Nick, a curator at Kelham Island Museum for the Hawley Collection, previously spoke to us in 2019, on Cutlery. This time his talk was on Walker and Hall, who came to be, arguably, the biggest and best cutlery and silver plate manufacturing firm in the world, at its peak.
Their specialty was electroplating (known to us as EPNS). The process was discovered by Elkingtons of Birmingham from whom George Walker (1816 – 1881) acquired the knowledge, and a licence, to set up his own company, Walker and Co., in 1845, housed in the Electro Works on Howard St.
William Robson provided the initial capital, but retired from the business in 1848. At this time, Henry Hall joined and put capital into the company which became Walker and Hall in 1853. Two of Henry Halls nephews also joined the company in the 1850s – Sir John Bingham, who was adept at publicity and Charles Bingham who helped grow the manufacturing side of the business.
The company registered their first silver hallmark in 1862 and bought Henry Wilkinsons in 1892, and from 60 workers in 1852, comprising men, boys, girls, and women, to 1000 workers in 1893, profits boomed, and George Walker retired a wealthy men in 1865. In 1889, Henry Hall retired to Abergavenny (I know it well).
Sir John Bingham was Master Cutler in 1881 and 1884, and was very active in the community, including being a Freemason, campaigning for smokefree air, a colonel in the local Volunteer Corps, donating Bingham Park in 1911 and being a good employer introducing a pension service. He died in 1915.
Charles Bingham was Master Cutler in 1894 during the heyday for cutlery, which was between 1890 and 1914.
In 1901 Walker and Hall brought out an illustrated sales catalogue of 204 pages with > 5000 items that they were manufacturing to sell worldwide. Nick took us through some of the amazing variety of sterling silver, cutlery and electroplated items in the catalogue.
Albert Bingham, the son of John Bingham, also in the company, was Master Cutler in 1918, but after that it went gradually downhill. There was less demand, less labour available after WW1, and stainless steel and chromium plate were competitors. When Albert died in 1945, stagnation and decay set in, although they subsequently did produce quality items, such as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Trophy and other prestigious items.
In 1960, consultants were engaged and David Mellor was recruited, but all too late, even with a new factory in Bolsover. Alas, with competition from the Far East, the company was sold to the Clore Group in 1963 and the Electro Works were demolished in 1965, with production ceasing in 1971.
www.hawleysheffieldknives.com enables you to trace any relatives who worked in the industry, and Geoffrey Tweedale has written copious books on the subject.
A fascinating insight into Sheffield’s cutlery manufacturing of yesteryear, expertly delivered.