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George
Wostenholm

1800 - 1876

Toledo Factory
George Wostenholm was born on 31st January 1800 in Sheffield. His father and great-grand-father were both called George and had been involved in the cutlery trade. Great-grand-father George (b.1717) set up a small local business in the Stannington area of Sheffield. This area became famous for the invention of the Barlow pocket knife. In the late 1750's Henry Wostenholm (son of George) was given the right to name his knives Spring Knife by the Cutlers Company. These were popular folding knives.

Henry's son George (1755-1833) was apprenticed to a cutler John Mickelthwaite and then joined his father's business as a partner where he remained until his fathers death in 1803. George then moved to Sheffield, first to premises on Garden Street and then to Broad Lane. The site on Broad Lane later formed the Rockingham Works. This was a time when the cutlery trade in Sheffield was expanding largely due to the growth in the export trade.

George (junior) was apprenticed to his father at the Rockingham Works, where he became familiar with all aspects of the trade. When he was only 24 he became an assistant to the Cutlers' Company, by this time the Company were mainly involved in the regulation of trade marks. He was brought into the family business which were described in the Sheffield Directory as:

George Wostenholm and Son, manufacturers of table knives and forks, pen, pocket, and sportsman's knives, and general dealers in cutlery, 78 Rockingham Street.

On the 3rd October 1826 George Wostenholm was made a freeman of the Cutlers' Company and was given his own trade mark l*XL an old mark once belonging to W.A.Smith in 1787, this mark was now to become world famous.

In the 1830's the two Georges entered a partnership with William Stenton, a buyer for Naylor and Sanderson's of Sheffield. William Stenton opened up markets in America for the surplus stock that the Wostenholms had on their hands in the 1830's. They were experiencing a slump in trade in the home markets. Until 1835 Sheffield held the monopoly on the American cutlery trade, it was still at 90 percent by the time of the American Civil War in the 1860's.

George took over the firm in 1834 as a result of his fathers death on the 31st December 1833. In 1836 George made his first visit to America and set up a chain of agencies selling cutlery carrying his famousl*XL trade mark. The main office was in New York but he had branches as far a field as San Francisco. George made thirty visits to America during his lifetime.

In 1848 George expanded the business by buying new premises the Washington Works, in Wellington Street, Sheffield. The works had belonged to Oakes, Tompkin and Co. The works were extended and all the stages of cutlery making were brought together under one roof, employing 300-400 workers. This was at a time where most of the cutlery trade was still in the hands of the little mesters and many people thought George Wostenholm to be very foolish. The continuing orders from America kept the workforce busy.

The only other cutlery firm of comparable size was Joseph Rodgers and Sons' Norfolk Street Works. Both firms were represented at the 1851 Great Exhibition. Rodgers displayed the famous giant Norfolk Knife (now in the Company of Cutlers). George hired an artist Alfred Stevens, to design a series of large sheath knives. These knives were awarded the highest honours, a feat which George repeated at other exhibitions.

During the period 1830-60 the firm added to its cutlery and razor trade a new product the Bowie knife. The knife became increasingly popular in America, but no American company was able equal the artistry and quality of the Sheffield manufactures. This one product meant the firm in 1862 was almost exclusively selling to an American market.

In 1875 the firm was registered as a limited company. George Wostenholm became chairman and managing director and shares were given to business associates and friends. Company records for the period 1876-80 show that they sold an average of £32227 knives and £8345 razors each year, the annual profits were £10203 and the shares produced 10 percent dividends.

After the American Civil War ended new home markets developed in the USA, which although could not compete with the mastery of the Sheffield blades, they were considerably cheaper to manufacture as they were mass produced by machines. The Washington Works tried to introduce new methods of production but the trade unions opposed such changes in work practices. These works were a series of small workshops often occupied by father and sons, who worked behind close doors. By the end of the century the American side of the business was almost dead.

In 1856 George Wostenholm agreed to serve as Master Cutler, a position he had previously turned down. Later he served as a local magistrate. He was now living at Kenwood House in Sharrow, Sheffield, an estate laid out on the lines of Kenwood Village, New York. He and later his widow helped to extend Sheffield Parish Church, now the current Cathedral.

George Wostenholm died on the 18th August 1876. He had been married three times: first wife Mary Hobson (d. 1853) second wife Frances Crookes (d. 1865) the daughter of a London merchant. They married on 8th August 1855. His third wife was Eliza M. Rundle (d. 1886) the daughter of W J Rundle of Gosport. George Wostenholm had no children. He was buried at All Saints Parish Church, Ecclesall.

George Wostenholm's house at Kenwood is now part of the Marriott (formerly Swallow) Hotel.

Interior at the Marriott Hotel
One of the recently renovated rooms in Wostenholm's house in what is now part of the Marriott Hotel, Sheffield.

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Page last updated on 20th April 2003