Cutlers' Feast, Sheffield
Thursday 23rd May 2019
Within the space of a week, the Mistress and I found ourselves heading out of London to another great city to dine with another mighty company that symbolises its community. In this instance, the city is Sheffield and the company is the Cutlers in Hallamshire in the County of York. The first Cutlers' Feast was held in 1625 at the end of the Company's first year in existence and took place in a local tavern. The members enjoyed themselves so much that they did the same the following year and so the custom was established. By the end of the seventeenth Century, Feast Day was a public holiday and the people of Sheffield would gather to enjoy a fair where they would be entertained with music, jugglers and bear dancing. Today, the Feast is a Master Cutlers premier event to entertain the Masters of other Livery Companies, members of government, captains of industry, members of the Armed Forces, local dignitaries and, of course, friends and colleagues. Sadly, no bears were in evidence this year.
For the 383rd Feast, the Master, Nicholas Cragg, hosted 350 guests at his magnificent Hall of which there were twenty six Livery Company Masters. It was a grand affair that began with a champagne reception followed by a sumptuous meal accompanied by musicians and the fanfare trumpeters of The South Yorkshire Police. As is the custom, the Senior Warden gives an address which this year explored the subjects of Hallamshire and the Future. Whilst cautious on Brexit and sensitive to the pressures on the UK steel industry (including the maelstrom surrounding British Steel), the speech was bursting with the promise and opportunity that the businesses in and around Hallamshire have to offer. The response was given by The Rt Hon David Lidington , Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office. This speech was light in tone but also sought to highlight the great strengths of business in South Yorkshire.
Split between the dinner on the Thursday and a return on Friday, the Livery Company guests had the opportunity to enjoy wider access to the Hall. Apart from the Main Hall there are two further banqueting halls and a varied range of additional reception rooms. The building complex is enormous, large sections of which are fully or part wood panelled including rooms with panelling, fittings and chandeliers from RMS Olympic (sister-ship to RMS Titanic). We were afforded the privilege of viewing the recently refurbished Neill Room which is used principally as a Court Room and formal dining room for the Court. It houses some of the Cutlers' Company's most prized possessions including an ancient rendering of their coat of arms which includes a charmingly naive image of an elephant. Images and sculptures of elephants abound elsewhere in the hall.
Being a climber and lover if the great outdoors, one stunning piece that I found at the Hall was the Norfolk Knife made by Joseph Rodgers & Sons for the Great Exhibition 1851. It reminded me of the (much smaller) Swiss army knives so popular today. With 75 blades and tools, it is the largest multi-tool to have been produced and was the apogee of multi-tool devices produced in Sheffield at that time. It spent many years on display around the world as an advertisement of Sheffield's mastery of the steel blade craft. Where Sheffield lead, other places have followed.
The Cutlers' Hall is truly a wonder and is to be recommended for a visit if you happen to be in Sheffield. More than a venue, it is also a fascinating museum and testament to the once world-beating cutlery trade.