Past Masters




There is an unbroken list of Masters Cutler since 1624, some of whom served for more than one year and is a roll call of nationally and internationally acclaimed manufacturers of cutlery, silver and steel.

Many of the Masters took on additional public roles during the 17th and 18th centuries, when Sheffield did not have a Mayor and Corporation.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Masters became Mayors and Lord Mayors of Sheffield, Presidents of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and played a role in the formation and management of Sheffield University and as Trustees on innumerable charities.

List of Masters Cutler from 1624

Ever wondered what a Master Cutler does?

Each year, the Company's public face is the Master Cutler who represent the Company and Sheffield manufacturing.  The weekly diary sheets show how busy this can be, however, it is very rare to have an insight into the Master's experiences.  The Company was recently given some personal papers of the late Norman Hanlon, Master Cutler in 1975 and among them was a talk he gave to Sheffield Probus describing his year of office.  This is only the second such information, the other is the from Charles Belk's year in 1885.

Download a brief summary of Norman Hanlon's year.

Bronze bust of Robert Hadfield,
Master Cutler, 1899



Featured Master - Cotton Watkin

The delightfully named Cotton Watkin was the son of a farmer from Hatfield, north of Sheffield. He was apprenticed in the cutlery trade in 1696 and became a Freeman of the Company in 1705. In his working life, he trained a number of apprentices, including his son Cotton, who became a Freeman in 1731 and his nephew, also called Cotton Watkin, who became a Freeman the following year.

In August in 1733, Cotton Watkin (the elder) was elected Master Cutler for a year. In that time, the Company admitted 110 new Freemen. The Company carried on its normal business, which included collecting rent for a stone quarry, holding meetings to arrange for improvements to the kitchens at the Hall and purchasing glasses, linen and cutlery for the annual Cutlers' Feast.

The Company exercised control over the number of apprentices being trained by Freemen and also registered the identifying marks of craftsmen in order to maintain control over the quality of knives being made.  Items from the Minutes of Watkin's year include a plea from the parents of an apprentice to have him moved to another master. 'Thomas Thompson of Crooksmoorside, a cutler, assigned over his son Samuel to William Ainsworth of Sheffield, cutler, for the term of four years. But the said apprentice being of a weak constitution and not able to work on his trade, pent up in Sheffield, where the said Ainsworth dwells.  (Through the earnest solicitations of his parents, they presuming that the apprentice will remain in better health out of the town). The said William Ainsworth agreed that the Indentures between them shall be cancelled.'

Business relating to marks included the request by Samuel Hatherley to have his mark altered because the original one was too awkward, causing his goods to be rejected by chapmen.

Cotton Watkin seems to have fallen on hard times later in his life.  The Company gave four guineas to have him released from gaol (crime unknown) and from 1748 to 1753, through the Company's charitable offices, he was paid 2/6d (121/2p) a week for 45 weeks a year.