest work.

Geoff began work on the book in the late 1970s and has had his nose to the grindstone ever since.

But why did he set about such a mammoth task?

“In those days, it was still regarded the Steel City and as I walked out of the railway station the first view was of grimy forges and old cutlery factories,” he says.

“Sheffield has changed much since: many old factories have disappeared and generations are growing up to whom the word Sheffield is no longer synonymous with cutlery.”

The book will do much to ensure that our city’s cutlery heritage is not entirely forgotten.

It first provides a brief history of the industry.

The book moves on to present a massive directory of more than 900 knife, scissor, razor, surgical instrument, silver and electro-plate manufacturers.

The histories of these companies - alongside product and trade mark details - is mixed with fascinating snippets of information about the thousands of individuals who were involved.

Tiny manfacturers like John Thorp, a pen and pocket knife manufacturer who died at work in Howard Street aged 47 and was buried in Ecclesall, sit alongside the giants of the cutlery industry.

The rise and demise of Richardson’s is well documented, as is the progress of some of Sheffield’s finest - Arthur Price, Turner’s, Needham, Veall & Tyzack, Edward Osbourne, Mappin and Webb, Swann and Morton a succession of Wraggs and hundreds and hundreds of others.

And no book on the subject would be complete without a section on Viners, a family company which rose from humble beginnings to become the largest cutlery factory in the country.

The founders, the book informs us, were a large Jewish family originally named Viener who came to England from their native Germany in the late 19th century.

They settled in Sheffield during the early 1900s and, in 1908, the Vieners occupied Tiger Works in West Street, before moving to Broomspring Works, Bath Street, in 1912.

By 1925, it became Viners and the family used the Little Mesters system to take over smaller companies and then employed the former owners as managers.

The company grew, employing 800 staff in Sheffield alone and, by the 1960s, they had acquired factories in Ireland, Australia and France. Boom times indeed.

Then, in the late 1970s came a tide of cutlery from the Far East swallowing up around 90 per cent of UK demand for stainless steel flatware.

The company reacted by importing its own Far Eastern Cutlery and stamping it with the Made in Sheffield brand which didn’t go down well with the city’s other manufacturers - particularly John Price, manager of Arthur Price.

But it soon became evident that profit margins on these pseudo-Sheffield products were razor-thin and could not support the company, which went into liquidation in 1982.

The name Viners, the once mighty kings of cutlery, is owned by a distributer in London and is now wholly an import brand.

n Priced £30, Tweedale’s Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers 1740 to 2010 is available via Lulu.com.