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, 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.