I was going to save this one for later, but on the Saw, using collecting, cleaning and buying thread, Stumpynubs asked if anyone knew anything about W. H. Armitage saws. Well it just so happens that I do and here’s what I’ve managed to find out.
Some time ago now I acquired a 14” brass-backed backsaw and just by looking at it, I can tell it is the oldest backsaw I own.
This saw plate is very rusty and black. There are a few missing teeth and the handle is loose and ill-fitting. Funny how the seller never mentioned that. This one is definitely going to be a challenge to bring back into service, if indeed the saw plate can be rescued. When it was new it would have been a first class saw, since it is made from London Spring Steel and has a brass back. The trade mark is a weird creature that has a horses head and front legs, but the rear half of the body kind of morphs into a curly tail.
You can see the logo more clearly in the drawing below.
If anyone knows what ‘CAPS ANY.’ means, please let me know. The initials W H stand for William Henry Armitage and this is what I have been able to find out about him from various online records. On 4th October 1833 he got married to one Rachel Cookson.
The London Gazette dated 24th July 1844 has the following entry:
So prior to 1844 he was in partnership with William Blackford (also a saw maker). The London Gazette dated 2nd February 1849 has this to add:
So between 1844 and 1849 he was in partnership with Alfred Parkinson and Adam Knowles. In 1852, W H Armitage & Co was registered at a house at 41 Netherthorpe Street in Sheffield. The street is still there, but it now has a block of flats and a primary school on it.
Netherthorpe is a district in Sheffield. The photograph below shows how it looked in the 19th century with row upon row of terraced houses and cobbled streets.
This was the environment in which this saw was made. The smoke from the furnaces turned all the buildings black. It is said that the tilt hammers could be heard and felt everywhere and the town shock with every blow. The tables in the public houses had bars around the edges to stop the glasses vibrating off onto the floor. The working conditions were atrocious for the working men and women of the day. The ‘wet grinders’ (the men who ground the saw plates) started work when they were 14 yrs old and by their early 20s, suffered from chronic asthma after breathing in steel and stone dust. Isn’t it incredible that even in these conditions, they managed to turn out such high quality products that we now fight over on eBay?
I found an additional reference to confirm the Netherthorpe address at Backsaws.net who site Whites (a trades directory published in 1852) as their source.
If you look at the reference below the red line, it has William working out of the Burnt Tree Lane works in 1849 and the house on Netherthorpe Street. Burnt Tree Lane was only a short walk from Netherthorpe Street and just around the corner from a public house called The Saw Makers’ Arms, which incidentally was later owned by Joshua Ibbotson (brother of Thomas). The following entry shows that in 1852, William went into partnership with John Pacey (also a saw maker) and they worked out of 31 Burnt Tree Lane together under the name of Pacey and Armitage.
In the following advertisement, you can see the type of products that bore their name.
I also found this entry on the OldTools Archive which has Pacey and Armitage at Burnt Tree Lane from 1852-1855 and confirms Armitage was working there before that in 1849.
On 20th October 1858, the partnership was dissolved and Pacey carried on the business alone.
The only other references I could find to W. H. Armitage after 1858 were three advertisements.
The first is dated 1876:
The second one (which is the same advert) is dated 1882.
And the third is dated 1890.
These advertisements tell us that from 1876 – 1890 W. H. Armitage & Co. were working out of the Vesuvius works on Henry Street in the Portmahon district of Sheffield. Notice that in the last advert, they claim that W.H. Armitage had been established for 50 years prior to 1890, so this tells us that William started in the saw making business in 1840.
Then I found this entry in the London Gazette dated 8th December 1891, which I think indicates William was getting out of the tool making business:
So where does that leave me in terms of dating my saw. Well at this point in my research all I could say was that it wasn’t made between 1840 and January 1849, because W.H. was in various partnerships between those two dates. Also, it wasn’t made between 1852 and 1858 when Armitage was in partnership with Pacey, since it doesn’t bear the name Pacey and Armitage. However, it could have been made between 1849 and 1852 or any time after 1858 up until 1890. So although it was most enjoyable to sit in my armchair and play detective, all of the above information still left me wondering when my saw was made. I had to find another way of determining the saw’s age and just when I was starting to think it would remain a mystery, I came across an article on WKFineTools.com entitled The Nineteenth Century American Back Saw written by Philip W Baker. Although the title refers to American back saws, much of what he has to say equally applies to English back saws. The article presents a study of the shape and features of back saw handles from the 19th century and shows how this information can help narrow down the year of manufacture.
Consider the following two handles. The one on the right is from my Armitage saw and the one on the left is from another saw in my possession which might make an appearance at the end of this blog series. One thing I can say for certain, is that the handle on the left was made in 1887.
Now it is time to play spot the difference. Apologies for not having a better camera, you’ll just have to take my word for it as far as some of the features I’m going to point out are concerned.
Both handles have nibs between the base of the Hook and the base of the Top Horn. However, only my Armitage handle has a Bottom Nib. The article states that nibs started appearing at the top and bottom of handles around 1845, but at this time the nibs were rounded over and did not go to a point. Only after 1850, did they start to go to a point. In the photo above, the nib on the left handle goes to a point, but both nibs on my Armitage are of the rounded over variety. So this puts my handle between 1845 and 1850.
On earlier saws, the cheeks were larger and covered more of the saw plate. The chamfer at the edge of the cheek was also larger. The cheeks started to become smaller around 1846. As you can see, the cheeks on my Armitage are larger than the handle on the left, indicating the saw is older. Notice too, how the Re-curve Break is more pointed and the shape of the lamb’s tongue is more squashed to accommodate the larger cheek size. These features also support the fact that the saw is older.
Older saw handles tended to be thicker than later handles. The Armitage measures in at 19/32” whilst the handle on the left comes in at 17/32”, a whole 1/16” thinner.
When all is said and done, I believe Wiliam Henry Armitage made my saw around 1849-1850, just before he went into partnership with John Pacey. However, I would love to see a saw made by W.H. Armitage & Co at the Vesuvius works between 1876 and 1891 to be sure. Anyone got one? If so, please post a picture and put this sad Englishman out of his misery.
I won’t be restoring this one for a while yet. When I removed the handle I found that it will need a new saw plate since it is cracked between two of the holes. Although I have the steel, I just don’t have the time at the moment unfortunately.
Thanks for looking!
-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it.