Sheffield in the 18C – R.E.Leader
Chapter 1: THE TOWN AND ITS INHABITANTS.
THE town of which this volume treats was a place very different from the city of to-day. The period may be said, in general terms, to comprise the hundred years which make up the eighteenth century. When it begins, the streets still ran on lines fixed by primeval footpaths; the houses were dotted down with all the contempt for symmetrical arrangement characrteristic of communities where individual will is strong and corporate regulation small; the inhabitants clung tenaciously to the habits of their forefathers; the trades retained the narrow customs of mediaeval workers; and the system of local government was but the legacyãslightly developed and modified, but still the legacyãof the feudal period. When it ends, old habits, old views, old institutions, old fatalisms were being superseded; old landmarks were disappearing, old manners being lost, and even an old dialect dying out. The more heroic measures which have improved part of the town, in its exterior aspect, out of recollection, belong to a later period whose history has yet to be written. But already something had been done, though not much, towards widening, straightening, and levelling the streets. The more aggressive projections had been cut off, frontages to some extent harmonised, and picrturesqueness sacrificed to convenience The older shops and houses of the main thoroughfares had become interspersed with others which, if more commodious, were uglier; and these, in their turn, seemed almost ripe for renovation.
Into the conditions of manufacture and trade, into the relations between employers and employed, a new spirit had, at the end of the century, been infused by the introduction of steam and machinery. But even then this influence was latent rather than developed; and its development, with tbe revolu- tion brought by railways and other inventions, does not come within lhe scope of this volume. Nor had there yet been introduced those institutions of popular self-government whicl) were to be substituted for the quaint old doings of the Burgery. The affairs of the town continued to be administered in an informal, happy-go-lucky fashion. There was a slight improvement on the time when all the magistrates lived miles away, for one was now resident here. But justice was still dispensed on patriarchal lines; the peace was kept, order more or less preserved, and crime professedly dete~ted by a handful of constables of the old school, and by decrepit watchmen who were far more afraid of evil-doers than evil-doers were of them. Sleeping in their watch-boxes, they were the victims of many practical jokes, and they took the earliest opportunity of sneaking off to bed.
The gradual working towards changes whose development is not yet altogether complete, may be traced in the following pages. There may still be detecled, by the observant eye, survivals of the departed past in our streets, and there are lingering remnants of old manners and customs among our people. In not a few nooks and corners there can be found traces of habits, both in homes and workshops, which differen- tiate the inhabitants of true Hallamshire descent from the ” uitlanders ” who have come from outside. And in byeways, in courts, in smithies, and in wheels there may still be heardã by those who have ears to hear and are free from the Board- School-miss delusion that local pronunciation and local words, because broad, are necessarily vulgarãthe virile speech that has come direct from the Saxons and the Danes who settled here when history was dawning.
Materials for forming any accurate estimate of the condition of the people in the earlier period embraced in this volumeã that is to say before Huntsman had revolutionised the steel trade, before Bolsover’s discovery of silver plating had created
SCALE OF LIVING.
a new industry, before the invasion of machinery, and when the water of our five streams formed the sole motive powerãare scanty and fragmentary. That there was much poverty may be gathered from many incidental entries in the accounts of the Town Trustees and of the Cutlers’ Company. That the houses were insanitary is certain. That the scale of living was of the humblest is evident. That the workshops were deplor- able hovels may be judged by survivals, if not actually within human memory, yet as known from the descriptions of those who have but recently passed away. The habits of an essentially conservative people like the natives of Hallamshire are as abiding as their speech; and there can be little doubt that the smithies, with their mud floors, and the grinding hulls, bespattered with wheelswarf, which not a few of us remember, were the exact counterparts, in their damp and squalour and dirt, of those in which the artizans of Sheffield had worked time out of mind. Unfavourable conditions of labour stamped an impress on the bodies of workers so indelibly as to find expression in such epithets of common speech as that which made the knock-knees of the cutlers a bye-word.
