The Cutlers’ Hall is one of Sheffield’s finest buildings – a monument to the city’s manufacturing prowess and the trades that have carried its name across the world.
Behind its classical façade on Church Street are grand chambers fit for some of the most prestigious events, alongside collections that show local craftsmanship at its best.
And this weekend, visitors will get a rare chance to explore the opulent hall and learn about its history during the Heritage Open Days festival.
The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire owns the place as a private concern, maintaining it through a registered charity without the need for public money or government grants, and will be opening the building’s famous stainless steel doors for guided tours from 10am on Sunday.
Permanent exhibits, paintings and examples of silver and cutlery will be on display, and people can roam the private rooms as well as the lavishly-decorated public spaces.
The hall houses the magnificent 74-bladed Norfolk Knife made for the Great Exhibition of 1851, Harry Brearley’s first stainless steel blades and a piece of silver assayed in Sheffield for every year since the city’s Assay Office opened in 1773.
It also contains panelling and electric chandeliers that came from the Titanic’s sister ship, the RMS Olympic, together with a large polished turtle shell – all that remains of a creature that bit a chef on its way to the cooking pot. According to legend, the live reptile was given as a gift to the company in the 1770s for the annual Cutlers’ Feast, launching a tradition of turtle soup being served to attendees every year.
The historic feast started in 1648 and has been held 382 times – only interrupted by the two World Wars. The white tie event, aimed at senior Establishment figures and commercial leaders, is billed as the most important business dinner in the North. Margaret Thatcher appeared at the feast in 1983, and had to be smuggled in to avoid protesting miners who were on strike during a bitter year-long dispute.
There has been a Cutlers’ Hall on the present site since 1638. Today’s building – the third such hall in existence – was constructed in 1832 by Samuel Worth and Benjamin Broomhead Taylor at a cost of £8,066 and was then extended in the 1880s by Flockton & Abbott and J. B. Mitchel-Withers.
Admission is free on Sunday and there is no charge for the tours either. Those who prefer can stroll around the hall at their leisure with a self-guide leaflet. Light refreshments will be available throughout the day; the final tour will be at 2.30pm before the 4pm close.
The Master Cutler, Ken Cooke, will be among the Freemen of the Cutlers’ Company on hand to answer questions. Freedom of the company is a privilege awarded to those considered to have outstanding merit through achievement in manufacturing.
“Our open days have always proved very popular, with hundreds of people coming from all over the UK and beyond to visit the hall and to enjoy a very important part of Sheffield’s heritage,” said Mr Cooke, the boss of CTW Hardfacing, a Neepsend machinery repair firm. He is the 379th Master Cutler, a role that dates from 1624. Mr Cooke will be succeeded next month by entrepreneur Nick Cragg.
Parties of more than ten people are asked to give advance notification. Disabled access can be arranged too with prior notice. Call 0114 272 8456 for information.
Visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk for details of other activities this weekend.