Restorations - Sheffield scissor firm buys building to secure its future as flats go up around it

One of Sheffield’s last scissor companies has bought its building, securing the trade’s final foothold in an old industrial area and preventing it being forced out by property developers.

By David Walsh
Saturday, 17th July 2021, 12:35 pm

Ernest Wright says 58 Broad Lane will immediately take the name, Kutrite Works, following in the footsteps of two factories before it.

And it is embarking on a spending programme to restore the building, acquire vintage machinery and create a place where supporters can visit and watch craftspeople at work.

As recently as the 1970s there were 150 companies making scissors in Sheffield Today, Ernest Wright & Sons is one of just two maintaining the trade.

Ernest Wright is set for a major restoration after purchasing the building from the landlords. Picture Scott Merrylees

The purchase of the building comes amid a debate about former industrial areas becoming residential districts, such as Kelham Island. In some cases firms are being forced out of premises after owners sell to property developers.

Paul Jacobs, co-owner of Ernest Wright, said five blocks of flats had recently sprung up to the rear of their premises on Garden Street. There are also new flats nearby on Broad Lane and under construction opposite on Rockingham Street and Bailey Lane.

He said: “There used to be many factories in our area of Sheffield, including works where scissors and other cutlery items were made. Sadly, the vast majority have disappeared and been replaced with high-rise accommodation.

“We wanted to secure the scissors trade’s final foothold in this historically industrial area. It is our dream to keep Ernest Wright in the very heart of the city, and for our building to become a local industrial icon. We love this place, it is very light with big windows - you need daylight to see if the curves are okay.

Grinding shears. Picture Scott Merrylees

“Fortunately, our erstwhile landlord at 58 Broad Lane appreciated our vision, and he was therefore willing to sell us the premises.”

Mr Jacobs and Jan-Bart Fanoy took over the business in 2018 after it closed following the tragic suicide of boss Nick Wright.

Their mission was to drive up quality even further, with an unswerving devotion to time-honoured methods, hand skills and attention to detail.

It led to an increase in prices - Turton kitchen scissors went up from £60 to £95. But the move was a success and sales tripled after crafting boomed during the pandemic. The company exports to 76 countries.

New flats have been going up behind the Ernest Wright factory. Pic: Google.

Mr Jacobs, a Dutchman who fell in love the firm, said they had found a niche creating products for craftspeople striving for perfection.

He added: “If you create a masterpiece, you like to do it with tools from people who do the same as you.

“Orders have dipped because it is summer but we are happy because we still have a lot of back orders.

“It’s not about money, it’s about heritage craft skills and Sheffield quality which was there in the heydays. It is well known throughout the world for its scissors, just as champagne comes from France.”

The factory on Broad Lane has been renamed Kutrite Works, the third location to bear the name. Picture Scott Merrylees

The renovation project involves fixing the leaky roof, flashing the walls and installing new windows that hark back to the building’s architectural era.

Inside, efforts will be focused on adding machinery and creating a better lay-out that separates tasks. For example, polishing and grinding will be done in separate areas, as the two processes create different types of dust which are best dealt with using different extractors.

Mr Jacobs added: “Kutrite Works will be upgraded gradually over time, so it can become a perfect place for people to learn the craft of making scissors and shears by hand.

“It will be a workplace where our putters can be happy and healthy, with plenty of light and space. And it will also be a place where supporters can visit and watch our craftspeople at work.

“We will look for inspiration in places like cutler David Mellor’s ‘The Round Building’ in Hathersage – although Kutrite Works will remain in Sheffield city centre itself.”

The company spurns computerised machines and ‘half products made elsewhere’.

The scissor company is committed to traditional methods. Picture Scott Merrylees

Mr Jacobs is full of praise for the firm’s 1936 Brooks double spindle machines, which have two spinning wheels for hand polishing. They are kept in service by local companies including Laycock Precision across the road on Bailey Street.

Meanwhile, veteran craftsmen Eric Stones, aged 79, and Cliff Denton, 77, continue to play a key role in passing on skills to younger workers.

Mr Jacobs said: “We want to attract young people who have a passion for the craft, who are involved in the entire process and attached to the end product, it is not a production line.”

The company employs nine, including an 18-year-old and two 20-somethings and “always has room for new people”, Mr Jacobs added.

Ernest Wright has been based at numerous sites around Sheffield since its founding in 1902. For the first 36 years was in a series of small, rented workshops. In 1938, the company expanded and moved to Talbot Works, off Broomhall Street. By the 1950s, business was booming, and it had started marking scissors under the ‘Kutrite’ brand.

The company moved to a purpose-built factory on Smithfield in the early sixties, called ‘Kutrite Works’. It was soon operating at full capacity and to keep up with demand, the company acquired the industrial property to the rear, which still stands near the bottom of Snow Lane.

In the late sixties, the firm moved to a new Kutrite Works in Kelham Island. After devastating floods in 2007, a much-scaled-down Ernest Wright moved to a workshop on Russell Street, before a final move to the Endeavour Works building at 58 Broad Lane in 2011.

Mr Jacobs added: “We’ve been renting the workshop at Broad Lane ever since – and now, at last, we own it.”

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Thank you. Nancy Fielder, editor.

The evolution of a handmade scissor. Picture Scott Merrylees
Cliff Denton watches Jonathan Reid at work. Picture Scott Merrylees
Ernest Wright is set for a major renovation after purchasing the building from the landlords. Picture Scott Merrylees