The Tyzack Trail - A Little History

Tyzacks IOM LogoTyzacks main entrance The Tyzack family were Hugenot (a Calvinist Protestant sect) glass makers from Northern France. Many Hugenots found refuge from religious persecution by fleeing to post reformation England during the late 16th century. They brought with them many valuable skills including lace making, decorative wrought ironwork and new techniques in glass production. The family settled and prospered in various parts of England, Staffordshire, London, Newcastle and Sheffield, diversifying into other trades such as tool making and farming.

The most famous Sheffield Tyzack was William (1781- 1858) who founded the world famous tool making company. William leased and developed the now preserved Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet site, the largest water driven works on the river Sheaf, for almost 100 years before moving to the Little London Works site and establishing such famous trade marks as “Non Pareil”, Elephant Brand and the “Horseman” brand of tools.

William’s nephew Joseph (1813 - ****)  established himself as a notable toolmaker in his own right. Having developed a profitable working relationship with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company he adopted the “Legs of Man” as his trade mark and this was subsequently registered with the Cutlers’ Company in 1847.Tyzacks today

One of his most successful inventions was the steel plasterers trowel, ( wooden floats had been used prior to this time), incorporating an improved method of attaching the handle to the blade. This process was patented in 1902, most likely by Joseph’s son Thomas, who succeeded his father and also built the Meersbrook works (pictured above) in Valley Road, Heeley, to accommodate his expanding business.

It was this company which produced the excellent Tyzack Rapper Swords which bear the ‘Legs of Man” trade mark, and in many cases the patent No.9835 which relates to the handle fixing process devised by Joseph.

How a Sheffield firm came to produce swords for a dancing tradition that was confined to mining communities in Northumberland and Durham, and how Tyzacks came to undertake this work is not yet clear, Family links with the North East may be a factor, the movement of miners between coalfields may be significant. There is no doubt that in the early 20th Century Sheffield was the world leader in the production of high quality spring steel and tool making. The right materials and skills were in Sheffield. It is possible that the EFDSS commissioned the production of swords for sale and distribution to support the growing number of classes flowing from Cecil Sharp's publications and evangelising. 

The trail is not cold, there are dancers out there that can fill in the gaps. When were the first Tyzack swords produced? When did they stop? How many sets are still in use. ( the company continued until 1942 when the first of a series of mergers and takeovers occurred, finally becoming part of Neill Tools in 1985) There is no doubt that the swords were of high quality, and sets which are conservatively 50 years old are still danced regularly today and show no signs of deterioration.

An exhibition at DERT 2002 will revisit the evidence and try to fill in the gaps - after all they may only be good swords to you, but they are are part of Sheffield's history as well.