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Cutting edge of history

31 Jul

I’ve always been fascinated by history, particularly influential people and interesting genealogical stories. I think that’s why I like TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Heir Hunters.

I’ve been on my own history adventure recently, thanks to a rather plain-looking pair of scissors!

Vintage scissors

Vintage scissors

I noticed these little scissors recently at my parents’ house, next to my mum’s jewellery box. In an instant, I was totally captivated by their vintage charm – look how fine the metal is around finger holes, and how beautifully the metal curves from here to the pivot point.

I joked to my mum that they looked ancient and she said she’d had them for as long as she could remember. She knows that I have a soft spot for vintage knick-knacks, so she insisted that I have them. (I resisted a little, but gave in quickly with a possible too-loud yay!)

Anyway, when I got them home, I had a good look over them. The blades don’t feel very sharp any more, but the pivot is still very strong (unlike some of my more modern scissors). The metal has a beautiful dark, matt quality, with just a little rust under the pivot point. Then I turned them over…

Vintage scissors: other side

Vintage scissors: other side

On this side, I realised there was some writing under the pivot, so I looked a little closer…

Vintage scissors close-up

Vintage scissors close-up

In case you can’t see, it says ‘W.P All W Parkin & Sons Sheffield’. I felt a pang of excitement as a I realised this could be a craft artefact with its own history, so I set out to find out more about W Parkin & Sons. A quick internet search turned into a 2-hour investigation! I’ve not found out all that much, but here’s what I do know…

W Parkin & Sons, Sheffield, were just one of many steel companies in the area during the 19th century and right up until the 1970s. In case you’re unaware, Sheffield was a hub of steel production in the UK, from the industrial revolution until its decline in the 1970s and 1980s, due to more competitive prices abroad. Sheffield’s steelworks were huge and played a key role in producing essential items for the war effort.

I’m personally interested in the craft tools they produced, which seem to have included scissors, knives and saws. According to various sources, W Parkin & Sons occupied premises in many different parts of the city, including Sylvester Street, Granville Street, and land between Solly Street and White Croft. All of these addresses are now either office blocks, housing estates, or crumbling, boarded-up buildings with no hint of the important activity that once occurred there.

One of the internet results that came up was for the census records. There was a William Parkin in the 1911 Census, described as a ‘Steel Merchant’, aged 64. I found the same man in previous census records, described as ‘Steel Manufacturer’ in 1901, ‘Steel and File Manufacturer’ in 1891, ‘Cuttery Manufacturer Employing About 100 Hands’ in 1881, a Clerk Merchant in 1871, a Scholar in 1861, and no job in 1851 (but he was only 4 years old!). I’m not sure whether this is the founder or one of the forefathers of the company, but it’s still interesting to see one man’s career progression!

It’s sad that these once-thriving factories are now falling down, and that there doesn’t seem to be much record of a company that endured for so long, employing so many, and making charming historic items like my humble scissors. I’ll keep looking for more information…

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