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09-28-2009, 02:00 PM #1
The Making of Whetstones at Cole Orton, Leicestershire
This is an article, by H. Butler Johnson, first published in 1933 and concerning the industry surrounding the Charnley Forest Hone.
In the first place the making of Charnley Forest Whetstones seems always to have been, in Cole Orton at any rate, a one man, or at most a family, trade; the work being carried on either in the interior of a dwelling-house or in a small outbuilding attached thereto. Although other parts of the Charnwood Forest were occasionally resorted to (notably at Thringstone village) there is no doubt that Whittle Hill was the primary quarry for the stone. The whetstone makers seem usually to have visited the quarry in person in order to select for themselves suitable pieces of stone; bringing it away in a pony and cart, or, if only a small quantity was required, as much as a man could conveniently carry home on his back across the Charnwood Hills. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the stone was to be had free of charge at the quarries, though in the case of Whittle Hill an acknowledgement of 5/- per year was paid by the Whetstone maker to the owner, Mr. Perry Herrick. As indicated above the Whittle Hill Quarry did not enjoy a monopoly of providing suitable stone for the whetstone makers. A small quarry near to the village of Thringstone yielded stone whose quality was held by the Cole Orton workers to be superior to all other. It was however hard to come by which probably accounts for it's lack of general appreciation.
The whetstone makers usually carried out their work in the winter months, the summer being given over to the hawking of their wares round the workshops of Coventry, Birmingham and other industrial towns. Each hawker seems to have had his own round of contacts and repeated it year after year, his visits being looked forward to by those who needed his wares. There was one, working prinipally in Thringstone stone, who did a good trade for many years among the filecutters and other skilled artisans in Sheffield.
The workshop equipment of a whetstone maker consisted, in a general way, of a breast-high wooden bench, a long-handled, heavy-bladed knife, a rubbing stone and some sand. The knife played an important, one might say essential, part in the making of a whetstone. Long and heavy, it's lower-end was fastened down to the back of the bench by a hook attachment: the leverage thus obtained enabling great pressure to be exerted on the cutting edge of the blade. Equipped with this device the knife was used to cut, scrape, or pare down, as the case might be, the rough-hewn blocks from the quarry until they acquired the shape of a whetstone. The final surfacing was completed on the rubbing-stone with the aid of sand and water. Simple as it may seem this scraping or paring down was a long, arduous and unpleasantly noisy process, a sound once heard never to be forgotten. Sometimes it would take two to three hours to reduce a particularly hard piece of stone to the size and shape required. We cannot hear any fixed rules for the size and shape of the whetstones, each fragment of forest stone was dealt with according to it's shape. All that the maker could do was bring the skill and judgement of long experience to each individual case. In a few cases, mainly towards the end of the industry, a circular saw worked by a foot treadle, was used to some part of the work but this was by no means the general custom, most workers preferring the old-time knife. These knives were always made at one or the other of the local blacksmith's shops. Great care had to be exercised in the process of "steeling" the edge of the blade otherwise it would soon have worn out on the hard forest stone. One particular blacksmith who flourished in the 1860's, enjoyed a reputation for the enduring nature of his blades and was accordingly much patronised by the local whetstone makers.
In 1800 Nichols, a writer on the early industrial history of Charnwood Forest, stated that "at Gate-house Hill, now called Whittle's Warren, in the royalty of Beaumanor in this forest, are found about two feet deep large quantities of most excellent stones for sharpening razors and pen knives. They are sold in vast quantities at Birmingham, Sheffield and Wolverhampton at 2d an ounce*." It is possible that this large scale production and sales of whetstones as instanced by Nichols dates from the building at Whitwick in 1678 of a large Ironworks by Humphrey Jennens, the Birmingham Ironmaster. Later in the century the prices paid were more determined by the state of the market and the species of stone required, a large-sized stone of good quality fetching as much as eight or ten shillings** among certain classes of skilled workers in Sheffield or Birmingham.
*2d is equivalent to approximately $.16
** 8 to 10 shillings is worth approximately $.64 to $.79
Last edited by A_S; 09-28-2009 at 06:30 PM.
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09-29-2009, 12:36 AM #2
- Join Date
- Apr 2008
- Essex, UK
****ney rhyming slang reflects how exchange rates have altered: an 'oxford scholar' = a dollar = 5/- (five shillings: a pound was once 20/-, a shilling was 12 old pennies), so there were four dollars to the pound then.
Off-topic, I know...
09-29-2009, 12:37 AM #3
- Join Date
- Apr 2008
- Essex, UK