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Will it be a Richards? - Return To Otley (now with pics)!

Discussion in 'Traditional Folders and Fixed Blades' started by Jack Black, Oct 8, 2012.

  1. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Surprisingly, I see very few old knives on sale here. Possibly because the British market was flooded with so much mass-produced junk, mainly made by Richards of Sheffield, and the knives just got thrown in the trash. Certainly the Draconian knife laws here have made a difference also, accounting for very few shops selling any kind of knives at all.

    However, today I was visiting a small West Yorkshire market town and spied an old multi-bladed slipjoint through the window of a junk shop. The shop was closed for the day, and I couldn't get a good look at it, but it had two or more blades, and white scales with a shield inlay and silver-coloured bolsters. It looked pretty old and rusty. Now I think it's almost certainly going to be a Richards from the 60's or 70's, but I'm going to go back out there tomorrow in the hope that I'm wrong :)
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  2. waynorth

    waynorth Dealer / Materials Provider Dealer / Materials Provider

    Nov 19, 2005
    I hope it is something more interesting, Jack!
  3. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Thanks Waynorth, me too. If it is I'll post up some pics :)
  4. DeadFall27

    DeadFall27 Gold Member Gold Member

    May 18, 2011
    I agree with waynorth, I hope that it is a hidden treasure!! Btw jack, what kind of slippies do you look for? If I find anything on my side of the pond that may interest you, I'd be more than happy to help you out!
  5. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Hey, thanks a lot DF, I'd really appreciate that. Slipjoints were the knives of my childhood, but the way things were in Sheffield, I yearned for something of better quality, and something a bit more 'dangerous' perhaps. So I bought lock-knives and fixed-blades. As I got older I started carrying a SAK (a Victorinox Mauser Officers Knife, which I've just returned to EDCing), but then along came Spyderco and more exotic 'faster' knives, and I was seduced again. Changes in the application of UK knife laws meant I had to start thinking about my old slipjoints again, and as time has passed I've started fancying more traditional designs. So while I started carrying traditional slipjoints 45 years ago, in a way it's a very recent thing for me, and I'm still finding my feet and unsure where my interests will take me. At the moment, what I like are simple single carbon bladed slipjoints, but I'm loving the pics I'm seeing here, and a lot of things interest me, so the help is very much appreciated. Please bear me in mind :)

    Many thanks


    PS By the way, I'm in Sheffield regularly and live near the Royal Armouries in Leeds, so if I can ever help anyone out in any way, please let me know.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  6. pmew

    pmew Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 2, 2011
    I have an old Lockwood brothers pen knife, with white imitation ivory scales, it was my grandfathers, he lived in Sheffield. It's been round the block a bit, but its near indestructible and now lives in my work trousers pocket. Love that knife.
  7. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Sounds like a good knife, do you know when it was made, and if you don't mind me asking, do you know whereabouts in Sheffield your grandfather lived?
  8. trey999


    Apr 22, 2011
    Were Richards knives of poor quality? Were they made in England? I am just wondering because I'd probably think finding a made in England knife here was pretty neat.
  9. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Otley is a small market town in West Yorkshire, it is among a few other things, the birthplace of Thomas Chippendale – the furniture man rather than the male stripper. There is in fact a fish and chip shop called ‘Chips-In-Dales’ (a double reference, since Otley is also a gateway town to the Yorkshire Dales) – the chips (fries) I’m afraid are rather bad, but at least the proprieters have a sense of humour, something that probably comes in handy living in Otley. It has a pub where Oliver Cromwell’s troops sank a few pints during the English Civil War, and a lot of other horrible pubs, as well as at least one decent one, ‘The Old Cock’, where I had a pint myself.


