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 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
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
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
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’.
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.