One man, one mester

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

My Sheffield’s Heritage tour-group were honoured to be introduced, by Mike, our guide from the Ken Hawley Collection, to Stan Shaw BEM, who at ninety-one is not exactly the last of Sheffield’s little mesters, simply because in his lifetime he has picked up the craft skills of perhaps a dozen of the specialised traditional Sheffield tradesmen.

Technically, he’s a spring-knife cutler:  all his hand-crafted knives have retractable, spring-loaded blades.

Stan tells his own story in a Sheffield Telegraph article dated March 24th 2016 [https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/life-is-still-at-the-sharp-end-for-expert-sheffield-craftsman-in-his-90th-year-1-7813981]:

“When I got to be 14 years of age I wondered – because I’d never done metalwork or woodwork – what am I going to do for a living?  I went on to Rockingham Street and saw Ibbersons and knocked on the door and said, ‘Can I have a job, Mr Ibberson?’

“I went upstairs to see him, in a little ante-room, and there were all the knives in glass cases.  I said, ‘I want to make them’.  I don’t know why I said it – I’d never used tools in my life – so he sent for his head cutler and said, ‘This lad wants to make knives.  Will you have him?’

“So I started with him the following morning.  I took to it like a duck to water, like it was made for me.”

 Over the decades he gained the expertise to make high-quality, decorative, practical knives that command premium prices, and since he went self-employed in 1987 he has never looked back.

The old hand-craft skills will die with Stan, because he’s consistently declined to take on the paperwork encumbrances that come with apprentices.  He explains in a 2006 interview [http://www.mylearning.org/metalwork-in-sheffield-/p-833] how modern machine-made knives lack the quality he achieves:

“I was taught the proper way with a skilled man.  You’ve got to have somebody teach the proper way and there are a lot of people trying to learn themselves but they can’t.  They try and make as good a job as they can but they’re limited so there is only one way to learn and that is with skilled people who’ve learnt it from his father and his father before him.”

To buy one of Stan’s knives, stamped “Stan Shaw, Sheffield”, you wouldn’t get much change out of £2,000, and you’d have to collect it – wherever in the world you live – because he doesn’t trust them to the post.

And he has a four-year waiting list.

The only clients who don’t have to wait are his grandchildren, to whom he gives knives on their birthdays and Christmas.

No doubt family members, like such other clients as HM Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of York and President George H W Bush, have to hand over a coin in return, to prevent the friendship being cut.

The best available account of Stan’s life and work is a downloadable illustrated booklet Stan Shaw and the Art of the Pocket Knife (2016) by the Sheffield industrial historian Geoffrey Tweedale [http://contrib2.wkfinetools.com/tweedaleG/stanShaw/0_img/TWEEDALE-Stan%20Shaw-(12-12-2016).pdf] – an example of a craftsman in words writing about a craftsman in steel, silver, brass, wood, bone, stag-horn, buffalo-horn, abalone, tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl.

Nowt but tools

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Few people have done as much to preserve the living legacy of Sheffield’s industrial crafts as Ken Hawley MBE (1927-2014).

Born on the then new Manor Estate, Ken lived almost all his life in the north of the city, the son of a wire-goods manufacturer.

He left school at fourteen, in the middle of the Second World War, and after National Service he worked for a succession of Sheffield businesses until in 1959 he set up his own shop, selling “nowt but tools” for thirty years.  Retirement in 1989 kept him busy for the rest of his life.

On a sales visit to an undertaker in 1950 Ken was intrigued by an unusual brace which he was allowed to take home because it was no longer useful.

From then on, often with the unanswerable words “You’ll not be wanting this, will you?”, Ken amassed a collection of tools, and tools that make tools, ancient and modern, across the entire range of Sheffield’s multifarious specialist crafts – saws, chisels, planes, hammers, trowels, spades, shovels, scythes, files, awls, shears, scissors, knives of all kinds, vices, drills, micrometers, callipers, soldering equipment, drawing equipment, kitchen equipment and surgical equipment that doesn’t bear thinking about.

