The Hounslow Swordmakers

My third historical novel, The Running Wolf, is about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. The book focuses mainly on Hermann Mohll, who was imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol in 1703/4 for smuggling a large number of blades from Solingen into England. Many swordmaker authors suggest that he was suspected of high treason because he returned to England aboard a ship with twenty Scottish and Irish soldiers.

Cover of the book by Helen Steadman, The Running Wolf. Black background with gold lettering. The 'o' of Wolf is molten gold with an etched wolf running through it. Above is a Dutch warship beneath a sunray of 9 swords.
The Running Wolf by Helen Steadman

New research findings

While carrying out research for my book about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, I uncovered a considerable amount of material that has not, so far, been mentioned in any of the existing books about the swordmakers. For example, I have found the deposition of one of the soldiers, Sergeant John Ross from Morpeth in Northumberland, who gives the names of five other soldiers and confirms that there were only six soldiers aboard the ship and that the only other passengers were the Mohlls. Of the other five soldiers, only one was from Scotland and one from Ireland – the remaining four are from the north east of England. (For more information about the soldiers, please see my article, ‘Redcoats or Jacobites’, or my full research article, published by Northern History journal.)

I have also found correspondence revealing the fate of the missing swords and correspondence that explains how Mohll was released. Lord Nottingham, secretary of state to Queen Anne, wrote to Sir William, saying that Mohll was not suspected of treasonable design and could be released, but left it up to the local justices to decide. Of course, the Shotley Bridge swordmakers were by no means the first swordmakers to leave Solingen and come to England.

Greenwich and Hounslow

Some Solingen swordmakers moved to Greenwich, London (1603) and then to Hounslow c.1629. Even they were not the first as swordmakers came over in the time of Henry VIII. For more information on swordmaker migration, it’s well worth reading Richard H. Bezdek’s books as he provides lists of all the swordmakers who left Solingen, going back many centuries. Bezdek alleges a schism in the Hounslow group when ‘parliamentary forces took over the blade and sword center at Hounslow’.[1] According to Leslie Southwick, in 1642, two Solingen swordmakers, Heinrich Hoppe and Peter English ‘went to Oxford with his late Majesty and wraught there’, and subsequently, Cromwell seized their Hounslow Heath mills to use as powder mills.[2]

Bezdek claims some swordmakers remained under parliamentary forces, including Johannes Dell, while others, including Heinrich Hoppe, went to Oxford; however, while Bezdek claims the men from Hounslow were jailed for supporting Charles I,[3] Southwick, referring to a letter from Hoppe and English, argues: ‘The German mill on Hounslow Heath (founded in 1629) closed in about 1642 (when the immigrant craftsmen went with their patron, Charles I, to Oxford) and this mill was confiscated by Parliament and converted into a powder mill. In contrast, general blade- and sword-making production, manned by non-Royalists, and run by such as the Ernion brothers and John Cooke above, appears to have continued until very late in the 1650s, just before Charles II was restored to the throne.’ [4]

This indicates there was no schism between the Hounslow swordmakers, all of whom followed the king, and some of whom later came to Shotley Bridge; Southwick later refers to John Kennet (Johannes Kinnd), who remained behind, but there is no record of him in Shotley Bridge and Southwick suggests he returned to Germany at the end of the Thirty Years War.[5] Following Southwick’s analysis, the Hounslow swordmakers remained loyal to their patron, a Stuart king; however, during the interregnum between 1649 and 1660, they could only have worked with the permission of the Protectorate. Notwithstanding, there is no evidence of Jacobite sympathies; more likely, they followed the man who had sponsored their migration to England.

Guild Oaths

Leslie Southwick’s paper is worth reading in detail. He talks about Henry Hoppie (whose name is spelt in various ways) and Peter English, who are described as ‘Swordblade makers’ and he shares a letter from them that provides interesting details about the German swordmakers at Hounslow, saying that only Hoppie and English are left and if they were to die, the mill would struggle as it had become difficult to get blademakers out of Germany because the authorities there ‘sweare their Artificers before they make them free not to discover their Art to any nor to use the same in any other place’ and should they try to pass on their secrets, it would be ‘death to them.’ [6]

Benjamin Stone

On the subject of the Hounslow swordmakers, it’s well worth reading about Benjamin Stone, as it seems he went to Oxford alongside the German swordmakers. There is a useful section on him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as well as in Southwick’s paper. Stone is mentioned in a number of archive documents, not least because of his involvement in various legal cases.

Notes

Some of this article is based on material from my article published by Northern History. The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in Northern History, September 2020, http://www.TandFonline.com <doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548>. If using this article, or parts of it, in an article of your own, please cite the following source:

Steadman, Helen, ‘The Shotley Bridge Swordmaker, Hermann Mohll: A simple case of smuggling, or getting away with High Treason in 1704?’, Northern History, September 2020, doi 10.1080/0078172X.2020.1802548.

Thank you to the publishers, Taylor & Francis, who have kindly permitted me to share this manuscript on my personal website, helensteadman.com.

References


[1] Richard H. Bezdek, Swordmakers of England, p.13.

[2] Leslie Southwick (2009) ‘The London Cutler “Benjamin Stone” and the Hounslow Sword and Blade Manufactories’, Arms & Armour, 6:1, p.32. doi.org/10.1179/174962609X417518

[3] Richard H. Bezdek, Swords and Sword Makers of England and Scotland (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 2003), p.32.

[4] Southwick, ‘London Cutler’, p.32.

[5] Southwick, p.40.

[6] Southwick, p. 15.

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