Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,347 pages of information and 233,846 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
John Spencer (1791-1874)
1861 Living in Masbro Street, Kimberworth, Yorkshire: John Spencer (age 69 born Sheffield), Proprietor of Houses and Land - Widower. With his son Thomas Spencer (age 28 born Sheffield), Steel and File Manufacturer. One servant.
We regret to record the death of an old townsman, for many years one of the leading Sheffield manufacturers, of the old school.— Mr. John Spencer, of Rotherham, but formerly of the firm of Matthias Spencer and Sons, file manufacturers, in Peacroft.
In 1835-6 Mr. John Spencer was Master Cutler. His term of office was a very important and exciting year, abounding in joint-stock schemes of all sorts. As we had then no Mayor, the Master Cutler was by courtesy the authority to call and preside over public meetings: and the Reform Act of 1832 appointed him Returning Officer. The first bill for the Sheffield and Rotherham line (of which Mr. Spencer was a warm supporter) had been lost, and it was resolved to apply again; the North Midland scheme was brought forward, and a great effort, which many supporters of the Sheffield and Rotherham helped to defeat, was made to secure Sheffield a station on the main line. The carrying of the line by Masbrough was followed by various schemes for improving the position of Sheffield, and prospectuses for lines to Manchester and also to Goole and Hull were issued.
In the same year the Cutlers' Company, the Town Trustees, and the Church Burgesses had the honour to present an address to the Duchess of Kent, on the occasion of her visit, with the Princess Victoria, to Wentworth House; and Mr. Spencer also presided as returning officer at Mr. John Parker's re-election for the borough, on the occasion of his becoming one of the Lords of the Treasury. For several years Mr. Spencer has been the patriarch of the past masters of the Cutlers' Company, his only surviving senior for a long time having been the late Mr. Thomas Asline Ward.
Mr. John Spencer left Sheffield twenty-five years ago to carry on business at Rotherham, and resided at Masbro' Cottage, where he died on Tuesday night, aged 84 years. Mr. Spencer was so devoted to the old fashion of knee breeches, silk stockings, and shoes, that we believe he stuck to it to the last. He was a man very much respected for his straightforwardness, his urbanity of manner, and his kindness of heart. He was a Sheffield manufacturer of the old school, retaining the vernacular in all its purity, but he yet had something of refinement both in language and manner. When urged to push his trade by sending out more travellers, he would reply with a confident smile — "Nay, lad. We'll put in a bit better stuff if it be possible, and have a bit better workmanship, and that'll sell Spencer's files, without more travellers" Many of his quaint and shrewd sayings are commonly quoted by his old associates, workmen, and neighbours. He lived on terms of hearty familiarity with his workmen and poor neighbours, and was known among the urchins of Peacroft, for whom he always had kindly words and looks, as " Daddy Spencer." He deserves to be remembered as a worthy relic of what we may almost call medieval Sheffield. For the greater part of his life, Mr. Spencer was a member of the Wesleyan Connexion.
We are favoured by a friend with the following additional particulars.— Mr. Spencer, when a lad, commenced working as a file cutter, at the early age of seven years. When he was 17 years old his uncle, who was a file manufacturer, died, leaving him the business, which he, under the guidance of his mother, carried on. Being in London when the war between this country and France was brought to a close, and being unable to obtain any orders owing to the badness of trade, Mr. Spencer determined to cross the Channel and try what he could do in France. He succeeded in obtaining some, and there are houses in France who gave Mr. Spencer orders nearly sixty years ago that still continue to do business with his sons. Mr. Spencer was a man of great industry, and had a mind such as few men of his contemporaries possessed. It was a rare thing for men working for him to feel the depression in trade that has so frequently in his life time visited this town. It was his invariable rule to manufacture a good article, and to treat his workmen with kindness, and when depression came, instead of taking advantage of the times, he kept his men on full work, and stocked the goods until there was a revival, when he soon cleared off his accumulation of stock.
In the year 1835, Mr. Spencer was elected to fill the office of Master Cutler. He has also several times been a Guardian of the Poor, and also served on the Board of Highways. Forty years ago the transit of goods to and from Sheffield was limited to the canal boats and stage waggons, which were both slow and costly, to remedy this, Mr. Spencer took an active part in the Humber Steam Ship Company, which, every Tuesday and Friday night, ran light boats drawn by several horses, to Thorne, and thence by steam to Hull, London, and other places. And when the North Midland Railway, from Derby to Leeds, was projected, Mr. Spencer laboured hard to get it brought through Sheffield.
On account of the difficulties of travelling when Mr. Spencer was a young man, he performed many journeys on horseback, carrying his patterns in saddle bags. In later years, when the saddle horse had given way to the coach, Mr. Spencer desired further improvements, and the idea entered his mind of the great advantage it would be to the manufacturers of both these towns if a railway were constructed. He explained his views to the late Mr. T. A. Ward, Mr. Deakin, and Mr. E. Smith, when it was decided that if the manufacturers of Manchester would co-operate with them they would form a company to start a Manchester and Sheffield railway. Mr. Spencer immediately put himself in communication with the Sidebottoms and other influential gentlemen of Manchester, and with what success the traffic upon the railway now testifies. Unlike some of the promoters of schemes of the present day, Mr. Spencer not only encouraged what he believed to be for the benefit of the town, but he contributed largely the means necessary to carry out the objects.
Mr. Spencer continued to carry on successfully that business in Peacroft until the year 1849, when he gave it up to two of his sons. On retiring from business Mr. Spencer went to live on an estate he had at Masbro', where he continued in the enjoyment of good health up to about a year ago. when it began to fail, and he has since been gradually declining. Mr. Spencer was a Wesleyan, and died peacefully at the advanced age of nearly 84 years.