When Sheffield’s first ever Assay Master Daniel Bradbury took up his post in 1773, he worked from a rented house on Norfolk Street just three days a week.
Ashley Carson took over the job in 1993, the youngest Assay Master ever, and today the Assay Office is the capital of world hallmarking and has just made history, becoming the first UK Office to open n office in Italy and apply the prestigious UK Hallmark overseas.
Q. Washing the boss’s car was one of your duties when you started at the Assay Office straight out of Jordanthorpe School at 17. Was becoming Assay Master your game plan?
A. No. Never. The Assay Office was recruiting staff because of the Seventies fashion fad for silver ingots on chains in Silver Jubilee Year. Remember them? My mum was Chief Assayer in the labs and got me an interview. I applied because I was saving up to buy a Yamaha RD200 motorbike and my one O-Level was not looking likely to get me a high-flying job!
Q. So how did you rise up the ranks?
A. I was very fortunate to be placed on a City & Guilds Silversmithing course, part-time over four years at Chesterfield College of Art. I passed with flying colours and was named Student of the Year. This gave me a great sense of achievement. It is such a shame that apprenticeships are few and far between these days and workers are not given opportunities to study while at work. Sadly this is all down to costs and companies not being able to spare their staff time out. This is why I am so passionate about supporting Sheffield Hallam University silversmithing and jewellery students and am a sponsor of Yorkshire Artspace’s Starter Studio programme.
Q. You became the UK’s youngest ever Assay Master at 33. How many .had there been before you and how has the office grown under your leadership?
A. Good or bad I am the 13th Assay Master in the 240-year history of the office, that means the average serving reign is eighteen and a half years. At 21 years in the job, maybe I should start worrying.
I was amazed and very honoured to be given the position and I still can’t believe it. The office over the last 21 years has seen record highs and probably recently, record lows. I would like to think we are once again on the up and I have always kept positive and optimistic. It is a massive responsibility to keep this history and tradition going.
Q. Did the position go to your head? You’re known for your glamorous cars...
A. Am I? That is not good! I hope I still treat everyone the same now as I always have, I would like to think I am very down to earth. But one of my passions is fast supercars. I just love the beauty of them and the speed. I am very fortunate to have owned some amazing cars. My other passion is cleaning them, I am very OCD when it comes to cleaning cars.
Q. Your passion for Italian sports cars - is that why you now jet off to Milan six times a month?
A. Funnily enough I have not seen one Italian supercar since opening a branch of the Assay Office in the city. The Hallmarking Law changed last year following a three-year campaign, enabled the four UK Assay Offices to apply a UK Hallmark outside of the UK, and therefore compete with European Assay Offices already operating without geographic restrictions. Now we are able to apply a UK Hallmark anywhere in the world - a very exciting opportunity.
Q. Why have the UK hallmark on Italian jewellery and silver tableware? Won’t it confuse buyers?
A. No the Hallmark will be exactly the same as a UK one. This enables us to operate without causing confusion to consumers.
Q. So, can the Sheffield assay stamp be used anywhere else?
A. Providing I gain permission from the British Hallmarking Council I could in theory open a branch anywhere in the world. Strategically, Milan ticked all the boxes.
Q. What happened to your mum?
A. She became Deputy Assay Master. But the ironic thing is, when I became Assay Master in 1993, she unfortunately was made redundant due to an office management reorganisation. She was very upset about it at the time.
Q. So, you took the job from under her?
A. I couldn’t save her because it was a cost-cutting measure decided by Executive Committee at the time. I did offer her a job again some years later though, working in public relations and customer services.
Q. Are you passionate about the role of the Assay Office? What exactly does it do and why is it a not-for-profit organisation?
A. I have loved every minute of my job since 1977. The office operates in a non profit-sharing capacity and any money that is made gets re-invested into the company. The function of an Assay Office is to be totally independent and uphold the Hallmarking Act.
Q. Is football a greater passion, though? You are a director at Chesterfield Football Club...
A. I really enjoy the escape from my day job and I am very proud to be a director of Chesterfield FC. The board recently voted me as Company Secretary too , and I thrive on the responsibility.
Q. Does your heart still belong to Sheffield Wednesday?
A. I loved being on the board there and as a fan it was the ultimate appointment. It made my two boys very happy too. I was there at a very roller-coaster time for the club and I would like to think I played a positive role at the time. I was responsible for getting the air dome put up at the training ground and I still remember the good times whenever I travel up Middlewood Road. But I have moved on now and I am loving my involvement at CFC. Next season is going to see some great League 1 fixtures.