If anyone ever wanted to write a TV soap opera based on Sheffield’s cutlery industry, they’d need to go no further than Geoffrey Tweedale’s Directory for some outlandish characters and incredible plot lines.
Among the cutlery industry characters, revealed in the pages of the Directory is Elizabeth Whiteley, the clay pipe smoking widow of William Whiteley, who founded William Whiteley & Sons in 1760.
Following William’s death, Elizabeth insisted all the firm’s scissors should be stamped with her name. The redoubtable widow also travelled considerably on business at a time when doing so was far from comfortable
Then there was William Stenton, born in 1777 and was known as “Devil Stenton” because of the way he treated cutlers when he worked at Naylor & Sanderson.
Stenton went on to found William Stenton & Son, which made its name as a merchant trading with the US, where his son, Robert, later lived and became a naturalised citizen
Robert became a bankrupt when he and his wife tried to play the markets on Wall Street, but the story didn’t end there.
Thirty years after his death, his daughter, who had left her husband, was beaten to death on the veranda of the Brooklyn mansion where she was living with her by then senile mother.
Suspicion fell on the two women’s attorney, Burton Wilkes Gibson, who was arrested, imprisoned and then released.
In later years, several of Gibson’s clients mysteriously disappeared after agreeing to leave him their money and he ended up being tried and acquitted of murder, but found guilty of larceny.
Cutlers who left their mark on the city include the distinctly dodgy Warrington Slater.
Warrington and his younger brother, Walter, founded Slater Brothers, acquired the Beehive trade mark and went on to develop “gadget knives” –early forms of army knife, including scissors and a comb as well as a blade.
Warrington moved into property development in Crookes, where he lived.
Warrington’s property speculation led to him being made bankrupt, sued for fraud and cited at the trial of Alderman Charles Hobson, who was convicted of accepting money from Slater to ensure Sheffield Council would approve his land purchases in Crookes.
Despite this, the Slater business continued on to the 1990s, when it was sold by the family.