Spiers and Slater Mitre Planes

  • © 2020 – Martin Shepherd Piano Service   Using the text, research, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law in most countries.

STEWART SPIERS MITRE PLANES

Introduction from Spiers 1909 catalogue.

“…Piano and Organbuilders, and other hardwood workers, all over the world still pronounce [Spiers planes] the best.”  It goes without saying that Spiers was not the inventor of the dovetailed plane.  When you make the distinction of an all ‘steel dovetailed plane,’ however, there’s a greater chance that it is true.

Stewart Spiers (1820-1899) made his planes in Ayr, Scotland, on the west coast. Spiers played a major role in developing and popularizing wood infilled metal planes, including panel, smoothing, thumb, shoulder, chariot, and improved mitres.  Although, its fair to state that Spiers was not necessarily the original inventor of  these forms, with the possible exception of the improved mitre plane.  For a thorough examination of Stewart Spiers, his business, life, and family, I recommend “Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” by Nigel Lampert.

 

Section of Ayr, Scotland, from the 1855 Ordnance Survey.  Garden St. and River St. are the places where Stewart Spiers spent his working life.  Stewart took over his father William’s unnumbered River St. shop in 1844, after he died.  Stewart produced some of  his early planes at 12 Garden St., c. 1851-58.  In 1858, Stewart moved his shop to 11 River St., where he remained until his death in 1899.  I’ve included the following  Ayrshire P.O. Directory excepts to clarify Stewart Spiers’ early locations.

Stewart Spiers’ price list, 12 Garden St., circa 1851-’58.

 

Stewart Spiers at his father William’s River St. shop 1845, and his mother at [12] Garden St.

William Spiers. Wright (maker or builder). Stewart’s older brother, born 1812. 1845 Ayr P.O. Directory.  William Spiers Sr. died in 1844.

 

Stewart Spiers in 1849, still at his father William’s River St. Shop. Ayr P.O. Directory.

 

 

Ayr 1851 P.O. Directory. Stewart Spiers was now producing cabinet making and plane making work out of  [12] Garden St.

 

 

1858 Ayr P.O. Directory. Stewart Spiers’ shop now shown as [11] River St., but apparently not the same premises as his father William Spiers’ old River St. shop. Stewart and wife Elizabeth Carstairs (m.1854) lived at 18 John St.

 

 

 

 

Stewart Spiers 1861 Ayr P.O. Directory, along with brother William, cabinetmaker on Content St.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiers’ Ayr 1870 P.O. Directory entry.

Stewart Spiers 1867 Ayrshire P.O. Directory. First year of “Iron Planemaker” without “Cabinetmaker.”

 

 

 

5  River St was on the corner of River and Garden Streets.

Spiers 1876 Ayr P.O. Directory. Firth View. Note that 5 River St. was renumbered from 11.

Spiers 1880 Ayr 1880 P.O. Directory. William (7 June, 1812; died 17 November, 1881).

 

 

 

 

 

Stewart Spiers’ advertisement 6 December, 1867, in “English Mechanic and the World of Science.”

 

“Tool Merchants supplied on liberal terms.  Facilities offered for workmen forming themselves into clubs to be supplied with iron planes.  Cards and Price-Lists sent free to all inquirers, with all particulars.”  An interesting proposition!  This is the first time I’ve seen 74 as a street number for the Spiers workshop on River Street.

 

 Spiers mitre plane, early.

Several features indicate that this original pattern mitre was made between the 1850s and 1870. These include a flying saucer-shaped or domed lever cap screw, tapered iron, lack of sole extension at the heel, and side screws to secure the lever cap. Also, the sidewalls at the heel form one large horseshoe bend with two curved dovetails.  It does not have the earliest version lever cap, with the long narrow neck; this lever cap was made to be more robust.

Spiers mitre plane. Earliest version, from the 1840s and ’50s.

The lever cap neck is very long and slender. Spiers later discovered that the lever cap does not need to be so long for sufficient leverage with holding down the iron securely. In fact, later Spiers planes have much shorter lever caps. An example of a very short Spiers lever cap can be seen on an improved pattern Spiers mitre plane further down this page.  Body of the plane is fairly similar to the later Spiers mitre shown above.

