Working title from Ken

Miniature razor and pocket knife, from The Ken Hawley Experience by Derek Bateson
Miniature razor and pocket knife, from The Ken Hawley Experience by Derek Bateson

A new book celebrates Sheffield’s toolmaking history and the man who helped to preserve its heritage. Ian Soutar reports...

ANEW book celebrating Sheffield’s excellence in toolmaking and cutlery production and the man who has helped to preserve its heritage was launched this week.

The Ken Hawley Experience book launch at Kelham Island Museum '(L-R): Collector Ken Hawley, Lord Mayor of Sheffield Councillor Sylvia Dunkley, and author Derek Bateson

The Ken Hawley Experience book launch at Kelham Island Museum '(L-R): Collector Ken Hawley, Lord Mayor of Sheffield Councillor Sylvia Dunkley, and author Derek Bateson

The Ken Hawley Experience draws on the knowledge and experience of the former tool retailer who established the Hawley Collection now housed at Kelham Island Museum.

The book explores the unique set of tools that were gathered and assembled over a working lifetime by Ken Hawley, who began collecting tools in the 1950s.

Written by Derek Bateson, it is a record and insight into Ken’s work and his knowledge of tools, materials, their history and how the tools were used and taken to market.

“The book is very important to the understanding of Sheffield’s heritage as it helps to crystallise some of Ken’s vast knowledge and captures the beauty and craftsmanship of tools, cutlery and their use,” says the author. “Writing it was not a straightforward process and because of the volume of items in the collection it took longer than expected.”

Each chapter of the book is dedicated to a particular type of tool including those for builders, butchers, saws, chisels and measuring instruments – the tools that made Sheffield famous across the world. The book contains images and photographs, information about tools and a glossary of tool making terminology.

“I have known Ken since the 1970s having worked in the manufacture and latterly distrubution of tools,” explains Derek Bateson. “I was marketing manager and director of companies and was responsible for producing 1,200 to 1,400-page catalogues.”

After retiring he wrote a book about insects - wildlife is his first passion - and this experience combined with his knowledge of toolmaking prompted a commission from Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.

“The idea of the book is that people coming to the museum can take something tangible away with them which gives them a feeling for it and perhaps come back and look again,” he says. Conversely people might pick it up in a bookshop and be encouraged to visit the Collection.

“My concern was that Ken is now 83 and is not going to be around forever and there is literally no-one with that knowledge,” he says, while conceding: “With the size of the collection we are only scratching the surface. Ken and I had to be selective as to what could go in.”

There was a particular challenge which came with the character of his collaborator. “We talked for hundreds of hours. Ken could start on a subject and then go in three different directions at once. I had to try and bring him back to the subject.

“When Ken is in the museum people want to talk to him. Visitors will arrive from Canada or America and he will want to give them his time because he is keen to encourage them. So it was very difficult to pin him down on a regular basis and sit him down and not be distracted.”

Another problem occurred because at the time they were starting work on the book the whole collection was being moved from the university to the museum. Some items were jumbled up or not properly labelled. “Ken would talk about something he thought was interesting and then he couldn’t find it.”

The decision to arrange the book by trades was taken early on (although not before they had completed three chapters that had to be aborted, says Derek ruefully). “But by doing that we could then show a representative range of tools and cutlery emanating from those particular trades.

Keith Crawshaw, chairman of the Ken Hawley Collection Trust, acknowledges what a challenge it had been: “Anyone that knows Ken Hawley will appreciate the huge amount of knowledge he has about tools and Derek Bateson has done a fantastic job getting Ken to sit down and share this information so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

For Derek it was more important to satisfy someone else. “I am delighted with the book and Ken is too which is the important thing. Typically, he said he would tell me if he didn’t like it – and he hasn’t.”

l The Ken Hawley Experience is available via Amazon.