Story Of The English Towns - Sheffield
by J. S. Fletcher, 1919
It is in Sheffield a corporate
body, founded nearly three hundred years ago, exercising vast
power and possessing much wealth, which is, amongst all similar
corporations of the world, almost if not absolutely unique. The
Cutlers' Company makes and unmakes itself, it determines what
persons shall belong to it, what persons shall go out of it,
what persons shall come into it.
Holding absolute sway over
certain matters relating to the cutlery trade, it gives no right
of choice or election to those whom it controls. Mr. R. B.
Leader, in his monumental ”History of the Cutlers' Company,"
sums up the position of this corporate body and the folk over
whose work it exercises what is virtually an autocracy, in this
way: “The Commonalty [i.e. the workers and producers of cutlery
goods] as a body had one duty only to obey decrees in whose
making they had no share.
They were absolutely subject to the
thirty-three, and only by favour of that select body could any
one emerge from the ranks. The Act [of 1624] was said to be
obtained in the interests of the poor workmen.
True to the
ideas of the time, their superiors, and not themselves, were
regarded as alone knowing what those interests were." This
position somewhat curious in the light of modern ideas still
In 1624 the cutlers of
Sheffield, released from their obligations to the Shrewsbury
lordship by the death of the eighth earl in 1617, took steps
towards the management of their own affairs by applying to
Parliament for an Act of Incorporation.
The Bill embodying
their desires was presented to the House of Commons in the
first-named year, soon afterwards considered by a Select
Committee of the House, and speedily passed into law.
entitled "An Act for the good order and government of the makers
of knives, sickles, shears, scissors, and other cutlery wares in
Hallamshire, in the county of York, and other parts adjoining,"
and provided for the setting-up, by charter, of a Cutlers'
Company, incorporate and perpetual, of all persons engaged in
making cutlery ware within the liberties of Hallamshire, such
company to be governed by a master, two wardens, six searchers,
and twenty-four assistants thirty-three officials in all.
thirty-three were to remain in office for one year, and were
themselves to appoint their successors (who have usually been
themselves) on each succeeding Feast of St. Bartholomew August
24th. The Charter conferred powers on the Company to make laws
and regulations for the government of all masters, workmen, and
apprentices in the Sheffield cutlery trade and to inflict
penalties on all disobedient members.
The first master was Robert
Sorby (a name which, under one spelling or another, frequently
appears in the Burgery Rolls); the first two assistants, Godfrey
Bisley and John Rawson, names also well known in the town; and
the first membership roll included 360 names, a proof that the
trade was then firmly established. Fourteen years later the
Cutlers' Company built its first Hall, on a site adjacent to the