The Hawley Tool Collection — Wed 3rd July 2019

After Nick Duggan’s talk on his own cut­lery col­lec­tion two days earlier, the ‘made in Sheffield’ theme con­tin­ued when 22 Stumperlowe Probus Club mem­bers gathered as arranged at the iconic Bessemer Converter out­side Kelham Island Museum ready to start our guided tour of the Hawley Tool Collection.

The man who star­ted it all, the late Ken Hawley MBE (1927–2014).

As Nick, the cur­ator, poin­ted out, the Hawley Collection might be one of Sheffield’s best kept secrets but it is an inter­na­tion­ally import­ant record of tool making, cut­lery man­u­fac­ture and sil­ver­smith­ing during the city’s indus­trial heyday, com­ple­men­ted by mater­ial from other parts of Britain and the world.

Keith Crawshaw, chair­man of the trust­ees, brings us up to speed on the work of the char­ity.

The col­lec­tion houses a stag­ger­ing 100,000 items, of which 40,000 are on dis­play at any one time. The col­lec­tion is housed in what was ori­gin­ally the Wheatman and Smith saw works, so it is appro­pri­ate that the Saw Shop, situ­ated slightly away from the main tool col­lec­tion, con­tains no fewer than 2,000 examples of what, 250 years ago, was lit­er­ally cut­ting edge tech­no­logy.

We learnt the origin of the words top dog and under­dog. When planks were sawn by hand, with two men using a two-handed saw, the senior man took the top handle while the junior was con­signed to the sawdust-strewn pit below. The irons that were used to hold the wood securely were called dogs.

At one time there were 200 firms in Sheffield man­u­fac­tur­ing saws. The city’s cut­lery her­it­age is rep­res­en­ted just as impress­ively by a col­lec­tion which con­tains 800 dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers’ stamps on knife blades, from table­ware to pen­knives.

Tim Marsh admires a fine dis­play of Footprint tools, a Sheffield brand known around the world.

The col­lec­tion does not just con­tain tools, it con­tains the tools which were used to make the tools; it is unique in com­bin­ing fin­ished arte­facts and ‘work in pro­gress’ to illus­trate how things were made, as well as pub­lished cata­logues, archive mater­ial, pic­tures, pho­to­graphs, tapes and films.

For over 50 years the late Ken Hawley – he died in 2014 at the age of 87 – had col­lec­ted what became the basis of the col­lec­tion, and during his work­ing life, which included 30 years selling tools in his own shop, he acquired an unri­valled know­ledge of Sheffield’s indus­trial her­it­age.

John Hopkins and Richard Walker get the low­down on the massive saw col­lec­tion from volun­teer guide Paul Kipling.

The build­ing at Kelham Island hous­ing the Hawley Gallery and stor­age areas was cre­ated in the last unused build­ing on the Kelham Island Museum site fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The £595,000 HLF grant, awar­ded in 2008, was used to refur­bish the build­ing to create dis­plays, stor­age and research facil­it­ies, and the Gallery opened its doors two years later.

Dave Powlson, Barrie O’Brien and Ian Darley admire the Sheffield Year Knife, made in 1822 from 1,822 blades by Sheffield cut­lers Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd. As well as knife blades, it ncludes scis­sors, cork­screws, nail files, hack­saw blades and button hooks. Further blades were added to bring the number up to 2,000 by the time of the Millennium, and some of the more recent blades were engraved to mark spe­cial events such as the 1966 World Cup and the Queen’s Silber Jubilee in 1977.

Ken saw the col­lec­tion as a trib­ute to the crafts­man­ship, skills and excel­lence dis­played over the cen­tur­ies by Sheffield firms and work­people, and it was his wish that the col­lec­tion should stay in the city to provide the people of Sheffield as well as vis­it­ors with a per­man­ent, last­ing record.

After being wel­comed by Nick Duggan, we were given an over­view of the Kelham Island site by volun­teer guide Paul Kipling before being taken into the research area where Keith Crawshaw, chair­man of the trust­ees, spoke to us about Ken Hawley the man, and his vision which led to the cre­ation of the museum.

This back saw, made by Thomas Harrison of Sheffield in 1760, is the oldest in the col­lec­tion.
Saws of every shape and type were on dis­play.
Most of our mem­bers had already seen this mag­ni­fi­cent saw, which fea­tured in Simon Barley’s talk to us entitled “The Princess and the Saw” in March 2019.
If you’re squeam­ish, look away now.
If it was made in Sheffield, it’ll be in here some­where.
A fine dis­play of Marples tools for the 1949 British Industries Fair.
Not everything can be on dis­play at the same time, and the stor­e­rooms behind the scenes are an Aladdin’s cave.