Sheffield's amazing cutlery history celebrated at online project launch

A project to bring Sheffield’s cutlery history to life has been officially launched at Kelham Island Museum.

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 12:51 pm
Name on a Knife Blade project lead Nick Duggan speaking, with historian Geoff Tweedale visible on the screen
Name on a Knife Blade project lead Nick Duggan speaking, with historian Geoff Tweedale visible on the screen

The Name on a Knife Blade project, which actually began last year, is the brainchild of the city’s unique and internationally-renowned Hawley Collection, which is housed at the museum. The Ken Hawley Collection Trust looks after Ken’s lifetime’s work to preserve the history of Sheffield’s edge tools and cutlery manufacture and silversmithing, which amounts to more than 100,000 items of all sorts.

Following Ken’s death in 2014, a team of volunteer curators who are working to catalogue and research his collection came up with the idea of a digital knife archive to introduce people to the collection in a way that connects their family history with the cutlery industry.

Name on a Knife Blade, which can be found online at www.hawleysheffieldknives.com, allows people to search via their own surname to find links to city cutlery manufacturers and discover more about their story.

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Guests at the event included Master and Mistress Cutler, Nick and Susie Williams, representatives from the new Sheffield Museums Trust, Ken Hawley Collection Trust, Sheffield Assay Office, Portland Works and Duncan Hawley, the collector’s son.

Geoff Tweedale, author of the invaluable guide Tweedale’s Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers 1743-2013, spoke at the event via Zoom to launch the project as he was unable to travel from Manchester.

In his speech he said that he thought that Ken Hawley would have been very proud of the work that had been done on the table knives and in creating the digital archive which made the collection more accessible worldwide as well as for the local community.

Keith Crawshaw, chair of the Hawley Trust, with the Master and Mistress Cutler, Nick and Susie Williams

Project lead Nick Duggan talked about the digital archive and how it might be extended to cover other categories of cutlery and tools in the future. Since it went live last year, the archive has had nearly 30,000 new users and 40,000 sessions.

He said before the event: “It’s great that this project is linking different generations with the Hawley collection. As well as cataloguing and exhibiting the table knives for everyone to see, we are continuing to gather any memorabilia that people might have in their attics to add to our archive.

"People’s ancestors might have run, or worked in Sheffield companies, and it is important to preserve this material.”

Keith Crawshaw, chair of the trust, said: “There is still more work to be done in adding images and information to the archive this project which celebrates Sheffield’s importance as a cutlery manufacturer, and this work will continue after the project ends in October.”

Keith Crawshaw talks to a visitor to demonstrate the archive on the screens at Kelham Island Museum

During the rest of the day, more than 80 visitors searched the archive using the interactive screens in the Hawley Gallery, the collection received two further donations and several other people came forward who may be able to give the curators information about some of the companies which were owned by their ancestors.

The Sheffield Family History Society also spoke to many visitors to give them advice on researching their family past.