    While I was able to find plenty of photos of ‘The Old Cock’ on the internet, it says a great deal that I wasn’t able to find one decent image of the town itself. If anyone has ever seen the darkly twisted British comedy series ‘The League of Gentlemen’, they would feel slightly uncomfortable in Otley, and I was reminded of the show when I returned there today to have a closer look at the pocket-knife I spied yesterday. The junk shop, or “collectors’ shop” as it styles itself, is in a small, roofed arcade of shops adjacent to the parish church. The arcade includes a fly-fishing shop, an antique shop, a tool and hardware shop, a small cafe, an old-fashioned sweet (candy) shop, and a couple of junk shops, one being the target of my trip.

    The shop in question is staffed by a friendly, but eccentric woman, who later told me she specialises in old packaging. She sits behind a desk, wearing a crocheted cardigan, listening to Beatles records, and noting down any purchases in great detail in a ledger. She looks quite frighteningly like one of the characters from ‘The League of Gentlemen’.

    A lot of the display cabinets seem to be filled with the assistant’s (and part owner as it turned out) private collection of English packaging from the 1950’s and 60’s. These items are not for sale. The remainder of the shop is filled with everything from old toy cars to wrist-watches, with a few old tools, and a lot of costume jewellery and crochet-hooks. When I remarked upon just how many crochet hooks they had, the lady in the crocheted cardigan seemed to think it a rather odd and foolish remark.

    Having spotted that the object of my interest was still on display, I asked if I might have a look at it. The lady seemed to think this was something of an inconvenience, but eventually lumbered out of her seat and unlocked the cabinet in which the pocket-knife lay. She then held it out to me, but retained it in her grasp. When I asked if I might inspect it more closely, she looked a bit concerned, disturbed even, but did relinquish the object into my possession, while moving alarmingly close to me. Possibly she had a crochet hook or two about her person.

    The knife was a slip-joint with three carbon-steel blades; a main blade and two others, which were in fact a can opener and bottle opener. It had white faux-pearl scales, which were almost certainly hollow and a silver-coloured shield and bolsters. Under the close gaze of the knife’s keeper, I opened the main blade with some difficulty, as it was quite heavily rusted. Just as I suspected however, I eventually made out, through the brown scale, the unillustrious lamppost of Richards.

    My father worked for Richards as a machine-tool fitter, briefly, twice. This was in the 1950’s and early 60’s, when there was plenty of work in Sheffield, and he was a well-respected local tradesman, who Richards had to poach with what was then considered a high wage. Nonetheless, he disliked working for a firm, who in the eyes of many, were busy ruining the reputation of Sheffield cutlers, and he quickly left on both occasions. One of my very earliest memories is standing outside the factory gate waiting for my father to give him the sandwiches he had forgotten for his lunch, and my very first knife was a Richards ‘Little Chief’, but in spite of this I have no affection for the company.

    The knife was priced at only £5, which to put it in context, won’t even buy you two pints of beer in ‘The Old Cock’, but I decided to pass on it. While somewhat put out that I wasn’t buying it, the elderly matriarch seemed glad to re-take possession of it. She clearly hadn’t enjoyed witnessing an outsider touching ‘the precious things’.

    I noticed that there were one or two other small knives, but the proprietress was more than a little reluctant to allow me to handle them. I did manage to briefly inspect a small pipe tool, which I noticed had a carbon-steel blade and a very sharp edge, as well as diminutive £2 price-tag. Since it was so inexpensive, I decided to purchase it anyway, along with another small slipjoint at the same price. For another £2 I also bought a pickle fork, I can’t imagine how I have ever previously managed without one!

    Escaping from the odd emporium, only 6 quid lighter, I settled onto a bench outside the church in order to inspect my purchases more closely. Unfortunately, I quickly realised that the small slip-joint, with its strange stainless blade/bottle opener and a corkscrew too small to be of use was a Richards. The blade had been clumsily sharpened either at the factory or post-purchase, but it nonetheless had a sharp edge.


    The carbon blade on the pipe tool had seen a lot of wear, and was older and dirtier, it was still very sharp though. Perhaps these knives had even shared an owner once before. I was unable to read the mark until I got home, and it is also a Richards, though older than the previous knife.


