Memorial appeal to be launched honouring Sheffield's 'Little Mester' Stan Shaw who made pen knives for rock stars and royalty

A campaign for a permanent memorial in honour of a legendary Sheffield ‘Little Mester’ – who started out on a £40 a week enterprise allowance scheme and went on to make exquisite hand-crafted pen knives for rock star stars and royalty – is to be launched at a special service at the city’s cathedral.

By Andy Kershaw
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 4:33 pm

Stan Shaw died at home aged 94 on February 26 last year but owing to Covid-19 restrictions, very few people outside his close family were permitted to attend his funeral at St Mary’s Church in Bolsterstone.

Now, a special memorial service is to be held at Sheffield Cathedral in February, along with the launch of a ‘Stan Shaw Memorial Appeal’, aimed at raising funds for a permanent memorial to the last of the ‘Little Mesters’.

Stan’s 91-year-old widow Rosemary said: “I know lots of people wanted the chance to pay their respects to Stan and we’d planned for his funeral cortege to process and stop at Kelham Island Museum, where Stan’s last workshop has been preserved intact by the museum authorities, but it just wasn’t possible.”

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Stan Shaw. Pictures: Lisa Staniforth and Ian Spooner

Sitting in the front room of the family home in Deepcar, which they shared for more 50 than years with their children, Andrew, Kevan and Jane, the walls are bedecked with dozens of photos of Stan at various stages of his career, mostly holding the magnificent creations he spent hundreds of hours making at his workshop firstly, in Garden Street and later at Kelham Island Museum, where he became a ‘living exhibit’ for fascinated visitors who could watch the master cutler at work.

Rose, his wife of 66 years, looks through a beautifully bound photograph albums as she reminisces about the man she first met in the 1950s when he was 24 and she was only 19 years old.

“I first met Stan when he walked me home from the pictures in Stocksbridge.

"We liked the pictures and I loved being outdoors, doing all sorts of sports.”

Stan Shaw. Pictures: Ian Spooner and Lisa Staniforth

"We were never ones for dancing.”

Rose kept many records of Stan’s working life, which catalogue in detail all of his 40 odd years of working for some of the best known, but long disappeared, Sheffield cutlery firms.

It was George Ibberson, where he first knocked on the door at the age of 14, after seeing knives at Glossop’s cutlery store in Sheffield’s market and deciding to become a cutler, that he was apprenticed for seven years under the guidance of Ted and Fred Osbourne, who taught him his trade. When they retired Stan became their premier craftsman.

He later worked at a string of other big Sheffield firms such as John Watts, John Clarke and George Wolstenholm.

Stan Shaw. Pictures: Ian Spooner and Lisa Staniforth

Rose said: “I worked in computers at Samuel Fox’s factory in Stocksbridge for over 30 years and so record keeping and planning was my job, and this all came easy to me.

“It was me who encouraged Stan to take the plunge into self-employment after he was made redundant from Clarks in July 1983, when it closed down.”

Stan’s unique skill meant that he could fashion every part of a complete penknife from start to finish, using techniques he learned such as forging, grinding and hafting.

He began working for himself in Garden Street in 1983 and then in 2009, he moved to Kelham Island Museum, where he worked up to the age of 93, before his death last year.

The David Beevers knife collection. Pictures: Lisa Staniforth and Ian Spooner

As Stan’s output and reputation for exquisitely beautiful, hand-made pen knives expanded and his business became a success, he started taking orders for knives from the four corners of the globe and for many household names from the world of music, politics and commerce.

Rose pulls out a copy of a glossy magazine, widely circulated in Japan, which has Stan at his work bench smiling into the camera.

She said: “They rang me when he died and sent their condolences”.

She also got a call from celebrated US musician and Buddy Holly sideman Sonny Curtis for whom Stan had made several knives on some of his many visits to Sheffield.

The photo album also reveals images of Stan shaking hands with Her Majesty the Queen, HRH The Duke of Gloucester along with several of Sheffield’s Master Cutlers including John Bramah, Alan Jowett and countless other celebrities and other people who ordered knives from him down the years.

One astonishing letter embossed ‘White House’ is from the former US President George HW Bush, who sent a hand signed personal letter to Stan, which reads, “I recently received the beautiful Prince George knife, which Vice-President Quayle forwarded to me. It is an outstanding example of English craftsmanship, and I am honoured to be remembered with this special gift.”

