Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,469 pages of information and 245,911 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Britannia Metal: First Sheffield Producers

From Graces Guide

Note: This is a sub-section of Britannia Metal


1873 The First Britannia Metal Manufacturer.[1]

"It appears to me that the question must lie between the claims of Messrs. Broadhead, Gurney, and Co. (a Quaker firm), established 1789, and Mr. Constantine, and Messrs. James Vickers and Son. Until further evidence to the contrary, it is my conviction that my statement is correct, as intended to affirm that Mr. John Vickers, in partnership with his father, Mr. James Vickers, was the person who first introduced the manufacture of Britannia metal tea-pots.

"As a boy I knew him as far back as 1812, when his father was dead, and he was carrying on the business, probably at the period of its greatest success. Mr. Rogers Broadhead (the successor to his father's firm) has expressed the same opinion, and has fully admitted the priority of the Messrs. Vickers to the Messrs. Broadhead and Co.

"As for Mr. James Dixon, he worked as an apprentice, and afterwards as journeyman, both for Messrs. Broad- head and Co. and for Mr. Constantine."

In confirmation of the accuracy of this opinion we have had placed in our hands the following narrative, written by a gentleman now deceased, whose father, it will be seen, was intimately associated with the early history of the manufacture in question: —

"I have heard it said that Mr. Nathaniel Gower was the first person who began the Britannia or white metal trade, but I differ in opinion, because of circumstances which have been known to me from childhood, and from proof in my father's memorandums. Mr. Gower was an early manufacturer, and a very respectable person in the trade in its infancy; but Mr. James Viewers, of Garden street, was the first person who began manufacturing white metal articles in Sheffield.

" About the year 1769 a person was taken very ill, and Mr. Vickers visited him in his sickness. This person was in possession of the recipe for making white metal. Mr. Vickers bid him 5s. for the recipe, and the offer was accepted. Having experimented and found the metal to be of very good colour, Mr. Vickers purchased some spoon moulds, and began casting spoons. Getting them well finished he obtained a tolerable sale for them. He then got moulds made of vegetable forks, and these assisted the variety on the market.

"My father was visiting him in a friendly manner one night, when Vickers said, 'Well, Charles, if I had but £10, I would get up a stock of goods and go to London with them? My father lent him the money, and a short time afterwards, in another conversation, Vickers says 'Well, Charles, I thought if I was in possession of £10 I could have done anything, but now I find myself as fast as ever I was.' My father replied, 'Well, James, I can lend thee another £lO, if thou thinks it will do thee any good.' He did so. Vickers went to London, and his journey was successful. He sold his articles, and got orders in excess of the material he could obtain to execute them with. He kept the money until after his second journey, when he repaid my father.

"He then began making a different kind of article, as tobacco boxes, beakers, tea and coffee pots, sugar basins, cream jugs, &c, and got on rapidly in business. Froggatt, Coldwell, and Co., Spoiles and Gurney, and Parkins in Campo lane were all old houses in that line."

Are any of our readers in possession of other evidence on the subject?


1889 Letter.[2]

1889 'I have no desire to enter into a controversy as to who was the first person to introduce the manufacture of Britannia metal into Sheffield. The question, I fancy, would be almost as inexhaustible and as unsatisfactory as that of the introduction of electro-plating. But, perhaps, not much harm will be done if I say that a correspondent of mine takes exception to the statement made at the festivities in connection with the coming of age of Mr. Lennox Burton Dixon and Mr. Ernest Dixon Fawcett that Mr. James Dixon, the founder of the great works at Cornish place, was the first to begin the manufacture of articles made of Britannia metal, the date of this being given as 1804. The gentleman who writes to me thinks that the Sheffield Directory, of 1787, cannot have been consulted. If it were, he says, the names of several manufacturers of "white metal" articles would be found. - "white metal" being the old name for Britannia metal. He mentions one name specially, that of "James Vickers, white metal manufacturer, Garden walk," whose business has been carried on in continuous succession ever since by members of the Vickers and Stacey families.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Sheffield Independent - Saturday 11 January 1873
  2. Sheffield Independent, 27 June 1889