Sam Swift

I WROTE about my great-granddad George Swift in my diary for 7 August 2010. He’s pictured here between his younger brothers Arthur and Fred in front of Joseph Rodgers, the Sheffield cutlers where all three worked.

His father Samuel Bergin Swift (1814-1878) also worked there. Since I wrote that diary, a distant cousin of mine (a great-grandson of Arthur on the left) has e-mailed me and I’ve taken a photograph of Samuel’s obituary notice from The Ironmonger, March 1878 (below) for him. I’d love to have a photograph or drawing of Sam’s workshop but this word picture is the next best thing and I’m delighted that someone took the trouble to describe it and that it has survived.

Sam’s most prestigious commission was to design a set of cut-throat razors for Napoleon III, which I featured on an additional page of my diary for 7 August. I say his most prestigious commission but it’s likely that he worked on similar pieces for equally illustrious historical figures. I featured razors designed and made by George in my diary for 20 January 2011.

The Swifts were evidently well thought of in the cutlery trade but in his genealogical research my distant cousin has located a black sheep of the family from the Victorian period! I’m looking forward to hearing more.


Taken from the IRONMONGER, MARCH, 1878

Many of our Sheffield friends will read with regret this announcement:—“ On Saturday, the 12th instant, Samuel Swift, cutler, of Meersbrook Heeley, aged 64 years.” The deceased was a most ingenious workman, and had been in the service of Joseph Rodgers & Sons for 40 years. He was a thoughtful, industrious workman, and inherited the skill of his father, “Billy Swift”. For many years the deceased had been a “day” worker, contrary to the usual practice of piece working in the cutlery trades. Almost all manner of curious articles taken to the show-rooms of Rodgers & Sons to be repaired were transfered to Swift, whose ingenuity was seldom overeached. He possessed tools (many of his own making) sufficient to have stocked the “Old Curiosity Shop.” Working in steel, silver, gold, or pearl, came to him most readily. He was indeed, in scriptual phrase, a “cunning workman,” and it is such men as he who have built up and sustained the reputation of Sheffield. To the young workman Swift was ever ready to give the benefit of his great experience. It was no uncommon thing for workmen in mechanical or other working emergencies to be advised to “ask Sam Swift,” as his more familiar friends usually called him. He was a genial, kindhearted man, whose days were spent in the workshop, and his leisure hours cultivating his little freehold, in which for many years, he took a laudable pride. He was a noble example of an English artisan, and his moral worth and ability will long be remembered by his relatives, friends and fellow‑workmen.

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  1. Long remembered indeed as we are remembering, or learning, about Sam Swift 130 years later. Something they would not have imagined. I love the connections the Internet has brought us, you with your cousin, me with you, and family and friends all over the globe. Preparing right now for a trip to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving week, a family reunion and celebration of my dad’s 90th birthday. Glad you are enjoying your holiday mode. Hugs, Rachel

    1. My latest book has a link with your part of the world Rachel; the Victorian book it’s based on includes numerous references to the Wakefield Mystery Plays, the original manuscript of which is in your local library, if you can call the Huntington a ‘local’ library. Enjoy Thanksgiving.

      1. Richard, the Huntington is an absolute wonder of a place, gardens, museums and the library. I have been fortunate to get there a couple of times in the past year via senior bus tours, although not as a scholar to research the Wakefield Mystery Plays. It is certainly closer to me than it is to you!! So glad that you have finished the latest project and having some time for sketching, and posting on line.

  2. I would not be at all supprised to discover we are related. My father, Joeseph Swift was born, I think, in Mirfield near Bradford. Maybe you could contact me and see if we are indeed related?

    Cheers – Chris

    1. It sounds possible, although we haven’t heard of a Mirfield connection. We had a Joseph in the family but he wasn’t on the Swift side. Please let me know whether you manage to make the link.

  3. I was interested to read the items about Samuel, as I have an old penknife which in addition to the usual two blades, also has a set of feeler gauges incorporated. I have never seen this before. The larger of the two blades is inscribed “Samuel Swift, Sheffield”

    1. Thank you Ian. That could well be Samuel Burgin Swift, although there was a quite a clan of Swifts and they often chose the same Christian names. I think that I might have found a photograph of him, but frustratingly there’s no name on the back of it. I’d be interested to see a photograph of the knife.

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