The Sheffield Cutlers’ Company Senior Warden and next Master Cutler, Nick Williams, officially launched the Ken Hawley Collection Trust’s exciting new project - Name on the Knife Blade: Sharpening Links between Sheffield Cutlery and Sheffield Communities.
The project, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, focuses on the table knives in the collection and the Sheffield companies that made them.
The aim is to link the manufacturers of the stainless and shear steel table knives with the Sheffield families who bear the names marked on them, producing a digital knife archive available in the Hawley Gallery at Kelham Island Museum and online.
There will be a series of exhibitions of the knives and information about their Sheffield manufacturers over the next two years, going through from A-Z, along with a series of open days and talks and handling sessions.
Volunteer Nick Duggan is leading the two-and-a-half-year project. He said: “It’s come about because I started sorting out the knife collection.
“The knives were made by 800 different surnames. There were 10 cutlery companies called Turner alone.
“There were 1,200 different companies and they’ve all got Sheffield surnames.
“This is probably one of the only museums to have such a collection. How do you get people to interact with it?
“You get people to come and see a knife with their surname on it.
“Originally, we wanted to do a knife wall like a war memorial with all the names on it but some of the names are quite hard to read.
“So we have created a digital knife wall. You could come into the gallery and look at the surnames and click on any one of them to look at the history of the knife.”
The project is also keen to involve Sheffielders in telling their own family stories about the industry.
Nick said: “Every household in Sheffield has memorabilia such as knives, wage slips and company letter heads.
“They are of no monetary value but of great historical value. We want people to bring those down to build the biggest record we can.
“As this is probably the biggest collection in the world, we are capturing from Sheffield people what exactly do they know?
“Maybe grandma was a buffer girl or grandad put the names on the blades.”
The interest is huge already, said Nick, as more than 200 people had put comments and shared stories on the collection’s Facebook page before the project was officially launched.
Of course, not everyone who has links to the industry lives in Sheffield now, so the aim is for the archive to be available online in the future.
The project is working its way through the alphabet, said Nick. It is focusing on firms whose names begin with A for the first eight weeks.
Every two months the knives on display in the Hawley Gallery will change to reflect that.
Nick said that the project is only possible because of the key role played by the 25 volunteers who work on the collection.
Ken’s granddaughter Emmalene Hawley was a guest at the launch event. She said it was a fantastic way to involve people with her grandfather’s work, especially young people.
Ken Hawley, who died in 2014, began collecting tools from Sheffield and around the world in the 1950s. The Hawley tool collection is known internationally and recognised as being of national importance.