EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Guys, this is a wonderful discussion! and the research and entries are incredible. These conundrums have been mulled over for well over a century and a half, and there have been so many misconceptions and wrongly placed notions. As I have mentioned, I have tried to get further into the Hounslow, Hollow Blade and Shotley mysteries many times over at least 40 years.
Each time the material (which was a struggle to find before computers and the web) was so conflicting and tangled I ended up setting it aside. It is amazing to go at it again with super sleuths!!
It seems to me that the tangled web of German sword makers in England is being brought to light here in an almost forensic way as we gather and share evidence for evaluation.
Here is the KEY POINT about forum discussions.....it is never about who is right or wrong, but always about finding the right or best answers.
At this point it appears that German smiths were indeed in England from even the Tudor period, and that Charles I did bring numbers of them into England as early as the 1620s where they formed the enterprise known as Hounslow sword makers. While the earlier examples were marked with makers names and Hounslow, the practice tailed off later. The swords continued being produced it seems even after the English Civil wars however the industry there had been disrupted as some of the smiths followed the King to his locations in Oxford and London.
We know that the Royalists were well supplied with swords and blades from those locations as well as profoundly from mills in Birmingham. Meanwhile, Hounslow had become a Parliamentary stronghold and their supplier.
After the Civil Wars it seems Hounslow slipped into disrepair and by 1672 a mere shadow of its early glory, though apparently still producing in degree.
In a sense, it seems that the Hounslow phenomenon actually transcended into the Shotley Bridge one, and via the mysterious anomaly known as the Hollow Sword Blade Co. This entity was to fashion the now popular type of blades for rapiers which had become popular in France for rapiers and small swords which was triangular in section. It was termed 'hollow' for the three faces which were in effect hollowed out or fluted (far from the nonsense of misguided persons who thought the blade was really hollow to contain mercury!!? ).
This took place around 1685, and while many of the Germans had gone back to Solingen decades before, many had remained in the trade in different locations, so effectively became part of the Shotley Bridge circumstance. In this venture, it appears that the Hollow Blade entity became more of a financial venture (actually operating as a bank) with the production of blades more in line with producing hangers and other blades, but not of these hollow type (as far as is known).
The confusion in all of this is that some of the Germans had Anglicized their names so we are not sure which are individual persons or duplicates in the records. We do know that there were numbers of blades made in Shotley which became well known on hangers and often even munitions grade swords which were marked and even with the famed running wolf device.
This was not as surmised, a guild mark or scornfully placed symbol toward Solingen, but a mark the German makers regarded proudly as a quality device which had been in long standing from early times in Passau.
It does appear that 'hollow blades' were being brought into England and refinished in Shotley Bridge and that Herman Mohll, one of the key figures in these enterprises, was arrested with bundles of swords being brought to Newcastle for Shotley on a Dutch ship in 1703. Some of these were listed as hangers, but the other bundles not described.
Whatever the case, it does seem that even though the Shotley enterprise was closed in 1703, Mohll reopened it in 1716 (but died that year as well), and his son took over, but in 1724 or at some point it was sold to the Oley's.
Here is the confusion on the Oley's, who in some cases are claimed to be the ones who went to Birmingham to be the progenitors of the firm which became MOLE (later bought by Wilkinsons in 1870s).
While Shotley Bridge seems to have existed through the 18th century and into the 19th, it is not listed among sword making records anywhere after about 1703.
Curiously, the Birmingham smith Samuel Harvey used occasionally, the Running Wolf device with his initials (c.1740s-50s) but whether this had anything to do with Shotley other than commemorative perhaps, is unknown.
My guess is that Shotley remained in place more in terms of a cutlery producer later in the 18th century and into the 19th, when Sheffield consumed that part of the business.
The Shotley blades of late 17th into beginning of 17th so marked were refurbished and passed on as heirlooms and highly regarded in many officers swords and civilian swords through the 18th century. This has given the impression that the Shotley sword making continued, while it was the blades which carried on.