Film ID: YFA 1986 Video of YFA 1986 Hand Forging the Blades for Spring Knives 1929 HAND FORGING (THE BLADES FOR SPRING KNIVES) c.1929 Visitor TabsDescription This is a film made by George Ibberson & Co. of Sheffield documents the industrial process involved in making knives at his factory. Intertitles are used throughout the film in order to explain the process, and each intertitle is marked with Geo Ibberson & Co. Estab. 1700 Sheffield, England. Title - Hand Forging The Blades for Spring Knives The film opens with two men working at anvils. Title - Each Blade Hammered from Rod of Best Crucible Cast Steel This is followed by the forging of small knife blades. Title - Making the Tang Much Hammering maketh Fine Steen Finer A man works at a small furnace on a rod of steel, hammering it into shape. A series of intertitles describe how the tang is made. Title - The Tang is Marked with our Name and Trade Mark There are brief shots of the metal being worked and stamped with their name and trademark. Title - Hardening Blades Heated and Quenched in Water Tempering Blades Re-heated over Fire till Purple in Colour The blade is heated in a furnace and then quenched in water. It is heated again until purple and then quenched. Title - Watch the Change in Colour The blade is held against a white paper to illustrate the change in colour. Title - The Blades are now Ground A man wearing goggles and smoking a cigarette leans over a grinding wheel, and sparks fly off. This portion of the film ends with a close-up of two finished blades. The next sequence shows the whole process of making a pocket knife. Title - The Cutler is given Material for Making Two-bladed Ivory Pen Knives Springs and Ground Blades Brass Linings (Webs) to give Knife Strength and Covering (Ivory) Nickel Silver Wire for Rivetting [sic] The Blade Tangs are dotted where the hole is to be drilled, using the "Devil" Each intertitle is followed by footage of the various materials required: springs, brass linings, ivory covering, and nickel silver wire for riveting. Title - Blades Drilled and then Shaped or "Squared" Then, various components are being drilled, shaped and assembled by men working at benches and vices. Title - The Springs are Filed, Drilled and Bundled for Hardening The Ivory and Linings are Drilled Using Ancient Fiddle Bow Title - The Ivory and Brass Linings are Filed into Shape. The Knife is put together and the Handle Rounded for Filing The Back of the Knife is Brightened by Glazing And the Handle Polished by Buffing The Handle is Protected and the Blades Glazed The Blades are next Carefully and Highly Polished The "Whetter" Gives Blades that Famously Keen "Fiddled Brand" Edge The Finished Knife is Thoroughly Wiped and the Joints Oiled The assembled knife is cleaned and polished and finally given the "Fiddle Brand"( i.e. sharpened). The section ends with a close-up selection of knives, single and multi-bladed. Title - The Making of Table Knives Forging the Stainless Steel Blades The final section of the film involves the workers using a lot of heavy machinery in order to make table knives. Again, each section described with an intertitle documenting the process. Title - Stamping the Bolsters A large machine stamps a long piece of metal into shape. Title - Drawing out the Tangs Hammering the Blades to make Them Thin Trimming the Sides of the Rough Blades Here a machine is used to cut the blades out of a slightly larger piece of metal. Title - Finishing the Stamping of the Rough Blade A man pulls each blade out of the fire before it is stamped. Title - Hardening and Tempering A man hits the metal with a hammer on an anvil before dipping the blade into water. Title - Loading the Grinding Machines A large grinding wheel is loaded with many blades, and once the process is finished, they are unloaded from the wheel. One blade is held up for the camera. Title - The Blades are Glazed and Buffed. A woman puts each blade between two large wheels for glazing and buffing. Title - Boring the Holes in Xylonite Handles There is a close up of the small machine used for this process. Title - Shaping the Handles Title - Finishing Mirror Polished "Fiddle Brand" Table Knives. The film ends with a close up of two of the finished knives as well as a fully stocked case. Context This is one of many films by a local amateur filmmaker, “Billy” Ibberson, made over a period of sixty years. As well as making films related to his work, most of Ibberson’s films were of the family. The Ibbersons owned a company going back to the seventeenth century, and which became the first company to manufacture stainless steel cutlery: George Ibberson & Co., Violin Cutlery & Plate Works, 112-116 Rockingham Street. It still exists today as part of the Egginton Group of Companies. For more on Ibberson see the Contexts for Yorkshire Beaches (1945) and Made in Sheffield (1954) The first documentary reference to Sheffield's cutlery trade comes from 1297, when Sheffield was granted a charter (or Town Trust) allowing for