Tradition, pride and craftsmanship go together in Sheffield, a centre of British skill since the days of Chaucer. One small part of this tradition was marked in 1977, with the centenary of the establishment of Pinder Brothers, then, as now, a family company. In 2017 it celebrates its 140th anniversary.
Here, we try to trace the evolution of the company, from its small beginnings to its place today in the mainstream of a smaller, but highly specialised industry.
Even the family name takes us back in history. The Pinder, or Pounder was a manorial official who rounded up, and impounded, the stray sheep and cattle of a village until they could be reclaimed by their owners. Sheffield, and its neighbourhood, was largely pastoral; hence the name is not uncommon. It is to be found in the early records of many of the old villages surrounding the city area – Shiregreen, Holmesfield and Ecclesfield, as well as Sheffield itself.
From about 1780 to 1820, partly as a result of the rural hardships brought on by the Enclosure Acts, some of the population of the hill villages and water mill sites moved to Sheffield. In a belt or zone on the western fringe of the area already developed, small workshops arose using coal, and later gas, in various metal making processes – taking obvious advantage of the better communications and marketing facilities.
The Pinder family, it is believed, originated in Derbyshire, perhaps in Bradwell where they later owned a cottage. But it is in Sheffield where we find the first real evidence of the present family. John Pinder, described as a ‘fireiron maker’ and his wife Mary lived first in Arundel Street – strangely enough the location of the company today – and later in Shepherd Street. Here, in 1830 their son George William Pinder was born. He lived here until his marriage.
He is significant as the first silversmith in the family. Although described as a journeyman, or craftsman who worked for several firms on their premises, the firms he worked for are not known.
In 1852, in the Parish Church, George William married Ellen, the 28 year old daughter of John Nodder, a metal smith of Furnace Hill. Perhaps the family was rather affluent: certainly they owned a croft or close behind the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral).
The couple set up house at 178 St.Philips Road, and here their sons were born John Thomas Griffith (left) in 1854, followed by Charles Edward two years later.
It was in 1877 that the two brothers, then 23 and 20, set up in business as silversmiths, and electro-platers. A third brother, George Willis, was not financially involved, apparently preferring to act as a journeyman for his brothers who had rented premises in the name of the elder, John Thomas, in Court 2, Headford Street (entered between number 2 and number 4).
These premises have now been demolished, but similar premises still exist at the lower end of the street today. Elsewhere in Headford Street, Ellen Pinder kept a shop. Perhaps she was the widow of George.
The brothers did not stay long in Headford Street, moving to 2, Fitzwilliam Lane in 1882, and to 142 Rockingham Lane, six years later. Both these premises, incidently, were taken in the name of the younger brother, Charles Edward of 36, Myrtle Road, Heely.
The important move came in 1895, when the two Pinder brothers moved into Court 4, Garden Street. They remained here, as silversmiths and platers for 44 years and a detailed look at the layout is quite possible, as the premises remain today .
Probably once quite a pleasant spot, as the name suggests, Garden Street was laid out according to the Fairbanks maps of the end of the 18th Century, although Court 4 (number 48) seems to have been built after the turn of the century. Facing the street is a lodge – a three-storey house – where the caretakers and some of the workers apparently lived.
At Pinder Brothers in the two-storey brick workshop, built in piecemeal perhaps, the silversmiths’ workroom was on the ground floor. Above worked the buffer girls, and there was a warehouse there too. Including management, the total workforce was about ten people.
But the firm prospered, having had their first mark registered at the Assay Office in 1888. It was C.E.P. – the initials of Charles Edward. In 1907, a different mark, incorporating Pinder Brothers was registered.
In the early days, church vessels and ornaments were a speciality, with candelabra and crucifixes being produced for both the local Catholic community and for export to Ireland. Communion cups for Non Conformists were another line. Allied with this, glassware was brought in and resold and more general items of cutlery and holloware were produced.
John William Pinder, born in 1882, the son of John Thomas joined the firm. He was to serve in the Royal Flying Corps in World War One. Another Pinder, his brother Charles Nicholson – not in the company, but a cartoonist with the Sheffield Star – also served in France and was killed in 1918.
The first venture into commercial travelling dates back to the early 1880’s, when one Pinder brother visited neighbouring towns in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, leaving the other to mind the store. After three weeks hard selling, he won enough orders to keep the small works busy for a month or so. Whereupon the stay at home brother would then take to the road and aim for another batch of orders. The erstwhile traveller would take his turn in supervising production and administration at home.
The company retained this ‘three weeks in, three weeks out’ system for many years, right up to World War One, in fact – a measure of its success. And the distances involved grew too. Many of the accounts opened by John William Pinder, the son of one of the founder brothers are still active today, after more than fifty years.
