Charles Belk and the Defence of Sheffield
Charles Belk was Master Cutler in 1885-86 and a Company Committee was set up to consider the steps necessary to protect the name of ‘Sheffield’, which was being fraudulently stamped on knives, made both at home and abroad.
The local and national press, reported on the misuse of the name of Sheffield and they increasingly wanted the Company ‘to do something’. Newspapers hinted that they could ‘name and shame’, but when the Company asked for the information, it does not appear have been forthcoming.
The Company acknowledged that the public debate showed the degree of agitation but reminded people that it had no resources to investigate any allegations, and could only rely on witnesses who might, if wrong, be threatened with libel action.
The debate reveals the complexities of the problem, prompting discussions with the Town Council and trips to the Board of Trade in London. Charles Belk and Herbert Hughes, the law clerk, believed the best plan was to go for an international law, which was enforceable, and waited for the next Industrial Properties Convention in Rome in April, 1886. They thought this would have greater publicity than any local initiative. Eventually, at the Convention, there was international agreement, but then it relied on individual governments to take action.
Belk stayed on the Company until 1901 and must have continued his involvement with the matter of the false marking of non-Sheffield-made goods. It was not until 1911, seven years after his death, that the name of ‘Sheffield’ received some legal protection.
The Cutlers’ Company owns the accreditation mark ‘Sheffield’ and has the power to veto any proposed use of the word ‘Sheffield’ by manufacturers. The ‘Defence of Sheffield’ continues, with numerous battles over the importation of part-made goods being finished in Sheffield and sold as ‘Sheffield’ made; battles which Belk thought he had won decades earlier.