|Arthur Price by Simon Price|
Simon Price, head of Lichfield's well known cutlery firm, gave a lively talk to members and visitors at our April meeting. His great grandfather Arthur established the company in 1902 as A. Price & Co Ltd. in premises on Gem Street, Aston, Birmingham, after leaving school at 14 and working for various cutlery companies. Amongst the company's many 'firsts' was the manufacture of chromium plate spoons and forks, the forerunner of today's stainless steel. 1911 saw the company make the first of a number of moves to larger premises, this time to Conybere Street, Birmingham. A further move took place as World War I began to Vauxhall Street, again in Birmingham.
Weathering the inter War Depression, problems confronted the firm in the late thirties with the retirement, then death, of Arthur and the loss of business with the outbreak of World War II. Arthur's two sons, Frederick and Arthur successfully negotiated a contract to manufacture aircraft parts, thus saving the company from closure, only for Arthur to die at the relatively early age of 50. By 1948, the company was being run by Frederick's son, John. Who renamed it as "Arthur Price of England", a name since abandoned. 1982 saw the company end its long association with Birmingham, relocating its head office and warehousing/distribution operation to Lichfield. In fact the Britannia Industrial Estate on which the company is based, is so named because of a request from John Price at the time of relocation. At the same time, manufacturing operations were moved to Sheffield, where today Simon has a staff of 45 skilled workers. By 1994, when Simon took over the reins, the company had also acquired one of its competitors: George Butler & Co.
In today's competitive world innovation is the key. Simon has led the company successfully, by providing products which are of high quality throughout the price range and branching out into designing and marketing other gifts. Predictably "Arthur Price Diamond Jubliee Mugs", jointly designed with Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen, are about to reach the shops. You'll also find Arthur Price cutlery at the renovated Savoy Hotel in London, aboard cruise liners, on Prince William's dining table (the firm hold two royal warrants) and at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in the wreck of the Titanic. Arthur Price & Co designed special dining services for the ill fated ship, some of which have been recovered. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the disaster, the cutlery used in first class has been recreated. Five of the sets will be taken down in a diving submersible to the wreck this year, prior to distribution to museums. Two sets will be sold; the proceeds of one going to a national charity, the other to a local one.
Simon finished with some little known information. Cutlery includes knife handled pieces, whereas flatware means spoons and forks; these are pieces that are flat and then beaten or pressed into shape. Birmingham concentrated on the latter, whilst Sheffield was the premier location for knife production. Also, please note that a hunting knife is pointed, but a table knife is rounded! The fork was slow to gain favour in Britain. Originating in the 7th century in the Middle East, it was not until the 17th century that it was in use by wealthy persons in England and even then was regarded as a somewhat effeminate article. The earliest reference in England to a spoon was in a will of 1259.
Simon is a wholehearted supporter of, as he puts it, "the beautiful City of Lichfield". He takes pride in having been invited to be the 456th Sheriff of Lichfield and as many members will know, plays a prominent part in supporting other local initiatives. Currently he is very much involved in giving financial aid to small community groups through the 'We Love Lichfield' fund.
Simon's talk was both informative and highly entertaining. Audience involvement was mandatory and we were close to getting the answer correct to the question "what are the origins of the phrase wooden spoon?". Members who attended now know the answer - those who read this article will have to guess!