He was instrumental, as a member of the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, in restoring the historic Wortley Top Forge [http://www.topforge.co.uk], of which he was Custodian for forty years, but his greatest legacy is the collection of tools and associated archives that gradually filled his house, his garage and two garden sheds.

Eventually, Sheffield University offered space for what became the Ken Hawley Collection Trust, which was relocated in 2007 to the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, where it formally opened in 2010.

Here, as a separate operation from the Museum, a band of volunteers conserve, research and catalogue the seventy thousand or more artefacts and documents that form the collection.

Ken was intensely proud of his city, “a wonderful place, with all the skills of the different people”, and considered it a privilege to bring together the evidence of its industry at the time when the traditional crafts were dying out.

Without him, we’d know a good deal less about the ingenuity and the sheer skill of Sheffield’s metal workers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijCEeRIdQSo&feature=youtu.be

The Ken Hawley Collection can be viewed whenever the Museum is open, and its volunteers are more than happy to explain the intricacies of the specialist displays:  http://www.hawleytoolcollection.com.

And if you have any spare tools, they might fill a gap in the collection.

 

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Derby

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

The largest building in Derby has stood derelict for over fifty years, and figures in the Victorian Society’s 2017 Top 10 Endangered Buildings list:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/the-great-northern-railway-warehouse-in-derby-on-its-2017-top-10-endangered.

When the Great Northern Railway extended its line from Nottingham through the middle of Derby in 1878, it made two grand statements of its arrival in the headquarters town of its competitor, the Midland Railway.  The most visible invasion was the elaborate pair of bridges across Friargate itself, slicing across a Georgian street.

The passenger station itself, built on the viaduct alongside the bridge, was undistinguished, but the vast goods warehouse, visible from the passenger platforms, was given a dignified architectural presence by the architects Kirk and Randall.

The rectangular footprint of the warehouse is extended by a triangular extension housing railway offices and a residence for the goods manager.

When I first explored it in 1977 – before security fencing prevailed – it was empty and derelict but largely intact.

The Derbyshire Historic Building Trust reports a site-visit in September 2016 – https://www.derbyshirehistoricbuildings.org.uk/single-post/2016/05/12/GNR-Site-Visit – and there are recent urban-explorer reports showing the current condition of the building at http://www.ukurbex.co.uk/great-northern-railway-bonded-warehouse-derby, https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/great-northern-railway-bonded-warehouse-derby-october-2014.t92710 and https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/26846-northern-railway-warehouse-derby.html#.We2aA7pFzIU, and a more comprehensive survey at http://derbyinpictures.com/home/friargate_station_and_goods_yard.

Though the Great Northern Warehouse is inaccessible, the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes other sites on the former GNR Derby Friargate line – the Friargate Bridge and Bennerley Viaduct.  For further details please click here.

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Manchester

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

One of the weird complications of the geography of Victorian railway development is illustrated by the short length of Great Northern railway track that used to exist in the centre of Manchester, fifty-odd miles away from any other Great Northern route.

The Great Northern Railway, a primary component of what became the East Coast Main Line from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, gained access to Manchester and Liverpool by its membership of the Cheshire Lines Committee, in conjunction with the Midland Railway and the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire (later Great Central) Railway.  The Cheshire Lines’ passenger terminus was Manchester Central station, now the conference centre.

From the approaches to Manchester Central the Great Northern ran an independent short spur (yellow in the Railway Clearing House map of 1910:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Central_railway_station#/media/File:Manchester_RJD_47.JPG) into their Great Northern Goods Warehouse on Deansgate, which advertised the company’s presence grandly with tiled friezes on all four sides, “GREAT NORTHERN COMPANY’S GOODS WAREHOUSE”.

Goods trains entered the warehouse at viaduct level, and carts gained access by means of a carriage ramp.

Not only did the five-story fireproof brick warehouse provide interchange with Manchester’s roads, but it also picked up traffic from the truncated Manchester & Salford Junction Canal, built in 1839 to link the Rochdale Canal with the River Irwell, through two lift-shafts dropped twenty-five feet to the canal tunnel beneath the streets.

