Stan Shaw, who has died at 94, was one of the last of Sheffield’s last “little mesters” – self-employed craftsmen who worked independently of the city’s cutlery works.
Mr Shaw was a world-renowned maker of pocket knives who over the years crafted blades for the Queen, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and more than one US president.
He became an apprentice at 14 and went on to spend nearly 80 years forging, grinding and finishing blades. He continued into his 90s, having moved into a workshop at Kelham Island Museum in 2009. From there he conducted demonstrations to illuminate members of the public.
“You’ve got to have a love for it,” he said two years ago. “I always try and make the next knife better. You never do, but that’s the attitude you’ve got to have.”
He had not come from a background in cutlery, but on a penny bus trip to Sheffield he saw pocket knives for sale in the market and decided he would make his own. Presenting himself at the old-school cutlery firm of George Ibberson and Co, on Rockingham Street, he was apprenticed to the brothers Fred and Ted Osborne and by the mid-1950s had succeeded them as the firm’s principal pocket-knife maker.
But the demand for hand-crafted blades such as his was being whittled away by imports from the Far East and Switzerland, and by the mid-1980s Ibbersons had been bought out and Mr Shaw was redundant.
He did not want to retire, however, and set himself up as an independent cutler capable of turning out knives from start to finish.
His fame spread far and wide, and his order book was filled four years ahead. But no matter how well-regarded the customer, the knives had to be picked up in person in Sheffield. “They start here and they finish here. If people don’t come, they won’t get them,” he said.
He was made an honorary freeman of the Company of Cutlers in 2003, and in 2016 was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to manufacturing in Sheffield – the first time such an award had been handed to a cutler.
Stan Shaw was born in Worrall, north of Sheffield, one of eight children of Walter and Amelia. His father worked in the rock quarries, known locally as ganister mines, which were common to that part of Yorkshire and the Peak District. He died at 45 from silicosis, leaving Amelia to bring up the family.
Illness also affected Stan’s childhood. At age four, he fell off the coal house roof, landing on his hip and ending up at King Edward’s orthopaedic hospital in the Rivelin Valley for several years after contracting a similar disease to his father. Hospital, he reflected later, was the best place to be. “At least I got three meals a day.”
He is survived by his wife Rosemary (nee Burgin) whom he married in 1954, their three children and their grandchildren.