The severe regulations of the Cutlers’ Company as to the admission of freemen and apprentices, designed to limit the staple industry in a few hands, were a fatal hindrance to growth and progress. But they had this advantageãthat while discouraging lhe introdu~tion of outsiders in times of prosperity, they kept the nurnbers of the distressed, in periods of adversity, within compassable bounds. Thus the burdens imposed on householders for the relief of the poor were not onerous. In I72I, the amount levied was f 70 gs. Id., and as there were I,320 persons assessed, the yearly poor rate averaged little more than one shilling per head. In cases of emergency, the resources of the Town Trustees, the Cutlers’ Company, and the subscriptions of the better-to-do inhabitants were fully equal to the provision of extra parochial assistance. In I735, £90 was sufficient to discharge the entire cost of the maintenance of the Poorhouse. The number of inmates, about that time, seems to have ranged from 24 to 34. Afterwards it increased, steadily but slowly, to 70 in I743, to 94 in I745, and to I56 in I786. The overseers managed affairs with a stern economy that offered no inducement to “go into the house.” Thus the charges for two weeks in I744, with 60 inmates, amounted to only £8 6s. gd.; and in I76I, with III inmates, to £I2 ss. Iod. for a fortnight. It is hardly necessary to add that, as the century drew towards its close, with its wars and terrible commercial depression, the poor rates advanced by leaps and bounds- From £4?? in I750, the overseers’ expenditure jumped in I788 to £4,???; and by the end of the century to £Io,ooo, supplemented by large v oluntary contriblltions. But throughout the greater part of the century, in normal times, the rates were low, and the amount of assistance given such as to indicate an absence of poverty, either wide-spread or excessive.
Having due regard to the purchasing power of money, food must be deemed to have been cheap, and rents low. Prior to I750 we meet with such prices as these:ãCrop of beef, 2d., ribs and rump, 3d. per Ib.; a shoulder of mutton, 2/4; a quarter of lamb, I /7; I I chickens for 3/2.5, ar 6 for 2/8; a goose, I/IO; 4 tongues and 31b. suet, 5/3; bacon, 4d. per Ib.; sugar, 3.5d. per Ib.; cheese, 2.5d. per Ib.; a ham, 3s.; a loin of veal, I/IO; candles, 4d. per Ib.; coals, from 2/6 to 3/2 a load, or if Attercliffe coals, then 5/6. Wheat in I735 was I3/- a load, rye 9 4; oatmeal 73d. per peck. In I764, when there were great complaints of the high prices of the necessaries of life, wlleat was I6/- per load of three busbels; malt, which had been I7/- to I9/-, 40/- a quarter; flesh meat, 3.5d. to 4d. per Ib.; butter, 7d. to gcl. A cart load (meaning then about IOCWt.) of hard coal was delivered for 5/2, or of small for 4/-. In I796 a very different state of things existed. Then meat had jumped to 8.25d. per Ib., sugar to I/I, cheese to 8d., butter to I/2. Wheat was experiencing immense fluctuations, even reaching £7 IOS. od. a quarter, flour 5/6 a stone, and a quartern loaf cost 8td. Tea, as a highly taxed monopoly, was almost a prohibitive luxuryã6d. per ounce, or 8/- per Ib. Ale was I/- a gallon, and wine was cheap. Sack and claret, thought good enough as presents to the Duke of Norfolk, cost I/- or I/6 a bottle, or 3/- a gallon.
As to wages, our information is scanty, and we can only pick out odd indications here and there. It is evident that the operatives had to be content with what seems now very little. The figures must, however, be appraised by their relation to what has been said of the prices of food; and if we multiply both by three or four, we shall arrive at some basis for com- parison. At Eyam, in I737 (where, probably, the price of labour was somewhat lower than in Sheffield) a mason’s wages were I/2 a day, his apprentice’s 4d. A labourer received only 8d., augmented to the not munificent sum of I0d. when he had two daughters helping him to carry dirt, in baskets, from the quarries. Mr. Samuel Shore (I709) bound a steel con- verter to work for him only, for ten years, at 6/- a week, with 6d. extra as a charitable grant to his widowed mother. Mr. Samuel Walker, of Grenoside, engaged (I746) a carpenter, to be employed in his foundry, or as occasion might require, to make new or to repair, for ten years; and he was prohibited from working for anyone but his masterãeven for himself. His wages, subject to strict deductions for any absence, were 7/- a week for two years; 7/6 for the next two; and 8/-, or as much as would make his wages equal to those of any other servant, for the remaining six. The Rev. E. Goodwin gave these as the wages current in Sheffield in I764:ãA common labourer, I/- per diem; a carpenter, I/6. A journeyman cutler, he said, could earn I 2/- a week; and in certain businesses good workmen sometimes made 20/-.
