Walker and Hall Silversmiths
The history of English silversmiths goes back several centuries. In the days before modern industrialization, silversmiths made flatware, cutlery, and tableware for England, Scotland, and the British Empire. Advances in techniques, including the development of sterling silver, helped to refine the work of the silversmiths. This remained prominent until the Victorian era of the late 19th century.
The history of Walker & Hall silversmiths is an important part of English history, particularly in the refinement of tableware and hollowware. Understanding the history of this remarkable silversmith duo means looking back to the history of English silversmiths.
History of Silversmiths in England
The mining and producing of silver goes back thousands of years. Silversmiths appeared much later in England compared to the Greeks and Romans for example. However, the system of Hallmarks cemented their place as arguably the best in the world. These and the traditions of silversmiths abided by today.
The turning point for English silversmiths was the end of the 17th century. Many protestants in France were persecuted for their religious beliefs and many of them were silversmith. They fled to England where their skill and experience helped to establish a new, high-quality of silver-made products in the country. This turning point happened just before the industrial revolution and its effects continue to this day.
The arrival of the 18th century saw a trend towards tableware, cutlery, and cups crafted from silver. This was due to the beginnings of industrialization combined with the arrival of tea. Tea, of course, became the most popular drink in England. Expanding industrialization led to a growth in the numbers of wealthy Englishmen. As a result, more people became interested in purchasing items made from silver.
Silver, not gold, made up the monetary basis of the nation. The overall value and availability of silver made it arguably the most popular of precious metals at the time. In addition, silver was ideal for creating works of art. This is where silversmiths came into fruition. They combined their inherent artistic abilities with the creation of everyday objects, such as cutlery, hollowware, and tableware.
Old Sheffield Plate
The next major advancement was in 1745 with the introduction of Old Sheffield Plate. The combination of silver with small amounts of copper which resulted in durable silverware, quite beautiful to behold. Sterling silver as it became known helped to revolutionise the industry once again.
“Sheffield Century” was the era from roughly 1750 to the mid-1800s. Old Sheffield Plate was created by hammering together silver and copper and using steel wires as the metals were heated. The final product rolled into sheets. After that, the process varied depending on who did the manufacturing. This played a role in the overall quality of the Old Sheffield Plate.
That ended with the introduction of electroplating. A less costly and more efficient method of producing silverware and other items compared to the old plating process.
What helped created silversmiths such as Walker & Hall is rooted in the high-quality standards established by Hallmarks, which ensure the quality of the sterling silver that is being used. Silver products could not be sold unless they had been thoroughly tested as being 925 parts silver out of 1000. The remaining 75 parts usually being copper which gives the silver its unique blueish patina.
The standard applied in hallmarks showcasing a lion along with the following;
- The insignia of the town
- A letter indicating the year
- Silversmith’s own mark for identification
It is this standard that has allowed England to produce the finest silversmiths of which Walker & Hall are arguably one of the most famous.
Walker & Hall
The history of Walker & Hall Silversmiths did not begin until 1845, considerably after the highlight of the silversmith era in England. However, the demand for silversmiths, while diminishing due to mass industrialization, was still quite prominent across most of England.
In Sheffield, George Walker established his silversmith business. He was an assistant to Dr. John Wright who was experimenting with electroplating techniques. Walker took that knowledge as the basis for his electroplating work in Sheffield. Walker operated the silversmith firm alone for several years until 1853 when he partnered with Henry Hall. Together, they formed Walker & Hall.
Howard Street, Sheffield
Their factory was located on Howard Street in Sheffield. However, it was not long before they purchased showcase space in London at 45 Holborn Viaduct. They showcased their products, which included many items of tableware and cutlery, produced in Sheffield. The success of Walker & Hall led to the opening of branches in several cities, including the following;
- Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds
- Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Newcastle
- Cardiff, Belfast, Hull, and Bristol
- Melbourne and Adelaide in Australia
- Cape Town, South Africa
The company enjoyed considerable success and became a favorite around the world for the products that they produced.
The next major change to Walker & Hall occurred in 1920, well after the Victorian era, when they were converted to a limited liability company or LLC. Renamed Walker & Hall Ltd, the silversmiths continued to flourish throughout the 20the century, past World War II until 1963 when they were combined with British Silverware Ltd. along with Elkington & Co. along with Mappin & Webb.
While primarily Sheffield makers, the items produced by Walker & Hall also carried assay marks from London, Chester, and Birmingham. The prominence of Walker & Hall in the history of English silversmith companies is still being felt today with the many items of cutlery, tableware, flatware, and hollowware that were developed by them starting in the mid-19th century, through the Victorian period, and well into the 20th century.