I am grateful to razor historian Eric Gilroy for this post about Edward Stammers, a London razor manufacturer.
When I first bought this charming old razor, I simply assumed that Edward Stammers was the proprietor of a shop at 99 Strand, London, and had bought it from a wholesaler in Sheffield. This was based on my assumption that Sheffield had always been the centre for cutlery manufacture in England.
The London cutlery trade guild preceded that of Sheffield by over two hundred years! In fact, London was the centre for cutlery manufacture until the early 1800s.
How wrong I was – I now find that the London cutlery trade guild preceded that of Sheffield by over two hundred years! In fact, London was the centre for cutlery manufacture until the early 1800s, when Sheffield began to expand into mass production with the advent of large steam powered factories, part of the Industrial Revolution.
Edward’s story is a rags to riches tale of a boy brought up in the rural Essex countryside, moving to London to make his fortune and to become a wealthy and influential society gent. This is his story:
Edward was born in 1784 in Brightlingsea Essex, the son of Joseph Stammers (believed to be a turner) and Ann, nee Teversham.
On 2 November 1798, at the age of 14, Edward was apprenticed to James Priest (1746-1821) a cutler of 382 Strand, London. James was an established cutler and was made Master Cutler of The Worshipful Company of Cutlers London in 1818.
Apprenticeships, in those times, were legal agreements between the child’s parent and the master, and were governed by a set of signed Indentures. Rules were strict; the apprentice had to be aged between14 and 21, lived with the master and effectively became an extra worker in the master's household. He or she was subject to the absolute authority of the master and by the terms of their indenture could not gamble, go to the theatre or a public house, and certainly could not marry. The apprentice did not receive pay, and a premium, set by the master, had to be paid by the parent to the master - £10 being typical in Edward’s time (about £1000 now), this being paid by instalments.
Masters had to be Freemen, and often advertised for apprentices, as would parents seeking a career for their child.
On 20 October 1807 Edward had completed his apprenticeship and was made a Freeman of The Worshipful Company of Cutlers London by servitude. Their rules state:
“You are eligible for the freedom of the City by servitude if you have served a term of apprenticeship according to Custom of London; above the age of 21 years; never having been adjudged bankrupt and never having been convicted of a criminal offense”.
On 10 March 1810 he married James’ daughter, Sarah Priest, at Saint Clement Danes, Westminster, London. Their only child, Sarah Ann, was born in 1817.
Apprentices often married their master’s daughter, or even his widow! This was a shrewd move as it provided instant employment and the possibility of taking over the business when the master died or retired. It also meant that the master could possibly retire early and still receive an income from the business.
In 1811 Edward’s shop was listed at 211 Strand, London as a cutler and razor maker, but in 1819 he moved to 99 & 100 Strand, where he was to remain until he retired in 1850.
In 1819 and 1820 Edward posted these two fascinating advertisements. They show his good business sense by moving from just producing cutlery to a wider range of quality goods for the wealthy, as by this period the main focus of the cutlery production was moving from London to Sheffield. The language is wonderful and, I believe, puts current advertising to shame:
“E. Stammers, 99 STRAND, knife and fork and razor maker and cutler to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, begs leave to inform the Nobility, Gentry, and his friends, that he has on Sale the Largest and most elegant assortment of Table Knives and Forks, upon his new and much approved principle, not to grease or soil the table when in use, never before brought to perfection E.S. particularly recommends his Patent Steel Desert Knives and Forks, in appearance equal to silver, and preferable in use, having an edge equal to a steel knife, in pearl and various mountings; also his much approved Razors and Strops, Pen-Knives and Scissors, Patent Corkscrew and Snuffers, with a great variety of new improvements in Cutlery – E.S. being a manufacturer, is enabled to offer these on very advantageous terms – Officers’ Messes and Merchants supplied. N.B Regiments can have their crest, badge &c on the handle or blade”.
“E. Stammers, 99 Strand, London, Cutler and Razor-Maker to his Royal Highness the Prince Rent, respectfully informs the nobility, gentry, and the public, that he has just finished an extensive assortment of Cutlery, &c. He confidently recommends to their notice his highly approved balance Table Knives and Forks, which, from their superior construction, prevents the cloth being soiled. Razors, Razor Strops, Pen-knives and Scissors; his much approved of plated on steel Desert Knives and Forks, in appearance equal to silver, and preferable for use, having the edge of a steel knife, and not above one third the price; Table and Dessert Spoons and Forks of the same description. Writing-Desks and Dressing Cases, Ladies’ Work-Boxes, with a variety of other articles too numerous on the most improved Principles, and in a superior Style to any yet offered to the public: an inspection only is necessary to prove his assertion. N.B. Wholesale and for Exportation”.
By the 1830s Edward was prospering, and in addition to his London home and shop, he had acquired an elegant property in fashionable Brighton as the following advertisement shows (note that he now calls himself a silversmith):
The Court Journal - 13th July 1833
“BRIGHTON. —TO LET, an Excellent House, new and handsomely Furnished, has been put in the best order, situated in the most Fashionable Part, being on the West near Regency square, making up Nine Beds, with Dining-rooms, Drawing-rooms, and other conveniences; good offices for Servants; with or without Coach-house and Stabling. For rent, and other particulars, enquire of Mr Stammers, Silversmith, 99, Strand, London; or No.2 Queensberry place, Brighton. All letters post paid”.