The following story may be taken as typical of the earnings of cutlers, when they ” had a mind to work,” at this period:
Samuel Dixon, a cutler in Westbar Green, while paying his addresses to the young woman whom he afterwards married, had some lover’s ” tiff.” In the course of this he said: ” Betty, oi’d ‘av thee kno ‘at oi nother care for thee, nor nooa woman i’ Shevveld. See thee, oi can addle me noine or ten shilling a week, onny week when oi ‘ve a mind to work. Foind me another chap i’ t’ taan ‘at can do it besoide messen.” When he had completed his apprenticeship, he still lived with his master, paying 2S. 6d. a week for board and lodging; but, provisions getting dearer, this was raised to 3s. A second advance to 3s. 6d. was attempted, but this he resisted, and it ended in his still lodging in the house, but finding his own victuals .
There were not, we must conclude, the extremes of riches and poverty seen in later times. The lines of division were less marked, all classes being much nearer to a common level. If there were many poor, there were few really wealthy. A very modest competence enabled a man to pass for rich in those days. In the neighbourhood of the town there were a certain number of families of superior station, but the modern manufacturing nabob would look with contempt on the wealthiest of these. Most of them were the descendants of yeomen, whose modest freeholds had, in the course of genera- tions, and by advantageous marriages, been enlarged until the owners became squires and lords of manors. In some cases the revenues from landed property had been largely increased by profitable iron smelting and forging, at Wortley, or Chapel- town, or Attercliffe, or Renishaw, hy such families as the Sitwells, of Mount Pleasant, the Parkins, and others. The wealth of the Clays, of Bridgehouses, came from Derby- shire lead mines; that of the Saundersons, of Grimesthorpe, from tanning. There were, hesides, the I3amforths of High House, the Burtons of Royds Mill, the Jessops of l3roomhall, the Brights of Banner Cross (represented l y Lord John Murray), the Staniforths of Darnall, the Rawsons, tanners, of Wardsend, the Bagshawes (as successors to the Gills) of the Oaks, the Parkers of Woodthorpe, the Wilsons of Broomhead, and the Shirecliffes of Whitley. All these ” sat on their own land.” The Walkers were already beginning to build up large fortunes at Grenoside, and the Fells of New Hall were rich; but in both cases their wealth was made as ironmasters, and no instances can be found, until after 1750, of large individual prosperity derived from the town of Sheffield by those engaged in the staple trades of the place.
Dr. Gatty, on the authority of the first Mr. Samuel Roberts, endorsed by Mr. Hunter, has said that in the middle of the eighteenth century £I00 a year was considered a handsome in- come, qualifying its possessor for the first rank among his fellows; and £500 was a fortune that justified retiring from business.
The account book of the Rev. John Pye, minister of Nether Chapel from I748 to I773, throws instructive light on the cost of living among the better class of inhabitants who had some degree of appearance to keep up. From this we learn that although for many years he had an income which did not exceed £Ioo per annum,# yet, out of that, he kept a horse, and saved considerable sums. Up to the year I757, in which he was married, he paid a modest £I3 per annum for board and lodgings, and after his marriage his household expenses ranged from £2 2s. to £4 4s. per month, though occasionally they were both higher and lower. He appears to have paid his servant £2 a year wages. The material for a coat and breeches cost him £3 4s., and the tailor’s charge for making them up was 8/6. A pair of shoes cost 5/6. The worsted for a pair of breeches was bought for 8/-, and trimming for the same for 3/6. The tailor made a waistcoat and mended other things for 3/-. For tea, I2/4 was paid for I.5lb.; and I4/6 (this was in 1764) for a load of wheat. The expenses of a journey to London were £8 6S. At first, an annual contract for shaving was made at IO/- a year, but this was afterwards increased to I 5/-.