    This company flooded the British market with cheap knives for decades, always blaming ‘The Japanese’ for constantly cutting quality in order to keep prices low, and having swallowed up Sheffield firms with nobler traditions, eventually sank with all hands lost to the dole queue.

    After a pint at ‘The Old Cock’ (which just happens to be next to a forge) to consider these things and look at my purchases, and a bit of patter about beer and pork pies with the landlord and a local farmer, I set out to see if there were any other knives to be had in Otley. As the search progressed, my bag filled with bargain-priced crockery, old books and maps, and something I bought called ‘A snake in a box’, which I’ll show you later, but which was accurately described on the small card tag that accompanied it in the shop window.

    My search eventually bought me to a a shop which sold an odd mixture of boiled sweets, books, and curiosities. Among the latter I found half a dozen small slip-joints, with prices somewhat higher than the shop I’d been in earlier. Several, I could see instantly, were Richards knives, one in fact was the same as the ‘dum waiter’ I’d bought before, at three times the price. The assistant was also a little reluctant for me to handle the knives, but when I did so, I opened them with disappointment, immediately spotting the lacklustre lamp-post. There was an older knife though, carbon-steel and with bone handles, and made, not by Richards, but by John Watts. Despite the wear and a main blade that sits slightly proud when folded, I purchased it for £6 – two pints of draught ale.


    My apologies for the poor quality photographs, my old decent cameras are pre-digital. I’ll try to get better. Any advice on these knives, particularly the Watts, would be appreciated. I’ll no doubt peruse the junk shops of Otley again, so if anyone wants me to look out for anything, please let me know, and I’ll try to get my hands on some ‘precious things’ for you, while hopefully evading the bad end of any crochet-hooks that come my way.


  10. pertinux

    pertinux Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Great story well told, with or without knife content. :thumbup:

    I'd like you to visit more towns and shops, just to hear you tell about it. :)

    ~ P.
  11. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    :D Thanks P :thumbup:
  12. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005

    This is the plaque outside Otley's oldest pub 'The Black Bull' - looks lovely from the outside, a bit grim on the inside (a bit like the town as a whole). I'm not surprised Cromwell's troops drank the inn dry, I doubt even they were brave enough to go out in Otley after dark!
  13. Will Power

    Will Power

    Jan 18, 2007
    I like the Pickle-Fork a lot, you could call a pub that.....

    I've encountered Richards knives too, nasty all stainless construction including the handles, or some cheaply fitted plastic! Right you are, as asset strippers they took over some more worthy cutlers and cranked out frankly very lacklustre knives while riding Sheffield's heritage.
  14. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005

    Also bought this in Otley. It's just what it says, slide the drawer and the 'snake' slides out and pokes you with its fangs. I figured an expectant grandfather needs a few tricks up his sleeve ;) And for less than the price of a pint :) :thumbup:
  15. supratentorial


    Dec 19, 2006
    This was a very enjoyable read! :)

    ...what sort of sweets are boiled?
  16. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
  17. wouldestous


    Jul 8, 2012
    i know nothing about old english knives but i liked your story. ive met my share of vaguely sinister proprietors in thrift stores and 'antique' shops here in the u.s.
  18. Curtis_Lowe


    Jan 8, 2012
    I just learned what a pickle fork is (I thought you were talking about a tool to separate tie rods!) and quickly realized I have a need for one. I have a large jar of pickles and it's near impossible to get the slippery things out. Now where the heck can I get one? :D

    Love the old bone on that John Watts btw
  19. knarfeng

    knarfeng senex morosus moderator Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Jul 30, 2006
    A fun read, Jack. Thanks for the thread.

    You might try the Bernard Levine Knife Identification and Collecting Forum.
  20. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Thank you all for your kind comments.

    I suspect they may be an international breed! :D

    Would you like me to look out for one for you?! I suspect I may live in the land of pickle forks! :)

    I think it's cow bone. A shame the shield (the other term escapes me) is loose, it doesn't spin around quite like a propeller, but it does move freely.

    Thanks :) I respect Mr Levine's knowledge and experience, but I think the junk shops of Otley are a safer environment :)

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