The canal connection closed in 1936, and the spaces below the warehouse were adapted as air-raid shelters during World War II:  http://www.subbrit.org.uk/sb-sites/sites/m/manchester_salford_junction/index.shtml.

The warehouse itself closed in 1954 or 1963 (sources differ), and was converted into a cavernous car-park, until in 1996 planning permission was given for conversion to a leisure and retail development which controversially permitted demolition of the listed carriage ramp, much of the train deck and associated buildings on Peter Street.

The distinctive frontage of railway buildings on Deansgate survives, and at the southern end of the site stands the huge Beetham Tower.

Two sections of the canal tunnel remain:  that under the Great Northern Goods Warehouse may become accessible to the public;  the other section under the former Granada TV studios is intact but inaccessible.

Humming tower

Beetham Tower, from Castlefield, Manchester

Beetham Tower, from Castlefield, Manchester

When I was little, going on holiday to Blackpool involved hanging out of the train window from Preston onwards seeking the first glimpse of the Tower.

Nowadays, approaching Manchester feels the same, particularly when I drive over the Woodhead Pass, where you can see the Beetham Tower from as far away as Tintwistle.

The Beetham Tower at 554 feet won’t be Manchester’s tallest building for much longer, when Tower 1 (659 feet), the tallest of the cluster of four towers at Owen Street, is topped out in 2018.

For the moment, though, it’s the tenth tallest building in the UK, and the tallest outside London.

It was designed by Ian Simpson of SimpsonHaugh & Partners whose other Manchester work includes the Shudehill Interchange and the Central Library and Town Hall Extension restoration.

It sits on a narrow site on Deansgate, and its profile, with a distinctive overhang at the 23rd floor, makes it unmistakable.  The first twenty-two floors are occupied by the Hilton Manchester Deansgate [http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-manchester-deansgate-MANDGHI/index.html] and the floor with the overhang is the Cloud 23 bar [https://www.cloud23bar.com], where you’re asked to “dress to impress”.

Above that, floors 24-47 are apartments.  The architect, Ian Simpson, moved into the top-floor penthouse, a two-storey residence containing trees imported from Italy and craned through the roof before topping out.

Other notable residents have included the Manchester-born singer, Shayne Ward, and the footballers Phil Neville and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Living in or near the Beetham Tower is sometimes disturbed in windy weather by a hum from the ten-metre glass blade which extends the height of the south façade.  This persistent howling noise, featured in the rock-band Paramore’s track ‘Idle Worship’ (2017), has on occasion interrupted filming of Coronation Street.

Not everyone approves of the way the Beetham Tower dominates the cityscape, but I like it.

Manchester Central

Manchester Central

Manchester Central

Like most Victorian cities, Manchester had more railway termini than it really needed – Victoria and Exchange, which connected end-on, London Road, latterly known as Piccadilly, and Central.

The last built was the shortest lived.

Manchester Central station was opened in July 1880, serving the Cheshire Lines services of the Midland, the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire and the Great Northern railways, which had operated into a temporary terminus, known as Manchester Free Trade Hall Station, since 1877.

Sir John Fowler’s train-shed at Manchester Central, with ironwork by Andrew Handyside of Derby, has a span of 210 feet, only thirty feet narrower than St Pancras.  Unlike St Pancras, the arch is not tied beneath the platforms because of the structure of the huge brick undercroft, which bridged and connected with the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal.

The original intention to fill the station frontage with either a hotel or an office-building never came to anything, and until the station closed on May 5th 1969 its façade was no more than a temporary wooden structure.

Charles Trubshaw’s Midland Hotel (1898-1904), a bombastic but loveable essay in terracotta – “probably the most beautiful building in the whole city”, according to the initial publicity material, “a vast and varied affair” in Pevsner’s description – was built on a two-acre site across the road looking over St Peter’s Square, linked to the station by a covered way.