Mr. Pye’s income and expenditure were affluence compared with the condition of a neighbouring village minister, the Rev. Samuel Smith, of Stannington Nonconformist (now Unitarian) Chapel (17I3-I76I). The stipend seems to have been about £I2 a year, with a house; but even from that sum, any money spent on the structure of the chapel was deducted before the balance was paid to the ministerãso that the £40 a year on which Goldsmith’s village parson was reputed ” passing rich” was, by comparison, boundless wealth. Mr. Smith has left a MS. memorandum book, in which, interspersed with sermons and abstracts of religious books, there are jottings of his accounts during some incumbency he held before going to Stannington. The contributions of his flock were counted in shillings, even these being often left unpaid. But if the guineas on which he had to subsist were few, his outgoings
The salary of the Rev. Joseph Evans, Upper Chapel I758-98, was £70 a year, or occasionally £80.
were proportionately small. Thus he records, ” My landlord has received upon my account, for my board, for one whole year in I707, with contentment, £5 I7s. 3d.”
Reference has just been made to the forges and foundries as the chief source of wealth in this district in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Walkers, first, in a small way, at Grenoside, and afterwards on a large scale at Masborough, are a conspicuous illustration of this. But no more striking proof of the scale of living, even among men rightly held to be prosperous above their fellows, can be adduced than that, for the years I755 to I760, the three, or perhaps four, partners were content to take out for their own share £I40 per annum. At first this was done with some fear and trembling. There were questionings whether the forge would bear it; but year by year the profits increased, and the firm wisely spent all the revenue, beyond their own modest wants, in extensions and improvements. Samuel Walker records that in I757, “tho’ we took out £I40, I make no doubt we cleared £I,I40 this year,” and from that time they went on by leaps and bounds.*
John Fell, from being a clerk to Dennis Hayford, or Heyford, of Wortley and Attercliffe Forges, became the lessee of the latter. There has been preserved an old assignment of the Attercliffe Forge dated I 692, which gives a clue to its history. In 1688 Sir John Reresby was indignant at the quality of some newly appointed county justices: “amongst others John Eyre, of Sheffield Park, Mr. Ratcliffe, &c. The first can neither write nor read, the second is a bailiff to the Duchess Dowager of Norfolk’s rents; and neither of them have one foot of freehold land in England.” This John Eyre, of Sheffield Manor, is mentioned in I692, as protecting the Park, in the Duke of Norfolk’s interest, against persons claim- ing a right of road through it.+ The Duke had leased to him a messuage and iron forge near Sheffield, called Sheffield Forge, but, becoming bankrupt, Eyre assigned it, in trust for his creditors, to George Bamforth, of High House, and the Rev. Cuthbert Browne, the latter of whom combined with the spiritual duties of Assistant Minister of Sheffield and Curate
* Gatty’s Hunter’s Hallamshire, pp. 2II, 2I2. + Gatty’s Hunter, p. 333.
of Attercliffe the secular function of commissioner for the management of the Duke’s estates. These trustees under Eyre’s bankruptcy sold the forge for £70 to Dennis Hayford of Millington, Thomas Barlow of Sheffield (Town Trustee), and John Simpson of Babworth, who had also ironworks at Chapeltown, Wadsley, and Rotherham. From these it came in course of time into the hands of John Fell, and afterwards to Richard Swallow, who had managed it for Madame Fell during her widowhood.
Though there is some divengence of view as to the conditions under which the seventeenth century closed,* there can be little question that the trend of influence during at least the first half of its successor, was retrograde. It is, for instance, exceedingly striking to notice how many of the leading families who had given distinction to the neighbourhood and tone to its society, had, when the time dawns with which this book is more especially concerned, gone away or gone under, or had been so dispersed that their beneficial influence was lost. The glories of Attercliffe Hall under the Spencers had departed; and Carbrook was deserted by the Brights who had made it famous. The light of the elder branch of the Brights, of Whirlow, had flickered out miserably in an ale-house, where Fox of Fulwood and Hall of Stumperlowe had joined with Henry Bright in ruining their once fine estates by low dissipa- tion. The Banner Cross property of the Brights was in the hands of aliens, with no local associations; and though there were still Brights at Greystones and Nether Edge, the former
* The late Mr. Arthur Jackson, in a lecture delivered in 1893, took exception to the description given by Hunter of the low social state of the town in the seventeenth century; and he maintained that there was, at the end of that period, more comfort and more culture than Mr. Hunter quite realised. The opinions of Mr. Arthur Jackson on any subject con- nected with the Sheffield of the past, which he had studied so well and sympathetically, are entitled to the highest respect; but a very careful examination of the instances he cited leads to the conclusion that his con- tention was unproved. Mr. Jackson’s illustrations, which roamed all over the century and were not confined to its later years, were taken from Hunter himself. They were, therefore, well known to the historian of Hallamshire, and the verdict he arrived at was formed in the full light of the evidence from which Mr. Jackson drew opposite dedu~tions.
