The Sword Makers of Shotley Bridge

Land of Oak & Iron Sword Makers

On Wednesday 1 April 2020, Paul Heatherington was due to host an evening talk – ‘The Sword Makers of Shotley Bridge’, at the Heritage Centre in Winlaton Mill.  Sadly, the planned talk and meal had to be cancelled due to the Coronavirus situation and the need to practice social distancing.

Paul kindly wrote the following article for the Land of Oak & Iron, reflecting some of his research and knowledge about the sword makers.  Hopefully you will be able to join us in discovering more on this subject at the rescheduled evening talk when the Heritage Centre reopens. Once we have a new date for the talk, further information and tickets will be available from our event pages.

Until then, this article gives us a taste of Paul’s talk into the Shotley Bridge sword makers:

Company investing in Shotley Bridge involved in London’s major financial crash.

Coronavirus may cause a bigger financial crash than the South Sea Bubble three hundred years ago, financial commentators warn.  That reminded me of a little-known connection between the South Sea Bubble and Shotley Bridge!  In 1687, nineteen German sword makers settled at Shotley Bridge and in 1691, a Royal Charter was granted to form a Company for making Hollow Sword Blades.  This stated:

‘divers persons who have exercised in their own country the said art of making hollow sword blades … have been prevailed upon to expose themselves even to the hazard of their lives to impart to our said subjects the knowledge of their art and mystery.’

The Company for making Hollow Sword Blades in England had its mills in Shotley Bridge and a warehouse in New Street, Fetter Lane, London.  It sold many swords, though not a single hollow blade!  In 1704, the company held one of its last sales.  The company gave up the Shotley Bridge works and some of the immigrant German families carried on sword making there until after the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815).

There are few local reminders:  the ruined buildings on Wood Street, Shotley Bridge, where the Germans settled have been demolished and the engraved headstone above the front door of 44 Wood Street is lost.  The words on the stone are partially from The Bible and translate as: ‘The blessing of the Lord makes your rich and He adds no sorrow with it.’ (Proverbs 10:22) … if you are both faithful and diligent in your work and do as you are ordered.’ 1691.

Land of Oak & Iron

A street name, Cutlers Hall Road, recalls there was once a Blacksmith’s shop.  Three members of the Oley family (the anglicised surname of one of the German families) are buried in the graveyard of St Ebba’s Church in Ebchester.  Visitors to Shotley Bridge can read notes about the sword makers on an information board on Front Street and the pub, ‘The Crown and Crossed Swords’, hints at the past.

And the link to the South Sea Bubble?  The Governor and the Company for making Hollow Sword Blades in England invested in forfeited estates in Ireland, disposed of in a forced sale.  Then, in 1707, the Hollow Sword Blade Company challenged the Bank of England’s monopoly when its charter came up for renewal.  Although unsuccessful, the Hollow Sword Blade Company afterwards converted to banking and became the official banker to the South Sea Company.  Founded in 1711, the South Sea Company, had underwritten the National Debt.  The South Sea Bubble or hoax centred on trade with Spanish America, there was a promise of 5% interest from the Government.  The country went wild, stocks and shares increased in value and huge fortunes were made … and then it all crashed, ruining investors all over the country.  112 Peers and 462 MPs were involved.

Thanks to Paul Heatherington for writing this article.