Stan Shaw B.E.M.
The Last “Little Mester”
1926 - 2021
Stan wearing his B.E.M. stood with his wife Rose, Anne Murphy (Lord Mayor of Sheffield) & Andrew Coombe, Her Majesty The Queen's Lord Lieutenant for South Yorkshire.
Stan Shaw was the last of the Sheffield “Little Mesters,” a term used to describe self-employed craftsmen in the cutlery trade. After a lifetime in the industry, Stan died on the 26th February 2021 at the age of 94. He lived at Deepcar, had been married to Rosemary for 66 years and had three children, Andrew, Kevan and Jane. He was born at Worral in December 1926, the son of Walter, a miner, and Amelia Shaw.
Stan was famous for the wonderful knives he made, and he was known far beyond the boundaries of Sheffield. He created beautiful hand-crafted pen knives that were so good he had a waiting list, and he made knives for royalty and rock stars. When he died, Rose received condolences from as far away as Japan, and calls from many people including the celebrated U.S. musician and Buddy Holly sideman Sonny Curtis for whom Stan had made a knife on one of his many visits to Sheffield.
He had wanted to become a cutler after seeing knives at Glossop’s cutlery store in Sheffield market. He was 14 years old when he began work for George Ibberson & Co., being apprenticed for seven years under the guidance of Ted and Fred Osbourne. He later worked at other big Sheffield firms such as John Watts, John Clark and George Wolstenholm. His wife has kept records of her husband’s working life, detailing over 40 years of working for some of the best known, but long gone, Sheffield cutlery firms.
When Clarks closed down in July 1987, Stan was made redundant. The two oldest children, Andrew and Kevan, were at university, and Jane was still at school. His wife encouraged him to go self-employed. After 13 weeks out of work, he qualified for a £1,000 grant and £40 a week under the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.
Stan’s unique skill meant that he could fashion every part of a complete penknife from start to finish, using techniques he learned such as forging, grinding and hafting. These skills were usually identified to individual cutlers, but Stan could do them all.
He began working for himself in Garden Street, Sheffield, in 1983 and then in 2009, he moved to Kelham Island Museum, where he worked up to the age of 93, before passing away in 2021.
His output and reputation for these hand-made knives grew and grew and soon he was taking orders from all over the world. His home is full of photographs of him at various stages in his career, holding the magnificent creations he spent hundreds of hours making at his workshop, firstly in Garden Street and later at Kelham Island Museum, where he became a “living exhibit” for fascinated visitors who could watch the master cutler at work. The workshop still contains his tools and machinery, as well as some Mammoth tusks left over from when someone brought them to him and asked him to make a knife with the tusks as the handle, which he did.
Rose has a collection of albums full of memories; Stan shaking hands with Her Majesty the Queen, H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester, several of Sheffield’s Master Cutlers including John Bramah, Alan Jowett and countless other celebrities and ordinary people who ordered knives from him. There is a letter and a photograph embossed “White House,” from the former U.S. President George Bush, who sent a hand signed personal letter to Stan, which reads, “I recently received the beautiful Prince George knife, which Vice-President Quayle forwarded to me. It is an outstanding example of English craftsmanship, and I am honoured to be remembered with this special gift.”
Stan and Rose were huge Elvis Presley fans, and they always went to see his backing band TCB (Taking Care of Business) at the Sheffield Arena and in Manchester when they came on tour. There are photographs of Rose and Stan backstage at the Arena with Elvis’s musicians Glen D. Hardin and James Burton. Stan also made knives for Elvis’s musicians Jerry Scheff, Ronny Tutt, Gerry Alison, J. B. Maudlin and tour manager George Kimberley.
In 2016 Stan was awarded the British Empire Medal for his service to the Sheffield cutlery industry, the first time a practising cutler had been granted this honour and it is thanks to his friend David Beevers, who ordered more than 50 of Stan’s knives, that he was also made a Freeman of the Company of Cutlers in Sheffield. It was a proud moment when the family attended the awards ceremony and the Buckingham Palace Garden Party in May 2017.
