Dashing new blade gets his skates on

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Thanks to a special request from Queen Victoria in 1840, the future of the 300-year-old company turned on the edge of a blade...

Pond-skating, a popular pastime in the Netherlands, had reached Britain and when the Queen wanted a regal-looking pair of ice skates, she turned to Royal toolmaker John Wilson.

The Sheffield engineer famed for the quality of his cutting and gardening tools applied his skills and created a pair of gliding skates fit for the Queen.

A Sheffield steel runner attached to a polished beechwood base was given a regal flourish - a curved Royal Swan’s neck formed the front tip. The leather section the Queen slipped her shoes into was silk-lined and white fur-trimmed.

Though Victoria’s hobby may well have been terminated after Prince Albert fell through thin ice and almost drowned. He developed pneumonia and was nursed back to health by his wife.

Renowned engineers Hattersley & Davidson (established in 1894) acquired the firm in the early twentieth century but the garden tools market, then the engineering arm, fell prey to global competition in the 1990s so the company focused entirely on skate blades. It acquired rival skate company Mitchel & King in 1997 and is now the unrivalled leader in the global figure skating industry.

The company, which employs 22 on the shop floor and six in upper management, now has 70 per cent of the world market and exports to 54 countries. It will sell 55,000 pairs of blades this year, a 10 per cent increase on 2014.

Special orders for champion skaters like its new John Wilson blades brand ambassador Gracie Gold, 19, who is close friends with pop princess Taylor Swift and ended 2014 ranked No.3 in the figure-skating world - can cost up to £500 and are just 1/4 of an inch thick, with a blade profile ground to a tolerance of half the thickness of a human hair.

They bear little resemblance to those chunky, game-changing blades created for Queen Victoria, which now have pride of place in the company’s archives.