Obviously, the travellers had to use the train in days when a motor car was little more than a richman’s toy. John William, resplendent in the commercial travellers uniform of the day – Black jacket, pinstripe trousers, bowler hat and wing collar – would step off the train and summon a porter who would be hired, in fact, for the day.
He would unload the sample cases from the train, stack them on a trolley, and trundle this along in John William’s footsteps through the town to the customers. At the end of a day’s selling, the pair would return to the station, load up, and John William would continue his tour.
Pinder Brothers continued, and in 1920, their Minute Book records the decision to turn the private firm into a Limited Liability Company. John Thomas Pinder was chairman, Charles Edward was managing director and John William was secretary. The telegraphic address, incidentally, was ‘Cruets, Sheffield’.
Alan Pinder 1911-1969
The depression of the 1930s proved a difficult period, but the company struggled through. John Thomas died in 1930, in Glenalmond Road, followed by Charles Edward, in 1937 in Chippinghouse Road. John William Pinder, who had been a traveller for the company in the 1920s took over the firm, joined by his son Alan, who worked his way through the departments of the business.
Alan’s arrival encouraged his father to push through plans for a new works in Arundel Street, at the junction with Matilda Street. The site was once occupied by a Public house and a cobbled lane.
When Alan joined the firm in the Depression Years of the thirties even Lincolnshire and East Anglia, reputed to be the graveyard of commercial travellers had to be tackled – and they provided Alan with considerable successes. As the economy slowly recovered, agents were appointed in Scotland and South East England to relieve the sales burden of the Pinder family.
Arundel Street itself is a footnote in the history of the development of Sheffield, for it forms one of the parallel streets laid out in a gridiron pattern between 1776 and 1793, by Eyres, steward to the Duke of Norfolk who owned the estate. All the streets were named after Norfolk family connections, for example Arundel, after the Sussex castle of the Norfolks.
The first section of the new factory lay on the corner of Arundel Street and Matilda Street, but it has since been extended further along Arundel Street and along Matilda Street/Sidney Street into premises once occupied by Charles Marsden and Sons.
Opened in 1939, the premises covered offices, warehouse, packing and dispatch departments, showroom, silversmiths’ workshops, electro-plating department etc. The opening, however, virtually coincided with World War Two. Staff were called up, and the factory continued on the basis of Government contracts; cutlery for the Forces, and copper bands for shells. Later, high speed steel tools, and parts for Bailey Bridges were added.
The premises escaped the worst of the night of terror endured by Sheffield in its own blitz, although a bomb hit the works across the road, and incendiaries had to be removed from the roof.
David Pinder 1941
Peace saw a return to the traditional role of quality silversmiths and cutlers although the engineering side of the business continued for another twenty years. It was eventually sold to make more room for expansion of the Company along more traditional lines. Even traditions must change with progress, and in 1946 the company, now in Arundel Street, decided to recruit a professional sales force to leave directors a little more free to manage the firm. The country was divided into four basic selling areas, each with an agent charged with servicing existing accounts and developing his territory further. He was free to run his area in the way he wished within the broad scope of company policy. Their methods varied, but each knew he could rely on the willingness of Pinder Brothers to provide quality goods and excellent customer service.
In the early 1950s world trade began to expand and importing (which was started before the war) of specialist goods – cut glass from Czechoslovakia, tarnish resistant silverplate from West Germany, clocks and watches from Switzerland and stainless steel from Denmark, later from the Far East – grew in volume as the years progressed.
The hard work and effort of those early years became apparent in World War Two, when regular production items were in short supply. Many customers themselves visited the Sheffield showrooms searching for any saleable items. It was the proud boast of John William that, despite the difficulties, none left empty handed. This desire to satisfy the customer, even when trade was beset with rationing and shortages, earned both respect and affection in the trade and provided a loyal core of customers.
Michael Pinder 1969
By 1960, pioneering work was paying handsome dividends, and the sales force was doubled. By now motor cars were their transport, and they were backed by a fully illustrated catalogue of products, enabling a salesman to promote items he would not otherwise have been able to show the customer.
Sudden death hit the family and the company in 1969 when Alan Pinder died and the firm reverted to Pinder Brothers again with his sons David and John at the helm as joint Managing Directors and alternate Chairman.
Michael Pinder, the current Head of Sales and Production was born in 1969.
The company has acquired over the years many family owned business in the giftware trade with emphasis on pewterware manufacture. In many instances the support of the previous owners has been much appreciated and in a number of cases former employees and craftsmen have joined Pinder Brothers.
The following companies have joined Pinder Brothers:
- Arundel Stainless Ware
- Julius Isaacs & Co Ltd (1984)
- James Lodge Pewterware
- Walker Manufacturing (2007)
- Pilgrim Pewter (1992)
- Canterbury Clock Company
- Warriss & Company (2008)
- Travis Wilson
- George Lee & Co Ltd
- Fleming & Co
- Creative Pewter (2006)
- James Smellie
- Arundel Distributors
- Arundel Giftware
- Oriosa Watches
- Dennison and Bell Ltd
- John Satchwell & Co Ltd
- Davis and Co
The 1970’s were a period of high demand for silverware particularly tankards and trays and on a number of occasions, the factory was stretched to its limit to fulfil the market requirements. Czech hand cut lead crystal glass was also a major sales item.
