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Background information about the Cutlers’ Company, Freedom, marks…
(Updated: 2017, Mai, August, 2018, Dec)
Here is a little bit of background information about the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire (Sheffield,…), apprenticeship, master, freedom, marks,…
The “Company of cutlers in Hallamshire” controlled the production
of cutlery, knives, razors,… in Sheffield.
If one wanted to be a cutler, he needed
to be an apprentice of a registered “Master”.
All the products he made, were under the name of his “Master”.
After a contracted period of apprenticeship, he could be
a “Freeman”, meaning, he would have a “(trade)mark”
of his own, and could set up his own firm. He would
be “Free” to make & sell his own products.
All of this was registered, documented and controlled
by the “Company of cutlers in Hallamshire”.
Taken from the book “Mesters to Masters,
A History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire,
edited by Clyde Binfield and David Hey”,
Oxford University Press, 1997 (private collection, or
“Mesters to Masters: A History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire“);
“… The main concerns of the Cutlers’ Company during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,…, were the enrolling of apprentices and the admitting of freemen.
A boy could become a master without having completed a formal apprenticeship,
if he had been trained by a father who was a freeman of the Cutlers’ Company.
Those boys who were not the sons of freemen had to serve an apprenticeship
for at least seven years, until they were 21 or more years old.
(Update: 2017, Mai):
So, if apprenticeship began before the age of 14, the boy could serve for much
longer then the usual 7 years. However, it does appear that there was a custom
of binding a boy for longer than the time necessary to teach him the trade.
For the rest of the time, the boy effectively worked as a ‘journeyman‘.
No journeyman was allowed to be employed under the age 20,
except if they were apprentices or taught by their father.
Workers who had completed their apprenticeships but had not set up
their own firms. Journeymen eventually also took apprentices,
contrary to the statute. (Updated: 2017, Mai)
“Mesters to Masters: A History of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire“
(Update: 2017, Mai)
Another aspect of the length of apprenticeships was that many boys were bound
until the age of 24. It seems likely that this was designed to use them as journeymen.
It seems that poor boys, or boys whose fathers was dead, were more likely to be
bound for longer periods.
About 1685, …, it became the practice to require a freemen to be of
at least three years’ standing before he could take an apprentice.
Upon completing an apprenticeship, a man could take his freedom
of the Company and set himself up as a master in his trade.
(Update: 2017, August)
Some men appeared to wait several years before becoming freemen, often
when their father or master died, so the actual moment in which men applied
for Freedom sometimes was many years after the apprenticeship period had
ended, in one case even thirty years later…
(“Dr Joan Unwin”,
Archivist of “The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire”, etheses.whiterose)
Eventually, …, the Act of Parliament of 1791, which repealed much of the original
Act of 1624. Having insisted on a seven-year’s apprenticeship and on a limited number
of apprentices per master, the Act then contradicted this policy by allowing the sale
of freedoms to outsiders for the sum of £20 and the payment of fees.
(Update: 2017, Mai)
Since 1624, normally, a master could not take more then one apprentice
at a time, except his own sons, until one apprentice was in his fifth year,
a rule that seems to be broken many times. In 1768, the Company had
reduced this restriction to four years, in 1781 even to just one year.
Between 26 April 1814 and 26 September 1822 no freedoms
were granted and no marks were assigned.
The marks were originally intended as a means of identifying a craftsman.
The vast majority of the marks which were registered lasted no longer than
the life of the craftsman, though some became valued and were used repeatedly.
Many marks were reserved for sons or other relatives.
The mark of a cutler was not classed as an inheritable item until the mid-19th century. The cutlers could and would ask for a note to be attached to a mark record saying it was to be reserved for their son or whoever…
ref. “Dr Joan Unwin” (Archivist of “The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire”)
Some men became obsessive about their marks, insisting that similar marks should not be allowed by the Company.
In time, the possession of a mark came to be looked on as an asset, a kind of
‘trade mark’ that distinguished particular goods in the eyes of customers and
which guaranteed the high quality of the product.
(Update: 2017, Mai)
The specific craft of “razorsmith” in which Freedom could be granted was generally
listed no sooner then the 1780s, although there is already mentioning of “razor makers”
in the 1774 “Sketchley’s Sheffield Directory”
(Update: 2018, Dec)
Although this specific craft of “razorsmith” or “razormaker” can be seen
in other earlier documents, for example this baptism document of 1705:
For more information: