The Hawley Collection — The First Ten Years
Excerpted from The Chronicle, Vol. 59 no. 4, December 2006
by Joan Unwin
Ken Hawley has been collecting tools and related material for more than fifty years, and, in 1998 with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, his collection (Figures 1–3) was acquired by a charitable trust. Housed in a specially refurbished building at Sheffield University, within the Department of Ar-chaeology (Figure 4), the collection is stored in boxes, but visitors can still have access to the collection. The Hawley Collection has full museum status, though not in the usual sense of a “museum,” in that there is no public exhibition space.
As a young man, Ken Hawley worked for his father who made wire guards for machines, giving him an insight into work practices in Sheffield’s manufacturing industries. Attracted by the tools and the processes, Ken went on to acquire his own examples of tools used by a variety of craftsmen, especially when he subsequently became a tool shop owner. Manufacturers’ tool catalogues, discussions with company representatives, and his contact with tradesmen and customers augmented his wide-ranging knowledge and interest. His working life spanned the years of decline in the Sheffield tool and cutlery trades. However, he had the foresight to acquire examples of tools and processes, usually before any other local museum or collector took any interest in them. The result is a coherent collection relating to Sheffield edgetool manufacture, and, since Sheffield once supplied the world, it is of international importance.
Ken’s ever-increasing collection filled more and more parts of his house, garage, and out-buildings; it was known to a few aficionados and collectors, but rarely seen in public. In 1992, at the instigation of Janet Barnes, keeper of the Ruskin Collection in Sheffield, Ken displayed some of his collection in an exhibition entitled “The Cutting Edge” with sponsorship from Stanley (UK) Ltd. (Figures 5–6). Many people were stunned at the breadth, depth, and beauty of the exhibits, and a trust was formed to secure the long-term future of the collection.
The Hawley Trust was established, consisting of representatives from the Shefﬁeld City Council, the two Shefﬁeld universities, local tool and cutlery manufacturers, and the city museum, and it became a registered charity. Its primary role was to purchase the collection and secure its safe storage. The University of Shefﬁeld generously provided a building, which it refurbished speciﬁcally to house the Hawley Collection, and it continues its support by maintaining the building. The trust successfully applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which provided the funds to purchase the collection and secure its future in its entirety.
The status of the collection is greatly enhanced by being part of university life. The research and teaching resource represented by the Hawley Collection has been welcomed at the university since it was housed in the Hawley Building. Initially the collection was placed within the management of the Adult and Continuing Education department where several adult students, especially those with specialist knowledge of the tool industries or with library skills, became involved in the accessioning processes. Following departmental reorganization, the collection came under the steward-ship of the Department of Archaeology. Students from archaeology, from other departments, and from other universities have used the resources and expertise of the staff in order to complete sections of their studies, whether for a short essay or full dissertation. The collection and staff beneﬁt from the range of supporting facilities at the university, such as the mounting of its Web site (http://www. shefﬁeld.ac.uk/hawley). [Editor’s Note: The Hawley Collection is no longer at the University of Sheffield; for information on its current home, visit: https://www.hawleytoolcollection.com]
Managing the Collection
The Hawley Collection consists of finished tools, the part-finished tools, and the “tools to make up these tools.” It is a research resource of unique importance in that it can play a valuable part in the understanding of past manufacturing processes of tools and knives. The collection provides an appreciation of the range of Shefﬁeld manufactured edgetools, cutlery and silver, surgical instruments, and related supporting trades.
When the Hawley Building was complete, the staff were faced with the inﬂux of the collection, which had to be identiﬁed, boxed, listed, and stored—all under the direction of Ken Hawley, as the only person who knew what most of the items were! It was impossible to conform to many museum procedures and practices in accessioning, as the whole collection was treated in its entirety. It was however, necessary to divide up the items into groups for storage. There are the tools; the printed material, the photographs, videos, ﬁlms and audio-tapes; and some archival material (Figures 7–8). Each was numbered in its own sequence, listed, and entered on a database. Gradually sense was made of the whole, even though there were anomalies, such as—do we put all the British Standards together in one box or separate them and put them with the trades to which they refer? (We still argue about it!)
The management of the collection has been approved in that the trust successfully achieved museum status, recognizing that its practices conform to accepted standards. Funding has been, and will always be, a defining issue, in that staffing levels prevent active conservation and the extensive research which everyone wishes to do.