were drifting away to Staveley, and the latter were of minor importance. The Ashtons having ended in an heiress, Whiteley Wood Hall, like Banner Cross, had come into new hands. Already when Mr. Banks, the attorney, who is one of Mr. Arthur Jackson’s instances of the successful accumulation of seventeenth century wealth, lived at Shirecliffe Hall, that house had been shorn of its ancient honours and had been divided into three; and Mr. Banks himself left Sheffield ” when he had scarcely passed the middle period of his life.* As to the Hollisses, the Hanbys, and the Birleys, they had long ago migrated to London, where they made their money, though they honourably marked their former connection with Sheffield by founding the charities which perpetuate their names. Darnall Hall had become of secondary interest to the Stani- forths, for the elder son had gone off to give two generations
– * Gatty’s Hunter, p. 391, and Leader’s Burgery, 286. Banks’s wife, daughter of Rowland Hancock, an ejeced minister, and his predecessor in the occupation of Shirecliffe, brought him a fortune of £400. Mr. Banks became a Member of Parliament, but during his residence in Sheffield, his finger, like that of Mr. Thomas Chappell, with whom he had served his articles, and whom he succeeded on the Town Trust, is found in every local pie. It was ~ one Chappell an attorney, one Bright a lawyer (both concerned in the Duke of Norfolk’s afairs) and one Buck a chirurgeon of Sheffield (whom I had caused to be prosecuted not long before for having two wives), ‘ who in I676 excited Sir John Reresby’s indignation by getting up a bogus charge against him of having caused the death of his black servant. Reresby brought an action against “the knave” Bright at York Assizes, ~and recovered of him a hundred marks, and more than that my credit, all the ~World being convinced of the malice and falsehood of the inventor.” Reresby’s Memoirs, pp. Ios, 120, 143. The Parish Church Register has this entry “1681, Oct. 20. Bap. Sarah, d. of John Buck, chirurgeon.” To Chappell, too, seems to have been due the injunction obtained in the time of James 1. (1685) compelling the Sheffield Burgesses to carry out the decree of charitable uses made in the reign of Charles Il. (1681), whereby he and another attorney, William Simpson, were placed first on the list of Trustees. Chappell, Banks, Simpson, and a fourth attorney, John Styring, were the commissioners under Eyre’s bankruptcy (see p. 8), and there are few legal documents of the period in which the names of one or other of them do not occur. The witnesses to Eyre’s deed of assignment are ” Ch. Pegge and Jane Pegge,” landlord and landlady of the Angel Innãa sign of the prevailing custom, of which we shall meet with many examples, of transacting almost all matters of business in taverns.
of Mayors to Liverpool, and the younger let the house to the father of the twelfth Duke of Norfolk. The Saundersons of Grimesthorpe, who in I660 had produced a bishop of Lincoln, were so scattered as to be undistinguishable from ordinary folk. And the same story, of departure or decadence, might be told of others.
