Pocket Knives and the Art of the Little Mester

There are a few things without which any pocket  is incomplete. Such things are staples of everyday life, tools that become lifelong friends.

One such item is the humble pen knife. I can clearly remember my first pocket knife, given to me at a young age by my father (much to my mum’s disapproval!) It was a Victorinox  Huntsman. I was ecstatically excited and promptly sliced my hand open with it (my mothers caution being proved wise!). Like many children who grew up in the countryside I took it everywhere with me, whittling sticks and making bows and arrows.


As much as I loved it, it cannot compare to my current knife; a metal scaled affair made by W. Morton and Sons of Sheffield is likely pushing 100 years old. It was again given to me by my father, who discovered it in some forgotten box of items passed down from some distant relative. So its fair to say it has been in the family for some time. Many hands have passed over this little slip of metal, cared for it, oiled its joints and gently sharpened its Sheffield steel blade, before eventually, it found its way into my pocket. Unlike my old ‘Swiss Army’ Knife it rarely needs sharpening and simple as it is, it is one of my most treasured possessions.

my knife 2

It is also a fine example of the skill involved in a trade that is all but extinct: The craft of the Little Mester. The term Little Mester (originally Little Master) is peculiar to Sheffield and refers to master craftsmen who worked on a small-scale, producing small edge tools, cutlery and pocket knives. Little Mesters tended to work alone only passing down their skill to an apprentice. The trade peaked in the late 19th century but with increasing mechanisation it slowly diminished though the 20th century. It has now virtually died out…virtually.

There are, for the moment at least, a few dedicated individuals who have kept this art alive. One such craftsman is Trevor Ablett, one of the last of the Little Mesters. Trevor who is now in his 70’s has been making pocket knives for over 50 years. He shares his small workshop in Sheffield with his friend Reg who has been making Bowie knifes for just as long.

Trevor’s knives, every element of which are made in Sheffield, follow traditional English  styles and patterns. From Lambsfoots to Clip Points to Peach Pruners with scales of bone and exotic hardwoods, no two knives are quite alike. These pen knifes are true lifetime items, which become treasured possessions, indispensable to their owners, and, like my old knife, they will still be going strong in a hundred years.


Or course modern folding knives are now brilliantly made, with blades that will hold up to anything you can throw at them but if you’d like something just a little more special, something that will become an old friend as the years go on, then perhaps one of Trevors knives is what you’re after. Trevor Abletts knives are available here 

(please note that with the exception of the photo of my knife the images and video in this post are not my own. if you own the rights to one of these please contact me and I will credit you or remove the media as you prefer)

This entry was posted in Heritage, How life should be, items of desire, Made in Britain, Makers, Video. Bookmark the permalink.

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