2012 is a big year for Britain. Not only are we hosting the Olympics, but we’re also celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. It’s Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee. Even my wife is organizing a street party for around 200 residents and I’ve been roped into building all kinds of weird and wonderful things for the day. Yes folks, marquees will be erected, brass bands will strike up, flags will be waved and I’m sure we’ll all feel very patriotic by the end of it.
I’ve also noticed something strange happening to the goods in our shops. Slowly but surely, more and more items seem to sport a Union Jack on their tickets or slogans such as Proud to be British. It’s ok though because if you turn them over, they still say Made in China. Events like these are a gift to the commercial world. Companies are always looking for a marketing edge; something that will give them a leg up in the competitive jungle of consumerism.
Now you’re probably wondering why I’m mentioning these events on a saw blog. Well because it was in a patriotic climate such as this that our next saw was made and the retailer was quick to capitalize on the events of the day. The year was 1887 and the country was celebrating Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee (50 years).
During the course of the year, many celebratory events took place right across the land. The occasion of interest to us though, occurred in the north east of England in a town called Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
This was a proud industrial town, well-respected in the mining, ship building, arms and transport industries. As woodworkers, we often get excited by such events as Woodworking in America or the European Woodworking Show. Well let me tell you, these events pale into insignificance alongside the events staged by our Victorian forbears. The Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers hosted an event of gargantuan proportions to showcase local trade and industry in North East England.
The Royal Jubilee Exhibition, as it became known, sprung up on the outskirts of Newcastle, in an area known locally as Bull Park (where the town’s bull had once been penned). Even though the exhibition was only to last for 180 days, they constructed hugely extravagant buildings of steel, wood, stone and glass as only they knew how.
Four great pavilions were erected, in the centre of which they planted a formal garden. In the middle of the garden was an ornate bandstand which still exists to this day and is due to be renovated this year.
There was also a theatre, art galleries and a section dedicated to photography. To the right of the great halls, there was a lake. I’m not sure if they dug out the lake for this event, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Regardless, it was a nice feature to have and one the crowds would enjoy. However, they weren’t satisfied with just the lake. They built a replica of the old Tyne Bridge that had originally been erected in 1250 AD to span the river Tyne. The real bridge had been partially damaged in the great flood of 1771.
Around 400 exhibitors showed off their wares and over 2 million paying visitors came from miles around to marvel at the country’s skill and ingenuity and wallow in Britain’s industrial might. Nowadays it is easy for us to sit in our armchairs and find out everything about anything simply by clicking a Search button, but in 1887 this exhibition must have been quite a sight to behold. In fact when the Institute wrote to the Mayor proposing the idea, they stated that there were…
“…no other means so efficient, so rapid, and so economical of bringing together the producer and consumer as an exhibition of that character”. (Newcastle Daily Chronicle, May 12 1887).
Two of the exhibitors at this event were William Cowell and William Withers Chapman, who for a number of years had been the proprietors of a hardware store situated at 11 Pilgrim Street in the center of the town. Pilgrim Street still exists today and many of the buildings retain their old facades.
Cowell and Chapman were partners and listed their profession as General Hardwaremen and Plane Makers. During the course of my research, I discovered some of their plough planes (plow in the US) as far afield as Australia, America and France.
They weren’t particularly known for their saws though and yet it was their names that appeared on my saw plate. However, I quickly realized that they hadn’t made the saw at all, but were merely resellers. Take a look at the etch on the saw’s plate and see if it gives you any clues as to the manufacturer. From left to right, the etch reads:
Yes, it’s Nelly the elephant again my friends. This saw was made my W. Tyzack, Sons and Turner. It might have been assembled and sharpened by Cowell and Chapman to a particular customer’s specifications, but they didn’t make it.
If you take another look at the aerial photo above showing the exhibition pavilions, you will notice that the etching is a rendition of the three arches that formed the main entrance to the exhibition. You can see the two towers and the statue of Britannia in the middle.
Here is the saw as I received it. The saw is 14” long with a 4” depth of cut. It’s filed 10 ½ TPI crosscut or to put it another way, 21 teeth every two inches. The handle is exactly the same as Big Joe, my steel-backed 14” backsaw by W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner. As you can see there is a fair bit of pitting, certainly too much to remove without also removing the etch.
Now if this was a common saw with a common etch, I would have no compunction in sanding the saw plate. Of course I would do my best to keep the etch, but if it wasn’t possible it wouldn’t be the end of the world. However this isn’t a common saw. For all I know, this could be the only surviving saw from Cowell and Chapman bearing this historic etch. While it is in my custody I won’t be doing anything except cleaning and polishing it so that the next owner can hopefully get as much pleasure from owning it as I do. I did decide to refinish the handle though because the finish was wearing very thin in places and the bottom horn had a tiny chip that was annoying me.
The following exert from the London Gazette reveals that Cowell and Chapman parted company on 31st December 1899. The business was carried on thereafter by William Cowell.
So here’s the finished saw, all ready for another 125 years hard labor.
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN! HIP, HIP…
-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."