Edward’s elegant property in Brighton
By 1840, Edward and Sarah had moved to a new and very fashionable house at 1 Avenue Road, St Marylebone, London. This house stayed in the family for over 40 years. With them was their recently widowed daughter, Sarah Ann and her two young daughters. Edward always maintained a staff of four servants – a ladies’ maid, a hand-maid, a cook, and a scullery maid.
Edward’s house was destroyed in the war, but this would have been a similar property in Avenue Road
In 1846 Edward was made Master Cutler of The Worshipful Company of Cutlers London. This was a highly prestigious and influential appointment; a new Master Cutler being elected each year – the first being Richard Wellum in 1416.
Edward’s wife, Sarah, died during the 1850s and Edward remained at 1 Avenue Road with his daughter Sarah Ann. Shortly after 1860, and in his late 70s, Edward moved alone to Arlesford in Essex near to his boyhood home. Whites Directory of 1863 shows him as a farmer. He might well have been the long-term owner of ‘Stammers farm’ in Ulting, Maldon, Essex which is near Arlesford.
Edward died on 14th September 1866 and was buried at Arlesford aged 82 years.
The National Probate Calendar Principal Registry dated 5th November 1866 shows his final address as “Alresford, Essex, late of 99 Strand London”. The value of his estate was under £12000 (£1.2 million today), his daughter Sarah Anne was sole executrix.
Sarah Ann was to remain at 1 Avenue Road for several years with her two adult daughters Sarah Ann Frances Lucas and Everline Augusta Lucas. Sarah Ann finally moved to her residence in Brighton where she was to die in 1876 at the age of 59.
By 1880, Sarah Ann Frances was still living at 1 Avenue Road, now with her husband Schofield Patten (later to become Lt. Col Royal Marine Light Infantry), her sister Everline Augusta having moved away when she was married.
There is no record of what became of Edward’s business at 99 Strand, but with no son to take it over one can only assume that it closed down.
The Worshipful Company of Cutlers
The trade of knife-making and repairing in London was formed in the thirteenth century as a guild by the cutlers working in the medieval City of London in the vicinity of Cheapside. The guild received its first Royal Charter from Henry V in 1416. As was the case with the other trade guilds of the day, its function was to protect the interests of its members, to attend to their welfare, and to ensure that high standards of quality were maintained. Their business was producing and trading in knives, swords, and other implements with a cutting edge. Over time the emphasis shifted from implements of war to cutlery and other domestic wares such as razors and scissors.
The Company of Cutlers of Hallamshire
The first reference to cutlery made in the Sheffield area was in 1297, when the hearth tax records include Robertus le Coteler – Robert the Cutler. In 1340 King Edward III’s possessions in the Tower of London included a Sheffield made knife.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Sheffield was in competition with local cutlery-making in Thaxted (Essex), Ashbourne (Derbyshire) and Woodstock (Oxfordshire). The largest manufacturing centre, however, was in London where trade was controlled by the Worshipful Company of Cutlers.
In the mid-sixteenth century the Earls of Shrewsbury were the Lords of the Manor of Hallamshire, an area which covered the parishes of Sheffield, Ecclesfield, Handsworth, and Eckington and Norton in Derbyshire. The manorial court set up Cutlers’ Juries to control the cutlery and metalworking trades on their land, which included registering cutlers’ marks, controlling apprenticeships and working practices. The ordinances the manorial court drew up were later included in the rules of the Cutlers’ Company.
When Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury, died in 1616 the manor passed to non-resident lords who had little interest in maintaining the Cutlers’ Juries. Therefore, the cutlers lobbied Parliament for an act to give them control over the organisation of the cutlery industry in Hallamshire. It was eventually incorporated by a parliamentary Act in August 1624 under James I. The Cutlers' Company was of paramount importance in the local government and trade of Sheffield from its foundation.
It operated in much the same way as a mediaeval craft guild - indenting apprentices, registering Freemen and controlling the quality of goods manufactured. The Company had the right to enforce its bye-laws and charge fines. But it is not a Livery Company like the Worshipful Company of Cutlers in London. Livery Companies are established by Royal Charter.
The Act of Incorporation gave the Company 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...”
The Company of Cutlers consists of an annually elected group of thirty-three people – a Master Cutler, two Wardens, six Searchers and twenty-four Assistants. A Clerk and a Beadle are employed for administration and to perform ceremonial duties.
Robert Sorby was the first Master Cutler in 1624. In the following August, the Company met to elect the next Company, checked the Master’s accounts, installed the new Master and heard a service at the parish church. They ended the day with a meal in a local inn! A new Company has been elected every year to the present day, except during the First and Second World Wars when the same Company continued for the duration of the wars.
Surviving accounts show that the early Company was concerned with recording apprenticeships and freedoms and registering the identifying marks of qualified craftsmen. This was to ensure that blades were made correctly – that is, having an edge of steel – and also to ensure that only Freemen were selling their own goods.
Only Freemen of the Cutlers' Company were allowed to stamp a mark on their cutlery. To become a Freeman, men had to have served an apprenticeship under another Freeman and the apprenticeship had to have been recorded at the Cutlers' Hall.
The Cutlers' Company also granted the marks: the cutlers were required to deposit copies of their mark punches at the Cutlers' Hall but, periodically, the Company instructed them to bring their working punches to the Hall, copies of which were then marked in new books. These powers were finally reduced in 1814, and the Cutlers’ Company was only allowed to register cutlers’ marks after this date.
Whilst researching Edward’s family, I came across his great grand-daughter Violet Augusta Low (1876-1931) - Everline Augusta’s daughter, who must have been quite a character and who maintained the family wealth, leaving a fortune of over £10 million in today’s money.