RETRO: Sheffield's cut throat world of razors

I make no excuses for returning to this area of Broomhill again as walking the streets in this area is like walking through the

By The Newsroom
Friday, 28th April 2017, 8:40 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:08 pm
Billy Hukin
Billy Hukin

The clue picture shows the half light of what was the front door of Thomas Heiffor at No.6 Taptonville Road.

Thomas’s father is listed in the 1787 directory as James Heifer (different spelling) Barber working out of premises on West Bar Green and by 1833 he’s listed as a razor manufacturer, hairdresser and perfumer at premises at 51 Scotland Street,.

No 3 Paradise Square

Just four years later he had ditched the tonsorial side of his business and concentrated on making razors.

His razors must have been in great demand as in the early 1840s the business had moved to 3 Workhouse Croft, now Paradise Square, the building can still be seen but its past life has now been forgotten.

John was taken ill at his home at 12 St James Street and he died on June 30 1849, aged 67 years.

He was laid to rest in St Paul’s churchyard, now the cathedral.

No 3 Paradise Square

John’s son Thomas was by then the senior partner in the business, the firm’s name was synonymous with quality hollow-ground razors.

In the 1856 Whites Directory he’s listed as follows: John Heifior (another different spelling), cutlery and army razor manufacturer, 3 Paradise street, his home was at 11 Belfield Parade, wherever that was.

Their army razors sold for just 1/- each, 5 pence in today’s awful money, in the 1850s, this razor must have been a quality product for the Government to buy them as they were sticklers for quality.

Thomas did try to to make razor production more mechanised in 1865 by patenting a method of rolling out steel in an pre-shaped hollow strip for his razors.

I can’t say whether this idea took off or not but the business still made hollow-ground razors by hand.

Thomas died at his home (today’s subject) on October 8 1886, aged 64.

In 1903 Mr James Hill became the senior partner but Mr Hill also passed away on December 10 1911 at his home, 81 Watson Road, Broomhill.

He was laid to rest in the family plot in Burngreave Cemetery, in his will he left just under £2,000.

Heiffer’s were one of the few that continually advertised itself in trade directories prior to the outbreak of the first world war.

By the late 1920s the firm had a name for making microtomes and a specialised knife for pathologists.

The business continued to trade from its premises in Paradise Square until the 1930s but by 1941 the business had moved to the home of James Hill on Watson Road, by the 1850s the business ceased trading and was laid to rest - a piece of Sheffield’s rich manufacturing history.

Today we are spoilt with the choice of razors, some for wet shaving, others are electric razors, both very expensive, especially the wet shave razors, these razors are a complete rip-off.

The first narrow-bladed folding straight razors were listed by a Sheffield, England, manufacturer in 1680.

By 1740, Benjamin Huntsman was making straight razors complete with decorated handles and hollow-ground blades made from cast steel, using a process he invented.

Huntsman’s process was adopted by the French sometime later; albeit reluctantly at first due to nationalist sentiments.

The English manufacturers were even more reluctant than the French to adopt the process and only did so after they saw its success in France.

Thiers Issard Fox and Rooster razors have a three-pin blonde buffalo horn handle. The blade is made of Sheffield silver steel. Sheffield steel, a highly polished steel, also known as ‘Sheffield silver steel’ and famous for its deep gloss finish, is considered a superior quality steel and is still used to this day in France by such manufacturers as Thiers Issard.

Straight razors were the most common form of shaving before the 20th century and remained common in many countries until the 1950s.

Straight razors eventually fell out of fashion.

Their first challenger was manufactured by King C Gillette: a double-edged safety razor with replaceable blades.

These new safety razors did not require any serious tutelage to use.

The blades were extremely hard to sharpen, and were meant to be thrown away after one use, and rusted quickly if not discarded. They also required a smaller initial investment, although they cost more over time.

Despite its long-term advantages, the straight razor lost significant market share.

As shaving became less intimidating and men began to shave themselves more, the demand for barbers providing straight razor shaves decreased.

The cut throat razor was, as its name implies, a very hard thing to master, as well as being a grooming tool for men it was also a tool for death, either murder or suicide.

Sheffield has many cases of these events committed by people in a desperate situation where the only option they saw was suicide.

It was also the favoured weapon of thugs and drunks. The thug could easily hide it on his person and the drunk was quick to brandish it at his family when out of his beer-addled mind, and on many occasions harming both his wife and his children.

Sheffield made razors from the nineteenth century and these are still sought after throughout the world, once again Sheffield quality is king.

Thanks to Geoff Tweedale and his book Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers 1740-2010 for the information in this article.