Retro: Forging a career as a craftsman

A Thomas Staniforths staff gathering around 1935. Tom Darwin is seventh fron the right on the back row
A Thomas Staniforths staff gathering around 1935. Tom Darwin is seventh fron the right on the back row
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A Retro reader has shared his memories of his father’s working life at a renowned Sheffield toolmaking firm.

David Darwin of Inkersall, Chesterfield contacted regular Retro writer, Vin Malone.

Samuel Darwin's enrolment certificate in the the National United Society of Smiths And Hammermen: the original is 18 inches by 24 inches

Samuel Darwin's enrolment certificate in the the National United Society of Smiths And Hammermen: the original is 18 inches by 24 inches

David wrote: “I’m prompted to write to Retro having seen the picture and article about Scythes in the January 10 edition of Retro.

“My late father Tom Darwin spent all his working life as an edge tool forger at Thomas Staniforth’s Hackenthorpe Works, as did his father Samuel Darwin and my late mother’s father Walter Booth.

“Both of these gentlemen working well into their 70s, passing on the hand forging and grinding to younger workers.

“For many years the company was managed by the Carter family of Chesterfield, Alan Carter being a JP.

Samuel Darwin's signature on his union certificate

Samuel Darwin's signature on his union certificate

“Scythes, sickles, hatchets, bill hooks, slashers and a range of garden tools were all made at the Hackenthorpe Works under the trademark Severquick Tools, a much sought-after brand in today’s collectors’ market of hand tools.

“All the tools were hand- forged (as opposed to drop- forged) and were paid on the piecework method, the more you made the more you got paid.

“As a young man I used to go in the works and watch the action, very hard, hot dusty work.

“Sometimes when father arrived home from a day at work my mother would say “Have you had a good day, Tom?” “No” he would reply, “Been making scythe backs (apparently one of the worst jobs), “coke no heat in it, rubbish” ,

“The forge was coke-fired but it had an electric fan to bring it up to a good heat, he used to get burns from the sparks that came off it too.

“It was very hard work, bent over an anvil hitting metal into shape, all day, every day, but we did get a holiday, the same as the two weeks in Sheffield, works weeks.

“Once while in Norfolk we passed a hardware shop and outside were stacks of Severquick tools.

“Father picked up a sickle, known as the Little Giant, the proprietor came out and asked if he was interested in purchasing it. Father said to him, ‘I was looking to see if it’s one I made’.

“Many of Severquick brand tools went to East Anglia and to farmers all over Britain. One of the biggest customers were the Railways, buying scythes and other hedging tools for keeping the railway banks in tidy.

“With power tools coming along, the trade with the railways and farmers finished, marking the beginning of the end for the works, which closed in the early 1970s.

“Father was offered a job with Spear & Jackson’s, who by this time had taken over the Hackenthorpe Works Father declined, saying, ‘I worked since I left school, I’m going nowhere else’.

He took early retirement just short of the age of 60, he had had enough.

“I made a career on the railways as a train driver and if I had the chance I would talk to old track workers. They remembered Severquick Tools in its heyday.

“In the 1930s and 40s over 90 people were employed at the works, as shown in the group photograph, taken on the lawn of Greenside House, Hackenthorpe with the works chimney showing behind them.”