a weekly market and an annual fair. In this year ‘Robert the Cutler’ is recorded in a tax return, the earliest surviving reference to the manufacture of cutlery in Sheffield. From then references, both prosaic and literary crop up regularly, as in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, (1297) and in A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, (1724) by Daniel Defoe. Crucial to the growth of this industry was the converging of the five local rivers: the Loxley, the Don, the Sheaf, the Porter and Rivelin. This, together with iron ore and a plentiful supply of timber (later coal) for burning, meant that it was an ideal spot for iron smelting. Somewhat later the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire (including the parishes of Sheffield and some outlying parishes) and the Master Cutler came into being through an Act of Parliament in 1624. This gave it jurisdiction over: "all persons using to make Knives, Blades, Scissers, Sheeres, Sickles, Cutlery wares and all other wares and manufacture made or wrought of yron and steele, dwelling or inhabiting within the said Lordship and Liberty of Hallamshire, or within six miles compasse of the same." So that down the succeeding generations, apprenticeships were regulated to ensure a high standard of workmanship. The Hallamshire Company of Cutlers is still in existence. To cut a long story short, by the mid nineteenth century, 90% of all knives in the world were being made in Sheffield. It was in this period that a major breakthrough occurred with the invention of the Bessemer converter in 1855, which enabled the mass-production of steel from molten pig iron, prior to the open hearth furnace. In their film on the history of cutlery making in Sheffield, Seven Hundred Years (1997), Sheffield Movie Makers note the diseases that blighted the lives of those that worked in the fast expanding factories as the industrial revolution took off: including pneumonia, silicosis, rheumatism and bronchitis. The heat was so strong from the furnaces that the workmen had to drink between ten to twenty pints of, relatively weak, barley wine or beer during the course of a shift – water was unsafe. It is no coincidence that Attercliffe Road, through the heart of Sheffield’s old industrial area, had the most pubs per mile in the country. The next major breakthrough in steel came with the development of stainless steel, principally by metallurgist Harry Brearley in 1913 as he was working in the Brown - Firth research laboratory in Sheffield – see the Contexts for The Hub of the House (1945) and Firth Brown- a Tour of the Works (1957). Before the year was out, Ibberson was making stainless steel cutlery, the first anywhere in the world. This was a major breakthrough, not least because it made the cleaning of cutlery so much easier. By 1947 some 30,000 men and women were working in the cutlery industry in Sheffield – down to just 3,000 by 1997. Yet, in the year before, a factories report in 1946 found that 77 out of 313 cutlery factories in Sheffield were unfit for use. Many worked in small workshops, or at home, right through to the 1970s and ‘80s. In the 1920s and ‘30s buffing was the main occupation of women in Sheffield. As Lynne Fox states: “Being a Buffer Girl, was a dangerous trade. Most buffers wore an overall, called a buff-brat, which was usually made out of white calico. This has short sleeves that the women often rolled up high to avoid getting them caught in the machine. A red neck rag prevented flying sand from getting inside. The women used the brown paper that was readily available for wrapping the finished cutlery as their main protection from flying ‘muck’. They made large aprons from this and also wrapped it around their legs and feet.” The picture is not entirely clear at present as to the state of the cutlery industry in Sheffield: the recession poses a continuing threat. Recently the UK’s largest silversmiths, Sheffield based Carrs Silver took over the trade and assets of the former Nickel Blanks group of companies – some 300 years old – from Osborne Tableware. One database of businesses lists 18 companies manufacturing cutlery in Sheffield, while a member posting on the Sheffield Forum lists over 30 – although certainly many have now gone. Whatever the exact picture, Sheffield still regards itself as the home of cutlery, and remains at the forefront in the production of high quality silverware. References Lynne Fox (Summarised by Jessica Thomas) South Yorkshire Women in Industry Sheffield Records Online: Sheffield Master Cutlers & Apprentices A Sterling Effort - saving Sheffield's Cutlery Industry List of companies incvolved in the manufacture of cutlery in Sheffield (posted by a member of Sheffield Forum) Further reading Binfield, C., and Hey, D., Mesters to Masters: A history of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, Oxford, 1997. Clare Jenkins, On the Knife Edge : the Inside Story of the Sheffield Cutlery Industry, SCL Publishing, 1989.