From knives to forks

Granton Medical, Parkway Close, Richard Rawson checks the pitch if a tuning fork.
Granton Medical, Parkway Close, Richard Rawson checks the pitch if a tuning fork.
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You would go a long way before you could find another firm and family that could boast eight generations that have all been Freemen of the Cutlers’ Company.

But, that is the proud boast of the Ragg family.

“The company produced all forms of cutlery and knives – blades, scissors, swords, surgical instruments and cut-throat razors, probably up to the end of the 19th century,” says chairman Peter Kirkby, whose mother was a Ragg.

Although the company is now known as Granton Medical, the Ragg name survives in one of the group’s businesses and as the brand name for the tuning forks the company has made since the 1840s.

“We started making tuning forks because they were yet another item produced from steel forgings, not because there was a musician in the family,” says Peter Kirkby.

Although some still go to musicians who still consider them a cut above pitch pipes and electronic devices, the main market now is medical.

“The idea for medical use started in the early part of the 20th century and grew. The tuning fork has become a compulsory item for every medical student. They are helpful in diagnosing damage to nerves and sensory perception.

“The market has developed in recent years, with tuning forks being used in complementary medicine, acupuncture and healing therapy,” continues Peter Kirkby. “Nowadays, they are the one product we export all over the world. We sell to a big distributor in Germany. We sell to Hong Kong and export them to India and Pakistan.”

It wasn’t long after the firm went into tuning forks that John Ragg came up with a design for what the firm believes was the first safety razor. By the turn of the next century, it had become one of the original Sheffield manufacturers of safety razor blades.

But major changes were on the cards. Modern warfare was about to eliminate the demand for the swords that Ragg made and, after the Second World War, modern promotional techniques employed by firms like Gillette and Wilkinson Sword put many independent razor blade manufacturers in Sheffield out of business.

There was still demand for cut-throat razors and Ragg carried on making them until foreign imports swamped the market in the mid-70s.

By then the firm had shifted its focus to the medical sector, making surgical blades and medical knives as well as tuning forks. It was laying the foundations for the medical packaging operation that Granton sees as the main driver for business today.

Peter Kirkby’s daughter, Katie, who runs the business today, says the 410-year-old company’s survival is thanks to its willingness to change and adapt.

“The firm has done so many things since it was founded in 1601 and ended up somewhere that’s entirely different from where it was then. By the time one thing has stopped, we have already switched to something else.”

Peter Kirkby agrees: “Some people have a certain mindset which means that when a market disappears they more or less give up. You have to forget what you used to do and move on to what is happening today,” he says.