The instances to the contrary are in direcions other than the cutlery trades. After the iron forges, tanning ranks, at this time, as the foundation of fortunes. The Rawson clan, for example, ancient freeholders of Hallamshire, had their tannery at Upperthorpe from the middle of the slxteenth century, and as the generations went by they showed that “there was nothing like leather ” by establishing tan pits at Walkley and Philadelphia, perhaps also at Norwood; and by joining forces, matrimonially, with the other Rawson at Wardsend.* They pervade the centuries as leading Sheffield citizens, even close to our own times, although in the end, brewing was found more profitable than tanning. There was a very curious story told + in connect;on with some proceedings taken in Chancery, about I722, in a vain attempt to recover an endowment which had eluded Braithwell School. John Bosvile, tanner, of Wardsend, brother of the Vicar of Braith- well, had built the school house in 1693, and was known to have made a will endowing it with certain lands; but on his death in I697 nothing could be heard of any such will or endowment. A suit was instituted, and evidence was taken in which it was freely imputed that Thomas Bosvile and Thomas Rawson had, somehow, contrived, to their own emolument, to deprive the school of the benefits John Bosvile either conferred, or intended to confer, on it. Some hesitation in accepting this versionãwhich was only one, and that the unsuccessful, side of the caseãis justified by the difficulty of reconciling what was said about Thomas Rawson with what we know of his family. According to the Braithwell deponents, Rawson was apprenticed by John Bosvile, as a tanner, ” out of charity,”
Ä See the Rawson pedigree in Gatty’s Hunter, 386, 450, and Eastwood’s Ecclesfield, 39I-394. + Local Notes and Queries, Sheffield Independent, August 2, I877.
and it was made to appear that he so worked himself into the good graces of the old man as to get possession of the business on easy terms. But Rawson’s father had himself been a tanner at Wardsend, probably through his marriage with the widow of one of the Bosviles, a daughter of an Upperthorpe Rawson; so that there is no need to seek a sinister explanation of the fact that the son Thomas, who was only an infant when his father died, should be brought up to, and ultimately inherit, a business with which he was both paternally and maternally conneced. However this may be, the exception afforded by the Rawsons to what has been said as to the disappearance of old families in the eighteenth century, in no way affects the contention that such fortunes as were acquired were made out- side the staple trades of the town. Those families which had been most prominent were no longer here to send, as they had done in the olden time, the cadets of their houses to be apprenticed in Sheffield workshops. Nothing is more remarkable than the manner in which, throughout the seventeenth century, the surrounding yeomen and local gentry bound their younger sons to the Sheffield cutlers. Brights, Foljambes, Wortleys, Shirecliffes, Jessops, Seliokes, and many others thought it no disgrace to bring up their boys as handicraftsmen; and when we come to consider, as we shall have to do, the conduct and treatment of appren- tices in the eighteenth century, it cannot but be concluded that there had set in a marked deterioration in the quality of the material out of which the ” mesters ” were made. The Sheffield of the eighteenth century was thus bereft of many of the ameliorating influences of the seventeenth. There was witnessed a steady exodus on the part of those who had money, obtained in ways unconnected with the cutlery trades. The best families passed away to places presenting larger opportunities, or to more attractive country estates. And there was the same tendency intellectually The Grammar School, the churches, and an active nonconformity introduced a certain number of cultivated clergy, and some of the leading families gave their sons to the medical and legal professions; but any scion of exceptional literary or scientific ability soon drifted away to larger spheres.
t is evident that the men from whom Masters Cutler and Town Trustees were chosen were typical of and scarcely distinguishable from the class of ” Little Mesters.” They had the same homely habits, the same vernacular, the same difficulties with penmanship, and spelling, and grammar. They spent their days in aprons, with shirt sleeves tucked up. After working hours they had their “drinking” with their Dames in the houses adjoining their shops; and then cleaned themselves, preparatory to joining their neighbours in the bar parlour, there to discuss the gossip of the town; or, what time the church bells were celebrating the victories of Marlborough or Wolfe, of Anson or Rodney, to brag of the invincibility of British arms by sea and by land.
Just as the Walkers at Rolherham were content to divide a modest £I40 a year among the partners, so the thrifty burghers, with their frugal ” dames ” careful of their goods and keeping a severe watch on the appetites of the apprentices, enjoyed a very fair amount of substantial comfort. They knew nothing of luxuries, and would have regarded many of the things we think to be necessaries with contempt. But for those content with plain living and rude plenty, they did well enough .
