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History of Cutlery and Tools with Geoffrey Tweedale

  Addis: A Famous Name in Carving Tools
By Geoffrey Tweedale
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In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, only a few manufacturers established a reputation in the niche market of carving tools for woodwork.

These included Henry Taylor, Robert Marples, Robert and I. & H. Sorby, and Ashley Iles. They were based in Sheffield.

However, the first enterprise to carve its name (as it were) into carving tools manufacture was Addis. It was once said that ‘the best, and indeed the only [carving tools] that are fit for use, are made by Mr. Addis’ (T. Martin, The Circle of the Mechanical Arts, 1813). Addis was based in London.

Addis Origins and a Brothers’ Quarrel

Addis claimed an establishment date of 1717. However, the first traceable member of the family involved in carving tools manufacture was Samuel Bayton Addis (1768-1832). He was the son of a cordwainer named Thomas. By the early 1790s, Samuel was an edge tool maker in Church Street, Deptford. This was in the heart of London’s docklands, on the south bank of the River Thames.

Why the making of carving tools flourished first in Deptford (and not in Sheffield) requires some explanation. But such tools were required locally for ship carving; and also for craftsmen, who were increasingly patronised by wealthy clients in the capital. Even before Addis’s day, England’s greatest wood carver, Grinling Gibbons, had a workshop at Deptford.

By the 1820s, Samuel Addis was an auctioneer, but his son, Joseph James Addis (1792-1858), became a maker of carving tools. He, too, was based in Church Street. He died there on 23 December 1858 and was buried at Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove. He left only £20, which suggests that his business was not particularly profitable.

Nevertheless, his sons – SAMUEL JOSEPH ADDIS (1811-1871) and JAMES BACON ADDIS (1829-1889) – followed him into the trade. It has been suggested that the brothers were partners, but this is unlikely. In 1851, they operated separate workshops: Samuel at Gravel Lane, Southwark; James at Charlotte Street/Blackfriars Road and Lucas Street at Deptford.

In 1851, at the Great Exhibition in London, they each had displays. According to the Exhibition Catalogue, Samuel showed ‘tools used by carvers’; James displayed ‘carving tools, and a newly-invented set of tools for carving fruit’. Both received an award from the Jury panel, but the result was a surprise: James (aged only 22) pocketed the Prize Medal, while Samuel (eighteen years his brother’s senior) received a runners-up Honourable Mention.

Samuel made an official complaint that his brother had bought the exhibited tools from him (after he had made improvements on them) and then effaced his name; his brother claimed the opposite. The truth was impossible to determine. As one newspaper stated: ‘Mr. S. J. Addis seems to have been badly treated by his brother … [but] … nobody likes to interfere in family differences, than which none are so acrimonious’ (The Era, 16 November 1851).

Samuel’s and James’s careers now followed different trajectories. James tried to make the most of his success by stamping his tools ‘J. B. ADDIS PRIZE MEDAL 1851’. But he struggled. In 1855, when he was classed as a journeyman edge tool maker at a string of different addresses, he became insolvent. Nevertheless, he won another Prize Medal at the International Exhibition in London in 1862 for ‘screw tools of good workmanship and utility’.

In 1863, though, he again became bankrupt – only to resurrect his enterprise as a ‘general edge tool manufacturer’ at Oakley Street, Lambeth, in London. His advertisements stressed his exhibition credentials: ‘NONE GENUINE UNLESS WITH THE BRAND – J. B. ADDIS PRIZE MEDAL 51 & 62’.

The ‘Bloody Cockney’

James B. Addis looked to Sheffield to restore his fortunes. In 1864, he approached David Ward (1834-1889), who was the director of WARD & PAYNE. This edge tool maker in West Street traced its origins to 1803. David Ward’s father, Edward (1813-1842), became the second generation head of the firm.

Shortly before his death, Edward had taken his brother-in-law, Henry Payne, into partnership. The firm became Ward & Payne. In 1843, Payne was granted a trade mark: ‘W P’ and an anvil with crossed forging hammers. Payne died in 1850. His widow briefly retained an interest in the firm, but once David Ward came of age he assumed control.

Ward began looking for new lines of business. In 1863, he started manufacturing sheep shears. Carving tools looked another promising market, though London-made tools had a more established reputation than those manufactured in Sheffield. James B. Addis’s approach was therefore timely and Ward hired him. He also introduced him to the Edge Tool Forgers’ Union, so that James could apply for membership.

The union took an instant dislike to him and spurned his approach. As a Londoner, James aroused the ingrained Sheffield suspicion of outsiders. Word of the controversy surrounding James’s Great Exhibition prize had apparently followed him. The trade unionists also argued that James would train his own apprentices, who would threaten their jobs and wages.

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