“I am virtually the last of the Little Mesters, the independent craftsmen who were responsible for the city’s legendary reputation in cutlery. Since 1941 I have been hand-crafting fine Sheffield pen and pocketknives. First for some of the most famous firms in Sheffield and then in my own workshop. Since the 1980s while the industry collapsed around me, I have been waging a lonely but successful rear-guard action against the invasion of foreign products. My reputation is now so good that I Have customers from around the world in places such as the USA, Canada, Australia and India. My line being a spring knife cutler, making special pen and pocketknives using such materials as Gold, Silver, Mother-of-pearl, tortoise-shell Ivory and Buffalo horn.” – Stan Shaw
Stan and Rose first met in the 1950s when he was 24 and she was 19 years old. He walked her home from the picture palace in Stocksbridge. He always walked with a slight limp from a fused hip caused by TB following an accident he’d sustained at the age of four. He had spent many years in King Edward’s Hospital in Rivelin, Sheffield and at the Dame Agnes Hospital in Wales where he underwent a successful bone graft.
Stan’s family have descriptions of every knife he ever made. The family are awed at how popular and well-known the humble and gifted craftsman they knew as husband, father and grandfather was, not just in his home city of Sheffield, but around the world as well.
Gallery: click on a photograph for more information.
A Memorial Service took place at Sheffield Cathedral on Sunday 27th February so that anyone who was unable to attend his funeral (because of Covid Restrictions) could join the family in honouring the man who used his skilful hands to immortalise Sheffield and its cutlery heritage in every knife he created. The service was led by the Reverend Canon Keith Farrow, Vice Dean & Canon Missioner at Sheffield Cathedral and featured hymns and readings chosen by Stan’s family. Special tributes were given by Stan’s 21-year-old granddaughter Georgia and by Professor Geoff Tweedale who wrote the book: “Stan Shaw, Master Cutler: The Story of a Sheffield Craftsman."
The launch of the “Stan Shaw Memorial Appeal” took place afterwards; this is an on-going appeal to raise funds for a permanent, public memorial to the last of the “Little Mesters.” Former Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Councillor Anne Murphy, chairs the appeal: “We don’t want to lose Stan’s valuable contribution to our city and his unique story of excellence in manufacturing, so we want to honour Stan with a permanent, public memorial to him and his skills as the last of the ‘Little Mesters.’” Ideas include a series of plaques dedicated to Stan as well as artworks and a “Stan Shaw Discovery Trail” around the city.
Examples of Stan's hand-crafted knives were on display at the Cathedral for people to see as part of the appeal launch, which also featured a short film about Stan.
To donate to The Stan Shaw Memorial Appeal please click on the link to the JustGiving page HERE
To visit Andy Kershaw's Stan Shaw Memorial Appeal on Facebook CLICK HERE
The late industrialist David Beevers (mentioned above) had a large collection of knives which Stan had made for him. The collection was due to be sold until Stan’s son Kevan Shaw heard about it and asked if he could buy the collection to prevent it being split up. Luckily, Kevan acquired the knives, and, after being on display at the Memorial Service they are now on permanent loan to the Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield.
The Hall does guided tours by appointment, and the knife collection is in the Monument Room which is where the most important items are on display. There are lots of other rooms full of historic exhibits. Anyone going on a tour will be taken into the monument room.
Below are some photos of the handover event for the loan of the knife collection. These photos have been provided by the family and shared with their permission.
Plaque outside the Cutlers' Hall unveiled 2022
With thanks to:
The family: Rose, Andrew, Kevan and Jane
Photographs provided by the family and credited to the photographer; shared with the family's permission.
Information from the transcript of an interview by Andy Kershaw February 2022, provided by the family and shared with permission from Andy.