The catalogue, and the annual Blackpool trade show, brought in substantial business, so Pinder Brothers decided to produce leaflets for each section of the product range. A parallel decision to try to hold a trade exhibition each year in every one of the by now eight selling areas was achieved, with the exception of Northern Ireland, in 1976.
The bowler hat, pin stripe trousers and wing collar of the pioneering salesman gone. So has the porter, and the trolley-load of sample cases. But the spirit of enterprise and adventure remains, along with the desire to serve the customer and maintain a bond with the company. It is not always possible in an automated world to make every business transaction a pleasure, but our salesmen still try. Trade now goes far beyond those original customers in neighbouring towns too. John Thomas, and Charles Edward little realised in 1877 that they were sowing the seeds for a group of companies which today manufactures, distributes, imports and exports goods all over the world.
The company showed at the British Industries Fair in London shortly after the war and the giftware trade moved in the early 1950’s to Blackpool and eventually, when the National Exhibition Centre opened in 1976, went to Birmingham (the company has exhibited every year since then).
The shortages after the Second World War turned into a huge surplus as Asia became the dominant supplier for giftware.
With changes to the distribution pattern and the advent of the electronic age, Trade Fairs became less important to the company, and in some ways things have reverted to the situation before the First World War where the directors call upon the large accounts personally at home and abroad.
During the 1980’s silverware began to lose its appeal and the company began to import children’s silverplate from the Far East and once again became involved in wholesaling of watches, clocks and jewellery after the acquisition of Julius Isaacs.
During the 1990’s the jewellery trade was turned on its head with many independent jewellers becoming absorbed by the large chains and the traditional German and Swiss manufacturers suffering from Far Eastern competition. During this period of time, pewterware production continued to expand with the acquisition of more small pewterware firms and for a number of years, over 50% of production was being exported around the world.
As the new millennium dawned the Pound became very strong which began to adversely affect exports.
Production continued at high levels following the acquisition of Walker Manufacturing and the company broadened its range of imported goods from Asia to fulfil the requirements of the lower priced segments in the giftware market.
Pinder Brothers have for many years supplied the hotel and restaurant industry, as have a number of the companies that have joined Pinder Brothers, especially Warris & Co. Pinder Brothers offers a full service, particularly to the small specialist hotels, who continue to use full silver service and we are able to supply and renovate anything from full carving trolleys to a competitively priced teaspoon.
However, 10% of Pinder Brothers sales are to the promotional and corporate sectors and products can be personalised by hand engraving, machine engraving, rolling, stamping and now laser etching and we are always pleased to advise our client on the most suitable way forward.
For many years until 1945, Pinder Brothers main sales were to independent retailers in the north of England and Wales. Pinder Brothers now supply all of the United Kingdom, from the Shetland Islands through to the Holy Island, Scilly Isles and Guernsey and Jersey. However, the majority of sales are to large distributors in the giftware and the sports trophy industry.
Some customers have dealt with Pinder Brothers for over 100 years, although due to the passage of time and changes in trade they are now smaller in number than was the case a few years ago.
Exports were a small part of the company’s business until the 1950’s, when the company acquired James Lodge. This company specialised in dealing only with export, particularly to the United States and from that time the export department grew to almost over 50% of the company’s production, and away from the large markets like the United States and the European Union, has supplied everywhere from Iceland to the Falkland Islands and the Canary Islands to Norfolk Islands. In this changing world, exports to the specialist markets of France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and India are considered normal.
Pinder Brothers remains a company prepared to service the giftware market’s needs and make the necessary changes to its production and ranges in line with market trends.
John Pinder retired in 2010 and David continued as Managing Director and Chairman. David’s son Michael Pinder who joined the company in 1987, took over as Head of Sales and Production and his daughter Susan Pinder the Accounts Department.
In 2017 Pinder Brothers celebrates it’s 140th anniversary continuing to manufacture in its Sheffield factory: cutlery, silverplated holloware, and pewterware exporting around the world including new territories in Eastern Europe.
The company now specialises in engravable Giftware dealing with major distributors in the trophy, corporate, shoe and internet trades.
Apart from Tankards and Flasks Pinder Brothers has expanded its range to include Jewellery Boxes, Christmas Decorations and Photo Frames.
The hotel division concentrates on high quality silverware for the leading restaurants and hotels worldwide.
Pinder Brothers will be continuing to launch new and innovative giftware in 2017 and looking for new Export opportunities post Brexit.