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History of Cutlery and Tools with Geoffrey Tweedale

  James Howarth & Sons Ltd.   1 of 2  

James Howarth (1811-1891) was the son of William Howarth, an edge tool maker, and his wife, Hannah. James’ uncle, John, had been involved in Mottram & Howarth, an edge tool manufacturer, which had been listed in a directory in 1811 in Bridge Street.

In 1823, James had joined his father as a 12-year-old second hand or striker (forger) at another edge tool maker, Mitchell Bros, in Furnival Street. James ‘soon learned how to make a good chisel … and by the time he reached the age of 22 he had gained so much of the confidence of his employers that he was entrusted with the duties of manager’ (Sheffield Independent, 31 July 1891).

In 1835, James Howarth launched a business in partnership with Henry Taylor. They were listed in directories at No. 121 Fitzwilliam Street as manufacturers of edge tools, and engravers’, die sinkers’, silversmiths’, and all kinds of turners’ tools, and cast steel drawers. James’ father, William, was also listed at No. 107 in the same street as an edge tool manufacturer.

In 1842, Taylor & Howarth was dissolved, though James continued in Fitzwilliam Street. By 1851, he employed fourteen men and an apprentice.

William died at Fitzwilliam Street on 8 March 1851, aged 72, ‘after a painful illness of eleven days, born with Christian meekness and fortitude … he was a consistent member of the Wesleyan Society for upwards of 40 years’ (Sheffield Independent, 15 March 1851). He was buried in St Paul’s churchyard. William did not live long enough to see his son’s prize-winning display at the Great Exhibition in London. It included:

Tools for engravers and print cutters, comprising gravers, burnishes, and scrapers. Mariners’ compass, needles, and gunsmiths’ stocking tools. Turning and engraving tools. Edge tools – light, comprising chisels and gouges. Edge tools – heavy, comprising adzes, axes, and garden tools. Tool chests for botanists and tourists, containing rake hoe, two-prong garden fork, three-prong fork, garden trowel, pruning-chisel, weed-hook, Dutch hoe, spud-hammer and hatchet, pruning-saw, chisel, pick and spike, with long and short handles (Great Exhibition, Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue. London, vol. 2, 1851).

In 1856, James relocated his business to larger premises at Broom Spring Works, Bath Street. In 1840, he had married Anne Booker, the daughter of a farmer.

They had five sons – James Jun. (c.1838-1899), William Henry (1842-1904), Samuel (1847-?), Edwin (1853-1937), and John Charles (1856-1942) – who eventually joined the business. It was styled ‘& Sons’ in 1863.

In the late nineteenth century, the business expanded steadily. It won further prize medals at exhibitions in Paris (1855) and London (1862). James Howarth told the Census that in 1861 he employed 33 workers; by 1881 that number had doubled.

An account of Howarth’s appeared in The Illustrated Guide to Sheffield (1879), which was accompanied by a fine engraving of forging and grinding at the factory.

Besides the workshops in Bath Street, by the 1880s Howarth’s operated a foundry at Sykes Works in Eyre Street. Its product line was extended to include skates and metallic-framed joiners’ braces, which became a speciality.

According to Reg Eaton, The Ultimate Brace: A Unique Product of Victorian Sheffield (1989), Howarth’s brace was ‘mechanically the best, and with its graceful lines was the finest of all the Sheffield framed braces’. New markets for these products were found in the Colonies, especially Australia, where Howarth’s exhibited at Melbourne in 1888.

By then, however, Howarth’s and other Sheffield tool makers were feeling the impact of foreign competition.

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