By the turn of the eighteenth century, the swordmakers’ fortunes appear to have changed, and not for the better. In his book, The Hollow Blade: The German Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge (1999), John G. Bygate refers to a candle auction that was held in 1699 (the last bid before the flame goes out is accepted). This notion of a candle sale was very interesting to me and there is a chapter in my novel, The Running Wolf, which shows Hermann Mohll and Adam Oley (Oligh) at the candle sale at the old cutlers’ hall in Cloak Lane, London, along with the Newcastle cutler, Thomas Carnforth.
Den Hayford – ‘The Sliye Youth’
Clearly, the swordmakers were experiencing financial difficulties by this time. In particular, Bygate mentions correspondence from Hermann Mohll to William Cotesworth in which he complains about Den Hayford, the Pontefract steel supplier, ‘…the sliye youth…who tried to take over the works…his men in measuring up…’ (Bygate, 2003, p. 50).
If anyone is interested in seeing this document for themselves, it’s part of the Cotesworth Collection held at the Tyne & Wear Archives in the Discovery Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It’s one of several letters sent from Hermann Mohll to William Cotesworth. This is a fairly long letter, dated 3 June 1715, which is sad, as it was written just a year before Hermann Mohll died.
It’s well worth looking at the Cotesworth archive as there are lots of letters in there from various swordmakers addressed to William Cotesworth, and also letters from others talking about swords and swordmakers. There are also various accounts and bills (especially for steel from Den Hayford), sword price lists, tool lists, as well as the company articles (a rather spectacular document although it’s very old and frail and needs extra careful handling).
David Richardson mentions the steel bills in his book (The Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge, 1973) and says that Hayford had written to Cotesworth in May 1712, urging him to make the Germans pay £49 10s and 5d. There is also a document showing they had already paid a bill for £375 4s 10d in the previous autumn (October, 1711). So it would seem that although they were struggling, the swordmakers were paying their bills. This bill was shared between thirteen swordmakers, with the first four being liable for just over forty pounds each, which may indicate who was using the most steel.
- Adam Oley (Oligh)
- Henry Wopper
- John Wopper [elder]
- John Wopper [younger]
- William Schaffe
- Clemens Schaffe
- Peter Tiergarden
- John Hardcop
- William Voes/Voss
- Abraham Mohll
- Hermann Mohll
- John Mohll
(Richardson, 1973, 50)
Not only were the swordmakers struggling to pay their suppliers, it seems they were also struggling to make ends meet more generally. Richardson refers to a number of letters from John Wupper (junior) to the Hollow Blade Company’s intermediary (and wealthy landowner) William Cotesworth in 1712 asking for 40s to help out during sickness, and from Hartcop to help with rent. Adam Oligh (Oley) also seems to have struggled, but as a yeoman, he was able to ask for a loan, and in 1713, Adam Oligh settled a debt with Cotesworth by paying him two cows. According to Richardson’s analysis of the archive material, it seems that only Hermann Mohll never borrowed any money (Richardson, 1973, p.51). Mohll eventually advertised his swordmill and house for sale, and these were bought by Oligh. Bygate suggests the advertisement was mere formality and, in all likelihood, a deal had already been agreed between the two men.
Some of the letters in the Cotesworth Collection (Tyne & Wear Archives DF/COT/CM) are fascinating. In particular, one from a Thomas Beardmore (no date) asking whether Clem Schaffe is fit to work and talking about getting more swordmakers, but complaining that ‘they are very stiff and proud when they know they are wanted’. My personal favourites are the letters from Henry Benson and his widow in 1706 and 1710, complaining about swords being ‘ill-tempered’ and ‘standing like lead’, but these aren’t complaining about the Prussian swordmakers’ work as far as I can tell. Instead, they seem to be commenting on swords produced by non-German swordmakers. Although these letters weren’t directed at Hermann and they’re dated after the end of my book, I couldn’t resist weaving them into my novel and using them to make my version of Hermann cross!
Bygate, J. G. (1999)  The Hollow Blade: The German Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge. Durham: Durham Miners’ Association.
Richardson, D. (1973) The Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham.
Cotesworth Collection, Tyne and Wear Archives, Discovery Museum, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, DF.COT, CM Miscellaneous Business & Trade papers. (You’ll need to look at the red index book and identify from it the documents you’d like to see. It’s hand-written, but pretty clear.)