Spiers mitre plane, 10 1/2″ long, with 2 1/8″ iron, circa 1870s and ~1895.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Spiers mitre plane is old enough to have the front and rear sole dovetailed together (at the mouth) rather a simpler diagonal butt joint which was employed later.  In general, an upside down stamp on the lever cap does not necessarily indicate early manufacture. The pinned infills, snecked iron without dog-eared corners, rear sole extension, and larger diameter of threads on lever cap screw suggest later manufacture. Also, the sidewalls at the heel have two bends, or rounded corners, rather than one large horseshoe bend with curved dovetails, as featured in the earlier full sized mitres.  Front infill has a longer top than the earlier style, and a simple concave shape under the lip, at the back, compared to a long exposed ogee on the earlier mitre infills.  Later in the 1890s, Spiers changed the lever cap screw to a plain unadorned domed shape.

Front infill from early Spiers mitre plane.  Photo by Paul Blanche.

1909 Catalogue. By this time, Spiers’ box mitre was no longer in regular production, but available by special order.  Note that the catalogue image show a cusped lever cap screw, but actual examples in 1909 would have been a flat-topped screw.

Three Spiers mitre planes together.  Here you can see the evolution of Spiers’ traditional mitre plane with lever caps.  Quality was steady throughout, but planes became more practical in use, with the passage of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiers small mitre plane with lever cap, from Garden Street price list.  Note the double bend and flange at the heel: small early Spiers mitres tended to have that, while early full sized Spiers mitres did not.

Spiers mitre plane, with traditional wedge, pinned later style infills, small Spiers inscription right side up, and sole extension at the heel. c 1870s to 1880s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Spiers catalogues, wedged planes were offered right up to the final publication, but in reality, they were curtailed around World War One.   By the 1880s, any wedged Spiers planes were rare (with the exceptions of the shoulder and rebate planes), but in general, Spiers favored the lever cap arrangement from the beginning of his career.  Even Spiers chariot planes had lever caps when other makers almost invariably used bridges and wedges. Front and rear sole pieces are dovetailed together at the mouth in this example.

Inverted Cupid’s Bow

Spiers mitre plane, c. 1845 to 1863, with inverted cupid’s bow Speir (Rutherford) type bridge.  This example has the standard SPIERS AYR stamp upside down.

Spiers mitre plane bridge

Same bridge with Rutherford stamp.  Photo from internet source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who made the planes with the unique inverted cupid’s bow?  Some think the examples marked “SPIER AYR”  were made by William, Stewart Spiers’ father, while others believe that they were made by Stewart’s nephew.  I am inclined to think that all planes with this bridge design were made by the same person, and that would likely be George Rutherford.  In his book“Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” Nigel Lampert discounted the notion of more than one Spiers making planes in Ayr:

“It has been suggested elsewhere that the use of alternative spellings might indicate that more than one planemaker was responsible for early planes usually assumed to be by Stewart Spiers’.  However, there is absolutely no hint or evidence that another planemaker named Speir ever existed in Ayr (or indeed elsewhere) during this period, and given that some early mitre planes marked ‘Speir’ are also marked ‘Ayr’ as well, and an early block smoothing plane is known stamped with both ‘Speir’ and ‘Spiers Ayr’, it is a reasonable assumption that the Spiers family used and/or responded to a number of spellings of their name.”

Multiple spellings of an individual family’s surname was common from the beginning of surnames to the late 19th century.  Consistent spelling of names only entered general practice when literacy became relatively universal, and a practical average competency became the norm.

George Rutherford was born in New York around 1824 or 1825, but his family was from Scotland.  The Rutherford family returned to Ayr, Scotland sometime before 1845.  George’s mother ran a drapery business  at 124 High St., Ayr,  and his planes were made at that address as well.  George Rutherford made planes from approximately 1845 to 1863, at which time he had the opportunity to enter the grocery business, eventually becoming the business owner.  Along with Stewart Spiers, George Rutherford was most likely the only other maker of iron planes in Ayr, Scotland.  In his book about “Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” author Nigel Lampert suggested that Rutherford made some of his iron planes for Stewart Spiers.  Certainly, some of the mitre planes show great similarity, with the exception of the inverted cupid’s bow bridge.  Perhaps the reason for the similarities had to do with Stewart Spiers’ requirement for conformity with his own mitre plane product.  A very small amount of Rutherford cast panel planes and smooth planes have also surfaced..  These show little similarity to the building practice of Spiers’ dovetailed planes.