Exhibitions—A Cut Above the Rest
Because the public does not have access to the Hawley Building without prior arrangements, it is essential that the collection be exhibited as widely as possible. Here again, funding requires the trust to rely on the help and goodwill of the Sheffield galleries and museum. The Ruskin Gallery, and later the Millennium Galleries, in Sheffield have mounted several successful exhibitions. The most recent and biggest was “A Cut above the Rest” in September 2003, which took a year to plan (Figures 9–10). The topic was easy, but when the display facilities were considered, the subject of cutting edges had to be split into twelve coherent topics. Eventually, more than six hundred items were chosen and were then cleaned and carefully packed for transport.
Each item had to have a descriptive sentence or two, and the layout of the cases had to be decided so that printed leaflets would correspond to the exhibition. In addition, there was the task of writing of an accompanying catalog. A fortnight before the opening, we began to assemble the exhibits onto the tall sloping display boards, which had been specially made for us. The idea was to balance all the items on very small pins so that they did not detract from the object. We took almost a week to hammer in the pins, before we took the boards into the gallery and began placing the objects on them. We had completed three of them, when we realized that every time anyone walked past the cases, the slight vibration through the floor caused all the objects to fall off. We then had to drill tiny holes in the boards and tie the objects in place.
One other way of increasing our public access is by having group visits. For the last six years, we have given presentations with a handling session at the Hawley Build-ing during “National Science Week.” Each year, we have tried to find an amusing slant on the tools we have. In March 2006, we gave three sessions on the subject “Variations on a Theme.” Once tools were assembled for the subject, it was surprising what we could include. We took four types of everyday tools—pliers, scissors, shears, and hammers. Manufacturers have embellished and modified the basic designs, often developing new styles which reflect changes in the market, and the introduction of new materials and production methods. Examples of tools included bulldog pliers, scissors with replaceable blades, a nailmakers’ hammer, and a small pair of weavers’ shears.
One of the pleasures in being part of the university is the enthusiasm of the students who come to use the collection. Many of them have never seen or thought about the objects in the collection. Students from the Department of Archaeology have had projects which were enhanced by having access to some of our artifacts. Remains found in a cemetery attached to a hospital prompted the investigation into early-nineteenth-century amputations and post-mortem techniques, and by using early-twentieth century amputation saws (see cover), it was possible to replicate the marks seen on bones. Other students were interested in trepanation and even in the “telltale” stab wounds inflicted by screwdrivers. (Or with turnscrews, as Ken Hawley would have it.)
A far less gruesome study was into the trade of saw-piercing—the production of delicate fretwork decoration on silver bowls and spoons, etc. Shortly after coming to the Hawley Building, a saw-piercer and a friend of Ken’s, decided to retire, and all the tools, designs, and documents relating to his small firm came to the collection. A student became interested in the process and spent months cataloging the collection and describing the processes, with reference to this firm. The craftsmanship was astounding, but the economic reality was that fewer and fewer people were prepared to pay for it.
Not only is there an important collection of objects and printed material in the Hawley Building, but the staff and volunteers have expertise which is also of value. Associated with the university’s Archaeological Research and Consultancy (ARCUS), we are often asked to assist in the identification and assessment of archaeological sites and finds mainly within the City of Sheffield. Sheffield is undergoing a period of major redevelopment—the rebuilding of city center sites and the construction of an inner ring road. Most of the sites have earlier buildings on them, many of which were industrial, and the metal finds are brought to us for assessment. It is fascinating to see the remains of cutlery workshops and be able to match up the corroded remains with existing examples and with the trade catalog illustration. One such example was Suffolk Works of the firm of Thomas Turner. Established in the 1830s, the factory grew to an enormous size, manufacturing files, saws, and cutlery of high quality. The firm declined after the First World War and eventually ended in the early 1950s, when the factory was demolished. The subsequent building was demolished three years ago, and the excavations revealed much of the original site of Turner’s factory, and the finds were interesting coming from the early- and mid-twentieth century.
The collection established by Ken Hawley is so diverse, and yet so coherent, that it presents researchers and collectors with a unique resource for study. Since coming to the University, we have achieved registered museum status, mounted four major exhibitions, appeared in the local and national media, and produced three publications: Knifemaking in Sheffield by Ruth Grayson with Ken Hawley; Sheffield Industries: Cutlery, Edgetools and Silver by Joan Unwin and Ken Hawley, and A Cut above the Rest by Joan Unwin and Ken Hawley. We have welcomed visitors—researchers, collectors, and societies—as well as involved students and volunteers in our work, to the benefit of all parties. Our financial status will continue to be the major concern, but we are proud of our first ten years at the University of Sheffield.
[Editor’s note: “The Hawley Gallery at Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield opened in 2010 as the first permanent display space for the Hawley Collection.” https://www.hawleytoolcollection.com/