Stepping right back to where it all began

Passing and polishing  sterling silver at Walker & Hall, around 1890'Copyright Prof Geoffrey Tweedale (01663) 766241)
Passing and polishing sterling silver at Walker & Hall, around 1890'Copyright Prof Geoffrey Tweedale (01663) 766241)
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For centuries, cutlery was the industry that defined Sheffield.

Cutlery was the driver for steel - the catalyst for the technological developments, leading up to the hi-tech steels and alloys of today.

Without cutlery, there would not have been the development of holloware and the stamping and forging processes which are at the heart of making everything from replacement hip joints and aeroengine turbine blades to massive structural components for nuclear power stations.

Spring manufacturing, cabinet making, the development of marking technology, heat treatment, coatings – without cutlery there could have been no reason for their development.

If you want to get a feeling for just how pervasive and important cutlery was to Sheffield’s development into the city we know today, then delve into the second edition of Tweedale’s Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers 1740-2013.

Directory is too meagre a term for what is the most comprehensive history of the Sheffield industry that has arguably spawned all others in the city.

It’s author, Geoffrey Tweedale, who recently retired as Professor of Business History at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School has compiled as detailed a profile as possible of more than 1,600 knife, razor, scissor, silver plate and surgical instrument manufacturers.

The revised and expanded second edition runs to 730 pages and incorporates 700 new profiles as well as expanded versions of profiles from the first edition.

In addition to pure cutlers, it includes ferrule manufacturers, mark makers, handle – or scales – manufacturers, spring makers, blade blank manufacturers and glazers

But, best of all, are the tales of human triumph and failure, bitter family disputes, chicanery, murder, bizarre deaths and bigamy, lurking among the more conventional company histories, dates, genealogical information and copious illustrations of products, trade and makers’ marks.

Geoffrey Tweedale’s fascination with Sheffield’s cutlery – and steel – industry goes back to the 1980s when he chose the field as the subject for his PhD.

“One of the reasons I wanted to do this book was that I had interviewed a lot of steel makers and business men at the time and a lot of their firms were really beginning to change,” says Prof Tweedale.

“It was obvious that a lot of information was being lost and a lot of firms were disappearing.”

It’s the arrival of the digital age that has made the vastly more detailed second edition of Tweedale’s Directory possible.

“Now that the Census is online and Sheffield newspapers have been digitised, you can reconstruct family histories,” says Prof Tweedale.

“Even if there are no business records left for some firms, with a bit of digging you can find their trade marks and you can look in trade directories to see how long they lasted for and whether they merged with other companies.

“I was surprised by how much you could find out. It wouldn’t have been possible to generate that amount of detail in the 1980s, but the fact that it is online makes it possible.”

Digital technology was also crucial when it comes to getting the book into print.

“It was far too big to interest a conventional publisher, so I published it myself – which meant not only writing the book, but also dealing with the design, layout and photography,” says Prof Tweedale, who has used one of the new print on demand services, which means there are never any unsold copies of his directory.

Tweedale’s Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers 1740-2013, is an A4 paperback, published by the author and available from Lulu.com, price £35, plus postage.