The inverted cupid’s bow bridge on the mitre planes was inscribed at least four ways: SPIERS AYR; SPEIR; SPEIR AYR and G. RUTHERFORD.  While some of the mitres are nearly identical with Stewart Spiers planes of the period, with the exception of the bridge, significant differences exist on other mitre plane examples.

SPEIR gunmetal mitre plane, as photographed in a David Stanley Auction in 2014. Planemaker Bill Carter was the high bidder, and after purchase he made a new wedge to replace the old damaged one.

After examination, Bill Carter found that this plane differed from standard Spiers mitre planes of the period in the following ways:

“…In my mind this Speir plane has absolutely nothing to do with Spiers, I think it is earlier and it is entirely different to the later made Spiers.  The bridge has a beautiful cupid bow which is identical to the Rutherford makers in Nigel’s book.  Again, very little is known about Rutherford as a maker.

These are the differences I have found between Speir and Spiers of Ayr:

Speir plane: The brass sides if the plane and bridge are much thicker. 2) The bridge is fixed either side with three pin brass pins, they could be tenons. 3) The cupid’s bow bridge is identical to a G. Rutherford plane and so are the overall dimensions of the plane itself. …6) The joint at the mouth appears to be like a bird’s mouth, not a tongue and groove.  7) The spelling Speir completely different, Speirs if Ayr always appears on his planes, it always has an S on the end (this is a really big difference between the two makers). 8) Brass and steel construction on his first type of dovetailed mitre plane.  Spiers of Ayr did no use these materials on his first type of mitre plane.  9) The infill is solid rosewood, not made up of two pieces.  10) The front infill is a different shape.”  From http://www.billcarterwoodworkingplanemaker.co.uk/new-infills/

Same bridge with SPEIR AYR stamp. Photo from internet source.

With regular Spiers Ayr stamp. Photo from ebay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiers Improved Mitre Planes

Improved mitre planes were the type that Stewart Spiers was most likely to have invented from scratch.  Spiers conceived his plan for the improved mitre in the 1850s–at a time when fine woodworkers were adopting bench planes made of metal rather than wood.  Spiers made his changes for the improved mitre plane in an effort to integrate bench plane features into the full size mitre plane.

Overall configuration–20 degree bed angle iron bevel up–was derived from the traditional box mitre plane. For the rest, Spiers borrowed from the new bench planes when coming up with his design: the front bun and general side profile came from his early panel plane, the lever cap came from his early mitre plane (and others), and the rear tote was adapted and modified from his unhandled early improved smooth plane.

Early Spiers No. 5 improved pattern mitre plane, circa 1850s.  Photo from spiersplanes.com.

 

Early features include fairly long necked lever cap, flying saucer shaped lever cap screw with small diameter threaded stem, and screwed sides.  The preceding early details apply generally to the full range of Spiers planes. Particulars more specific to Spiers’ improved mitre planes include smaller indentations on the sides of the rear infill (they became deeper gradually over time), and the absence of a rebate in front of the tote at the toe.  Later Spiers improved mitre planes added a rebate in front of the tote.

 

Below is another example of an early Spiers Improved Pattern Mitre plane, with typical early features:

Early Mathieson dovetailed improved mitre plane, circa 1850/60s. Photo from Ebay UK.

Most all metalwork–body and lever cap/screw–resemble Spiers, but rounded infills are unique to Mathiesen.  A 2nd version of this plane is cast iron, with a fitted front sole.  Both are very rare and sought after planes.  This particular mitre has been for sale on Ebay UK for a very long time.  The asking price is $18,200.00, which is why it is still up for sale.  Nevertheless, it is a valuable, scarce, and historically significant plane.

Two Mathieson improved mitre planes. Photo from George Anderson, April 2015.

The Mathieson rounded infills were overstuffed, so that this model did not need the chamfers along the upper edges of the metal sides.

On the right is the early Mathieson improved mitre plane, with a cast iron body, and fitted front sole piece, circa 1860s.  Contrary to some lore, the mouth is not adjustable. The Mathieson improved mitre on the left was most likely bought in from Norris, and dated circa 1908-1914.

 

 

One way to gain a sense of the date on these early improved mitre planes is to carefully remove a side screw holding the infill.  They are typically handcut and blunt on the end.  Machines to produce consistent and pointed screws were developed from 1849 and into the 1850s.  By the 1860s, machined screws were essentially universal.

 

 

 

Machine made screw on top; handmade screw on the bottom.

