RETRO: Ivory was key material of cutlery trade

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Today’s subject broaches a subject that is now considered a horrible evil trade but in the 1800s it was just another tool used in the cutlery trade and used in household items, I’m talking about ivory, read on.

The Highbury house name on the gatepost of 5 Palmerston Road was once the home of ivory merchant Charles George Carlisle, the name of his home was once painted in shining real gold paint but now it has lost its sheen but can still be seen under the flaking over paint that was daubed over it.

Charles G Carlisle was born in Sheffield in 1820, at the age of 23 he married Elizabeth Lawton on October 22, 1843, at St Peter’s Church, now the cathedral.

At the time of their marriage he was living in Bath Street by 1845 he is listed as living at 35 Rockingham Street, this is the first mention of him being an ivory cutter.

In 1859 Charles and John, his 16-year-old son, are listed as living at 39 Gloucester Street.

John and William Henry, his brother, set up in business around 1860 as Carlisle Brothers Ivory Cutters and Dealers, their premises were situated at 31 Little Pond Street, this was before Flat Street and Pond Street were joined together.

By the time of the census in April 1861 he was then living with his wife, eight children (there was no family allowance then) and a servant at 42 Gloucester Street.

On his son’s birth certificates Charles has his occupation as a Master Ivory Cutter, Charles was determined to be a success so he travelled to Brussels every year to buy his ivory tusks that had been imported from the Belgian Congo.

His home on Palmerston Road became the family headquarters.

In the mid 1870s, the Carlisle Brothers, already an established firm of ivory cutters, had been approached by William Lockwood, a brace bit maker, who was looking for financial backing to produce a steam piston ring that he had invented.

The partners offered to buy the invention from him, whereupon he agreed to sell the patent to them and direct the manufacture of the rings.

As a result, Lockwood & Carlisle was established in 1876.

With this and further patents the business grew progressively with the increase in steam reciprocating machinery for merchant shipping.

Lockwood & Carlisle became a limited company in 1898, following the death of William Lawton Carlisle.

Standard Piston Rings was formed in Sheffield in 1893 producing cam turned rings from sand-cast pot castings.

Both companies continued to expand steadily and in 1909 Lockwood & Carlisle were commissioned by Harland and Wolff to produce piston rings and springs for engine number 400 (The Olympic) and engine number 401 (The Titanic).

The low-pressure piston ring diameter for these engines was 97 inches.

Following an accident during the manufacture of these rings and continuing up until the 1950s and beyond a superstition still lingered among the workforce about a turner named Wright who had sadly been killed when one of the rings for the Titanic had fallen and crushed him.

On several anniversaries of the Titanic disaster the ghost of Wright was allegedly seen in the works by various workers.

Back to his ivory business, in 1881 he employed six men and eight girls, as you can tell it wasn’t labour intensive, the men cut up the ivory and processed it and the girls packed the orders waiting to be picked up or delivered.

The Carlisle name can be traced to 21 Grindlgate (this was a short street between Scotland Street and West Bar Green) from 1833 where William, Charles’s father, was working as a table knife manufacturer.

From this address he moved in around 1845 to 23 Orchard Lane, other addresses of the brothers are spread through the directories of the 1800s to the 20th century.

Elephant ivory has been exported from Africa and Asia for centuries with records going back to the 14th century.

Throughout the colonisation of Africa ivory was removed, to be used for piano keys, billiard balls and other western baubles in much of South Africa in the 19th century and most of West Africa by the end of the 20th century.

At the peak of the ivory trade, pre-20th century, during the colonisation of Africa, around 800 to 1,000 tonnes of ivory was sent to Europe alone.

Today trading in ivory is illegal in many countries around the world, but in the past, it was a key material for the cutlery industry.

Sheffield companies bought ivory at sales in London, Liverpool and Antwerp.

Ivory was bought as whole tusks, transported to the different works and then cut into scales and handles.

In 1911 some companies like Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd were using 12 tons of ivory a year (around 1,150 elephant tusks).

Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd were well-known for their ivory store, which held all sizes of ivory, with the largest weighing over 160lbs and the smallest consisting of baby teeth, at just 2-3lbs.

The company opened a showroom - the first of its kind in Sheffield - to exhibit their wares.

At first it attracted crowds of people who had no intention of buying anything, but soon it became an effective advertising and promotional tool, as it was visited by most people passing through Sheffield.

Despite the world-wide ban on the collecting and selling of ivory, China still imports tons each year by way of Mozambique due to all officials who are being bribed to look the other way (recently confirmed by secret filming in China) these are the people who are to trusted to watch out for poached ivory, absolutely shameful.