The Cutlers Hall in Sheffield & discovering the 400 year history of The Company of Cutlers
I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the Cutlers Hall in Sheffield by the Beadle. What a fascinating story not only hearing about the history behind The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire but also seeing the magnificent hall at first hand and seeing some of the treasures the Hall contains.
First a bit of background about the organisation…
The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire has been around since 1624, but Sheffield’s local cutlery industry had already been going for at least 300 years. An Act of parliament incorporating the Company, gave it powers to help maintain the standing of Sheffield’s metal related industries both in the UK and overseas.
The initial Act of Corporation gave the Company of Cutlers jurisdiction over “all persons using to make knives, blades, scissors, sheeres, sickles, cutlery wares and all other wares and manufacture made or wrought of yron and steele, dwelling or inhabiting within the said Lordship and Liberty of Hallamshire, or within six miles compasse of the same…”
The cutlery industry had thrived in Sheffield previously down to two key factors – fast flowing water from its rivers to power water wheels as well as the local sandstone which was perfect for grinding and sharpening blades.
It’s worth pointing out that Cutlers at the time made blades in various forms (why Sheffield United get their nickname the Blades from). But forks and spoons were not classed as cutlery – this was known as “Flat wear”.
Once set up, the company had the responsibility for registering marks (think hall marks with silver), ensuring the training of young cutlers through apprenticeships, admitting freemen and ensuring the quality of workmanship of the industry.
The Company of Cutlers is set up with 33 Members who are Freemen. This is made of The Master Cutler (chosen at least a decade earlier and who holds the position for 12 months), 2 Wardens, 6 Searchers and 24 Assistants. The other 400 or so members are known as the Commonalty.
The crest of the Company of Cutlers can be seen throughout the Hall in stained glass, on carvings, engraved and on plaques. You will notice the elephants head symbolising the ivory handles, the blades and then the band across the middle with the Sheafs of arrows and sheafs of wheat which symbolises the origin of the name Sheffield which translates as “the open space by the River Sheaf”.
Originally the company was just for Cutlers but with the mass steel making of the 1800’s, the company amended its rules to let other “edge tool” trade manufacturers in. Nowadays the companies mission is to promote and support manufacturing businesses. They also help ensure the illegal use of hall marks and the Made in Sheffield trademark.
The Master Cutler role is of great importance promoting the industry nationally and locally, re-establishing links with education and training, raising money for local charities, promoting local business networking and organising a number of events.
The Cutlers Hall is actually the third hall on the site opposite the Cathedral in Sheffield. The site was bought in 1638, having once been an inn. A new hall was built in 1725 but most of the present hall was rebuilt in 1832 with further expansion in the later 1800’s.
The building is now Grade II listed and has a grand frontage. Once you get in through the front door the interior is spectacular – the Hall being ranked as rivalling some of the best Livery Halls in London.
There are a number of wonderful rooms which can be hired for weddings and corporate events from grand halls and meeting rooms.
The Cutlers hold a number of large events each year including the Cutlers Feast and the Forfeit Diner.
There are vast collections of cutlery, silver wear with hall marks, rare silver plate and obviously steel and stainless steel items.
An item of particular interest is The Norfolk Knife made by Joseph Rogers for the Great Exhibition in London.
The Norfolk Knife, which is named for the Duke of Norfolk, has 74 different blades and implements. One man, William Bamforth, made most of the blades, while Charles Levesley carved the mother-of-pearl scales, depicting a deer hunt on side and a boar hunt on the other.
This was a fascinating tour and my thanks go out to the Beadle who was informative and entertaining.
As well as corporate events, tours can be pre-booked by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to find more visit www.cutlers-hallamshire.org.uk