After rail-services were diverted away from Central Station in 1969 it stood neglected, used only as a car-park for some years, until in 1980 the Greater Manchester Council, in conjunction with a private developer, transformed it into an exhibition hall, G-MEX, the Greater Manchester Exhibition Centre.

The architects for the G-Mex conversion were Essex, Goodman & Suggitt.

Its use as a concert venue declined after the opening of the Manchester Arena in 1995, and G-MEX was rebranded under its original name, Manchester Central, in 2007-8:  https://www.manchestercentral.co.uk.

Family home

Eyam Hall, Derbyshire

Eyam Hall, Derbyshire

Eyam Hall has been occupied by the Wright family ever since it was built by Thomas Wright as a wedding present for his son John, who married Elizabeth Knyveton in 1671.

Thomas’s father William had bought extensive land and lead mines in Eyam in 1633, and the family can trace their ancestry back to the thirteenth century in nearby Great Longstone.

The Hall is a fine example of a Derbyshire vernacular manor house, and its contents, accumulated over generations, remain intact, such as the two bacon settles beside the hall fireplace and the series of family portraits that begins with Elizabeth Knyveton and her parents and sister.

The fine dogleg staircase with its ball finials and fiercely pointed pendants, is thought to be earlier than the building in which it stands.

This well-chronicled family history runs up to the present.  The current owners, Robert and Nicola Wright, the eleventh generation of owners, opened the Hall to the public in 1992 and created the craft centre, café and shop in the stable yard.

They leased the Hall to the National Trust in 2013, and four years later the Trust is giving up its tenancy.

The new direction is indicated by a new website:  http://www.eyamhallweddings.co.uk.

Christmas in a T-shirt: St Maarten

Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

Methodist Church, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

When my friend Jenny and I cruised the eastern Caribbean in 2011, one of our stops was in the tiny town of Philipsburg in the divided island which is the Dutch Sint Maarten in the south and the French St Martin in the north.

I’d have liked to explore both halves of this fascinating place, which was named by Christopher Columbus and has been divided since the Treaty of Concordia of 1648.

But when you’re on a cruise you can’t afford to miss the boat.

So Jenny and I settled for refreshing cool drinks at the Fire House [https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g147347-d2618585-Reviews-Firehouse_Bar_and_Restaurant-Philipsburg_Sint_Maarten_St_Maarten_St_Martin.html], a shrine for emergency workers on holiday.

It sits on the Boardwalk, overlooking the beach and the beach-umbrellas.

But even the sunny, unassuming Philipsburg has history connections I can recognise.

One block in from the Boardwalk, on the Voorstraat [Front Street], stands Philipsburg Methodist Church, which at the time was celebrating its 160th anniversary.

I’m used to nonconformist churches in Britain having annual anniversary festivals, but I wasn’t expecting to see one in the Caribbean.

In fact, there seems to have been a Methodist presence on St Maarten since the mid-eighteenth century.

There has been a chapel on Voorstraat since 1851, hence the anniversary, though the present building, with its tile-hung façade, slim porch and stubby little tower, is a reconstruction of 1957.

There are images of its galleried interior at http://filipdemuinck-kristelpardon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-methodist-church-of-philipsburg-st.html.

I wrote this article, and last year’s article on Martinique, before the Caribbean suffered significant hurricane damage in 2017.

Following Pevsner’s footsteps

Wentworth Woodhouse, East Wing, Long Gallery

Wentworth Woodhouse, West Wing, Long Gallery

I’ve known Ruth Harman for a long time, ever since she worked in Sheffield Archives and patiently tutored me when I knew even less about historical research than I do now.

Latterly she went on to co-write, with John Minnis, the Pevsner City Guide for Sheffield (Yale University Press 2004):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sheffield-Pevsner-City-Guides-Architectural/dp/0300105851/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509034870&sr=8-1&keywords=Pevsner+City+Guide+Sheffield.