The machine made screw tapers a bit before the gimlet point, while the handmade screw has no taper, and the slot was cut by a hack saw.  In some cases, the old timers would file a point on the handmade screws, and it would look filed by hand, with file marks.

 

 

 

 

Controversy surrounds the subject of using improved mitre planes, with some favoring them as an actual improvement over box mitres, while others refute their usefulness on any count.  Joel Moskowitz, owner of the “Tools for Working Wood” store in Brooklyn, NY, has stated that the improved mitre plane was a failed design:

“…Sexy yes–a great looking tool.  But poorly designed: 

  • The finger grips make it easier to pick up, but the balance is still way off compared to a smoother or a short panel plane. 
  • Also, you end up gripping it from the top, and you can’t get the power in the stroke [that] you can with a coffin shape or a normal handle.  And it isn’t very comfortable to hold that way either, as the blade is in the way  (you can’t grip it from the back because of the blade over hang). 
  • The sides are greatly reduced, so it isn’t a great choice for shooting compared to a box mitre, or any parallel sided plane.
  • It doesn’t work any better than any of the bevel down smoothers, and it’s a lot harder to make (getting that superfine mouth, tongue and grooving the joint).”  –Joel Moskowitz, Woodcentral.com archives, 13 March, 2004

Contested applications would include shooting mitres as well as general smoothing, primarily on various hardwoods. Chris Schwartz, a well known woodworker, writer, publisher, and educator, wrote about the usefulness of the improved mitre plane when trying out an example of the form by Brian Buckner:

This tool is what’s called an “improved miter” pattern of plane.  It’s a form that is related to the box-shaped miter shown at right and below.  What’s improved about it?  Well you can use it like a smoothing plane, which is something I’ve become comfortable doing.  Buckner’s tool fit in my hands and was effortless to get set and take beautiful shavings.”   —From “Handplane Essentials,”  pub. 2017 by Chris Schwartz.

Chris Schwartz has also purchased an improved mitre plane made by Wayne Anderson, in 2004.  It was stolen from him, and then he got it back.  You can read about it here.

When designing his 98 smoothing plane, Karl Holtey was influenced by the improved mitre plane design.  Derek Cohen quoted Holtey regarding this in one of his reviews on handplanes:

“Another recent and significant deviation from the bevel down path is the Holtey #98 smoother. Karl Holtey conceived the design for this plane in 1998 (hence its name) by integrating his A11 improved pattern mitre plane[s] with a 20 deg bed and an A2 blade. Karl’s motivation to follow this construction is summed up in his own words:

“By presenting the blade in this format the need for a chipbreaker has been eliminated (I do not believe in the use of chipbreakers anyway). The blade is supported very close to the cutting edge by virtue of its being inverted. Using mitre planes of the same format I found that they worked better as smoothing planes than smoothers and I was therefore determined to design this blade configuration into a smoothing plane”.

George Anderson, a well known antique tool collector and a lifelong professional woodworker has used the improved pattern mitre plane quite a lot over his many years of experience.  This is what he has stated about it:

“The improved mitre is to be used vertically or normally, mainly with the stock held in a vice or mitre chop. The detents at the back give better grip as you put your palm around the heel, and your fingers pinch the grips in the side.”  –George Anderson, c. 2015 and 2020.

Selection and use of tools in any trade is ultimately a personal matter for the craft worker, and there is bound to be variations in patterns and frequency of usage with each and every tool.  The improved mitre plane is no exception.

There are not many ‘failed designs’ that would have had as long of a run as the improved mitre plane, which was introduced by Spiers in the 1850s (Spiers Improved Mitre Planes: 1855-1914) and still made by Thomas Norris Jr. as late as the 1930s (Norris Improved Mitre Planes: 1908-1935).  So the improved mitre plane was neither an overwhelming success nor a complete failure.  Most accomplished woodworkers who tried one could not justify the cost, and chose bench planes or shoulder planes (or others), as a better return on investment.  A few craftsmen did try the improved mitre plane and decided to purchase one.  Granted, this particular demand was specialized and limited, but the improved mitre was made for a good 80 years.

Collectors seek improved mitre planes out because of their rarity and uniqueness.  They are by far the most rare type of full sized infill planes.  It doesn’t hurt that Norris made a limited few improved mitres and those have become something of a holy grail with aficionados.  Norris planes have always held a certain mystique, and that has captured the imagination of some collectors.  More on Norris improved mitre planes can be found here.