And there was nothing to prevent any steady and indus- trious freeman rising from the position of a journeyman into the rank of a small employer. It was but a step, as the following anecdote will show:
Early in the century a working manãgardener and small farmerãlived at Shiregreen. His family consisted of three sons and one daughter. The eldest son had served his apprenticeship to a cutler, and was of age in I72I. One evening when the family were sitting together, the father spoke thus ‘- Oi’l tell yo what oi’ve been thinking on this good bit, an’ as yo’re all here together, oi mud as weel tell yo; then yo’ll all kno moi proposals to yo. Sam (to the eldest son) tha knos tha’s getten a good trade i’ thee fingers. Naw tha sees thee brother Bill has allas been at hooam wi’ me, an’ has worked hard all his loife, an’ has been a good lad. Then here’s thee sister, sho’ll want summut dooin’ for her. Then here’s yore poor bloind brother, he mun be taen care on. Now Sam, oi’ll tell thee. If thou ll give up thee claim as t eldest to this place, oi’l gie thee ten pund, an’ that’l set thee noisely agate o’ mestering. An’ oi’l do t’ best oi can for thee sister, an’ yore brother Bill ‘al tak t’ lotãplace, an’ t’ gardens, an’ he’ll do for yore bloind brother.” Sam agreed, and with the £Io set up as a ” mester cutler” in a yard below the old Lord’s house in Fargate, and prospered. This was in the year I730.
Thus a ” mester ” required no more capital than would pro- cure an anvil and a few tools, with enough ready money to pur- chase materials in small quantities, and to pay a modest rent for a mere shed with a hearth in the corner. Nor did it involve much change of habit, for the ” Little Mester” continued as before to labour with bare arms and in leathern apron. but he was now the employer of others, not the employed by others. And in the moral dignity accruing therefrom lay all the difference. The employed might mean only a man and a boy; a striker and an apprentice; but the cutler uas his own master: a freeman in truth. And that achieved, nothing but a few years of patient saving stood between him and the office of Master of the Cutlers’ Corporation of Hallamshire. They all did it in this way. Not by birth, not by inheritance, except in so far as that was a help to freemanship; but by work and frugal industry. The humble position of the Masters Cutler is shown by the fact that it was no unusual thing for them, after they had passed the chair, to become recipients of the Company’s charity.
But the encouragement given by the nature of the trades to individual working was not an unmixed blessing. It pro- moted, it is true, a large feeling of independence, yet the ease with which file-cutting could be carried on in the cottage, or smithing done in a shed behind it, was highly detrimental to health. And the loss of time incurred by outworkers enor- mously restricted their powers of production. The modern system under which men are gathered together in factories has its evils, but at any rate orders are there, and materials and appliances are ready to hand. One remembers with amaze- ment the wastefulness of the old system. An outworker might spend long hours in hanging about, waiting for an order from the firm, or firms, which had employment to give. And a commission at length obtained, he sacrificed further hours in wandering about among the shops of dealers, buying his bit of steel, or his hafts, or his scales, or other materials. It was inevitable, if he meant to get a pittance ” for t’ missus and t’ childer,” that, when all had been got together, he should toil, early and late, in ” t’ shank end o’ t’ week ” to earn a scanty wage. But even when his goods were completed the workman had to carry them to the factor’s, with by no means a certainty of their acceptance. A very familiar spectacle in the Sheffield streets, down to far later times, was that of cutlers ” bahn a livverin,” with their wares ” lapped ” in bits of sackingã sometimes, if from the surrounding villages, bringing their ” spotted hefts,” or ” flatbacks,” or sickle blades, or scythes, on donkeys. Arrived at the warehouse, there was a chance of the goods not being wanted, or being thrown out as ” wasters ;” and in any event there was sure to be tedious bargaining and beating down by unscrupulous buyers, ready enough to take advantage of the necessities of the poor cutler. Nor was it any better for the Little Mester if he made goods on specula- tion, on the chance of finding a customer. It must be remembered that, at the period of which we are writing, there were no merchants, as the term is now understood. The last century was well advanced towards its close before the business of the merchant was distinguished from that of the manufac- turer. The manufacturers and factors had themselves no certain market, and they were naturally excessively cautious not to overstock themselves with goods.
- Appendix –Early Cutlery – Tramways Old Taverns and the Church