In recent years I’ve occasionally encountered her, notepad in hand, investigating historic buildings across the former West Riding in preparation for her edition of Pevsner’s Buildings of England:  West Riding:  Sheffield and the South (Yale University Press 2017):  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yorkshire-West-Riding-Sheffield-Architectural/dp/0300224680/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509032022&sr=8-1&keywords=Pevsner+West+Riding+South.

It’s apparent that you turn up all sorts of strange facts when you revise a Pevsner:  Ruth once proudly told me that she’d found a lighthouse in the landlocked West Riding:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1971566.

I was privileged to attend the launch of Ruth’s book at Wentworth Woodhouse in September, and it was only when I handled a copy that I realised the scale of her achievement.  Sir Nikolaus Pevsner himself, in 1959, covered the whole of the West Riding in 610 pages;  a revision by Enid Radcliffe seven years later added forty-two more pages.

Ruth’s 841 pages cover, in much more detail, only the southern half of the old West Riding, from the southern boundary of Sheffield to the outskirts of York, and from Blackshaw Head near Todmorden in the west to Adlingfleet, beyond Goole in the east.

(The equivalent volume for the northern half of the West Riding was published in 2009:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yorkshire-West-Riding-Architectural-Buildings/dp/0300126654/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1509032672&sr=1-1&keywords=Pevsner+West+Riding+North.)

The invitation to the book launch also gave me the opportunity of a conducted tour of Wentworth Woodhouse where, for the first time in all the years I’ve known the building, back to when it was a teacher-training college, I set foot in the formerly private West Wing, the so-called “Back Front”.

Judge not…

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

23 Forman Street, Nottingham

Photo:  Harriet Buckthorp

Diners at the Foreman Street, Nottingham, branch of Prezzo [https://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/nottingham-forman-street/?s=Nottingham%20NG5,%20United%20Kingdom&lng=-1.1390802999999323&lat=53.00821670000001&f] are mostly unaware of the history of the site.

In the late nineteenth century 23 Foreman Street was a well-known brothel, distinguished as the scene of the demise of Sir Charles Henry Watkin Williams, a High Court judge who, according to a pointedly satirical memorial card, “departed this life suddenly at Mrs Salmands” on the evening of July 17th 1884 aged 55.

After dinner at the Judge’s Lodgings he had gone to visit a young lady called Nellie Banks at Mrs Salmands.  There is a factual account in Reynolds’s News, July 27th 1884.

The gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, in his compendium of criminality, Mad Frank’s Britain (Random House 2012), p 107, felicitously describes what happened:  “the old gentleman gave a sort of grunt and she thought he’d come, but he’d gone”.

By the time the police returned Sir Watkin Williams’ corpse to the Judge’s Lodgings too many people knew what had happened for the story to be concealed.

The borough coroner, Mr Arthur Brown, was clearly under considerable pressure to limit his inquiries, and he had to lean hard to make the inquest jury fulfil their oath to establish “when, where, how, and by what means” the judge had met his death.

It appeared that Sir Watkin suffered from aneurism of the aorta and, according to his doctor’s recommendation, he really should have been more careful.

Reynolds’s News and many other papers reported the affair with circumspection, under a headline “DISCREDITABLE DEATH OF A JUDGE”, in an article more than a column in length that invited readers to use their imaginations.

The memorial-card broadsheet was altogether more succinct:

…in eight feet deep of solid earth

Sir Watkin Williams lies.

He lost his breath,

which caused his death,

‘twixt Nellie Blankey’s thighs.

Nellie Banks was an enterprising young lady.  My friend Stewart tracked her down in the Boston Guardian dated August 2nd 1884 where her name is meticulously rendered in inverted commas:

She was the housekeeper of a farmer at Butterwick who, in the early part of this year, absconded with a large sum of money and with [the] young lady in question made a trip to Paris.  He was on his return to this country apprehended as a fraudulent bankrupt aboard an Inman Line steamer as he and “Nelly” were about to emigrate to America.

She is described as aged 22, pale and slender and about five feet high.  She would have thrived in an age of reality TV and social media.

Nothing much remains of Mrs Salmand’s premises, but the story gives an entertaining twist to dining at Prezzo.