Stan Shaw. Pictures: Ian Spooner and Lisa Staniforth

In 2016, Stan was awarded the British Empire Medal for his service to the Sheffield cutlery industry, the first time a practising cutler had been granted this honour and it is thanks to his friend David Beevers, who ordered more than 50 of Stan’s knives, that he was also made a Freeman of the Company of Cutlers in Sheffield.

Rose said: “Our proudest moment was Stan being awarded the BEM for services to manufacturing and attending the Buckingham Palace Garden Party in May 2017.”

Stan and Rose were huge Elvis Presley fans and he and Rose always went to see his TBC Band (Taking Care of Business) at the Sheffield Arena and in Manchester when they came on World tours.

She pulls out some remarkable pictures of her and Stan backstage at the Arena with Elvis’ musicians Glen D Hardin and James Burton.

He also made knives for Elvis’s band members Jerry Scheff, Ronny Tutt, Gerry Alison, JB Maudlin and tour manager George Kimberley.

Alongside the descriptions of every knife he ever made and among the records Rose has kept, is a moving statement from Stan himself which reads, “I am virtually the last of the Little Mesters, the independent craftsmen who were responsible for the city’s legendary reputation in cutlery.

“Since 1941 I have been hand-crafting fine Sheffield pen and pocketknives. First for some of the most famous firms in Sheffield and then in my own workshop. Since the 1980’s while the industry collapsed around me, I have been waging a lonely but successful rear-guard action against the invasion of foreign products. My reputation is now so good that I have customers from around the world in places such as the USA, Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

“My line being a spring knife cutler, making special pen and pocketknives using such materials as Gold, Silver, Mother-of-pearl, Tortoise-shell, Ivory and Buffalo horn.”

Stan’s son Kevan, aged 56, now a successful Sheffield businessman, tells the story of someone arriving at his workshop with some Mammoth tusks and asking him to make a knife with the tusks as the handle, which, of course he did.

He also left Stan with some for himself which he made into Coachman’s knives for his grandson’s 18th birthday. The tusks still sit in his workshop among his many tools and machinery at Kelham Island Museum.

Stan’s family, between them, now own one of the most unique and extensive collections of his hand made knives in the world.

Stan’s daughter, retired South Yorkshire Police Sergeant Jane Lees, said: “He made knives for all of us and his grandchildren each has 36 of Stan’s knives which he gave them for every Christmas and birthday up until they were 18 years old.”

Kevan tells how he narrowly managed to prevent a huge collection of 58 of Stan’s knives, made for the late Sheffield businessman David Beevers, from being split up and sold.

He said: “I got wind of it completely by accident, through one my staff, that David’s son Andrew had published a catalogue and was planning to auction all the knives off separately.

"I quickly contacted him and begged him to consider selling them to me, which to his credit, he agreed, but that collection could have been split up which would have been tragic because dad made them as a collection of every knife in his then sample case.”

The David Beevers’ Collection is now among his family’s personal collection of Stan’s precious knives, which will never be sold off and will always remain much loved family heirlooms.

It’s clear that the family is unaware of how popular and well-known the humble and gifted craftsman they knew as a husband, father and grandfather was, around the world and in his own home city.

Kevan said: “We just want everyone to come and remember our dad at the memorial service next month and to join us in honouring the man who used his skilful hands to immortalise Sheffield and its cutlery heritage in every knife he created.”

The memorial service will be led by the Reverend Canon Keith Farrow at Sheffield Cathedral on Sunday, February 27, at 4pm. People are asked to be seated from 3.40pm.

The formal service will be followed by the launch of ‘The Stan Shaw Memorial Appeal Fund’ which is chaired by former Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Councillor Anne Murphy, and includes Stan’s relatives and other city heritage figures.

They hope to raise £10, 000 and Coun Murphy said ideas for a permanent memorial so far include a series of plaques dedicated to Stan and featuring artworks and a ‘Stan Shaw Discovery Trail’.

Some of Stan’s hand-crafted knives will be available for members of the public to see at the service and a short film about the master craftsman will be shown.

Civic dignitaries are expected to attend and members of the public are invited but must book a place via Eventbrite.

To book a free ticket visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/memorial-service-for-stan-shaw-bem-tickets-255137582377 or to make a donation to the appeal go to https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/stanshawmemorialappeal

Stan meeting the Queen. Pictures: Lisa Staniforth and Ian Spooner
Stan Shaw. Pictures: Ian Spooner and Lisa Staniforth
Stan Shaw BEM.
Stan's widow Rosemary. Pictures: Ian Spooner and Lisa Staniforth