The Rise and Fall of Walker and Hall of Sheffield Nick Duggan 4th October 2021

   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.