Norris no. 11 improved pattern mitre plane. Most of Norris’ line of planes borrowed heavily from Spiers, and this mitre was a prime example of that. Some Norris improved mitres were rebadged as Mathiesons.  Drawing from Norris’ 1914 catalogue. Image from Norrisplanes.com.

Norris no. 11 improved mitre plane. Photo from norrisplanes.com

The vast majority of antique improved mitre planes, however, are the Spiers examples, which were made from the 1850s right up to the onset of World War One.  Improved mitres were always a relatively low production/specialist type plane for Spiers, but because they were made for ~60 years, they’re rare, but not the rarest.  Spiers’ Thumb planes, or Spiers’ Cooper’s Plucker are examples of types more rare than Spiers’ Improved mitre planes.  Offered alongside  Spiers’ box mitre planes for their entire production run, Spiers improved mitres were intended to be an alternative rather than a replacement for Spiers’ traditional mitre. Several modern planemakers produce improved mitre planes, and the small market that created this demand consists of current traditional woodworkers as well as collectors.  For example, Wayne Anderson and Gerd Fritsche are both planemakers who produce improved mitre planes currently.  New improved mitre plane products give today’s woodworkers a chance to experience these low angle bevel up planes for themselves.

Spiers improved mitre plane, rear view showing large tote with no shoulders at the back, but large indentations for clasping on the sides.

Spiers mitre plane, no. 5 improved pattern, circa 1880s. Cusped lever cap screw, riveted sides, and small SPIERS AYR stamp indicate vintage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiers No. 5 Improved Mitre plane, 1910-1912 Spiers Catalogue. From collection of George Anderson.

Spiers 1909 catalogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catalogue image shows a very short lever cap and cusp on lever cap screw. I am not sure how current the image was in 1909. Bench planes in this catalogue show flat lever cap screws with no cusps. So strong selling planes were shown with the latest features while slow sellers and special order/out of production models showed older features. Planes that showed 19th century details such as a cusp on the lever cap screw included the Improved mitre, Box mitre, Thumb plane, and Chariot plane. Very few of the latter listed planes were made after 1900.

Spiers improved mitre plane with very short lever cap with a small SPIERS AYR stamp correct way up. Because the lever cap screw has a cusped design with a small diameter thread, I think that this was a late 19th century plane rather than an early 20th century example.  Photo by spiersplanes.com.

 

This Spiers improved mitre plane shows a combination of early and late features.  Early features: no rebate in front of tote; cusped lever cap screw; small diameter thread lever cap screw. small upright SPIERS AYR stamp on lever cap.  Late features: riveted sides; large indentations (finger holds) on rear infill; shoulders on rear infill at the heel.

 

 

 

 

The following two photos show a Spiers no. 5 improved mitre plane made in the early 20th century, as late as the onset of WWI.  It shows a large SPIERS AYR stamp and a completely flat-topped lever cap screw, typical of c. 1910 or so. Truly the end of an era; there were no Spiers mitre planes manufactured after the Great War.  Also discontinued at that time were the chariot and thumb planes. Photos by Aled Dafis (photobucket).

Spiers improved mitre plane circa 1890s.

This example differs from the previous short lever cap by having a large thread on the cusped double screw.  –And an original iron with straight sides rather than dog-eared.

Spiers improved mitre plane, rear view showing slightly smaller rounded tote and shoulders at the back.

 

Two ‘improved pattern’ Spiers mitre planes, both made c 1880-1900, with the small right-side up Spiers Ayr inscriptions.

The plane on the left has a small lever cap similar to what Norris used in their mitre planes later on, and a double lever cap screw somewhat like C. Bayfield, Nottingham, but with an early style Spiers cusp.  Mitre in front is slightly larger than the other one, and has thicker gauge steel stock, but the plane in back is by no means of light construction.

Spiers catalogue, circa 1910-1912. From the collection of George Anderson.

This catalogue is dated by the dovetailed “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” as well as the concurrently available malleable iron “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” versions.  At 18/6, the improved mitre plane was less expensive than the smoothers.  Today, the improved mitre would be among the most expensive of these planes.  The embossed lever cap, introduced circa 1914, was not yet pictured.

Stewart Spiers, late portrait, circa 1890s. From collection of George Anderson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probate Calendar for Stewart Spiers, Iron Planemaker.

Spiers’ daughters advertised the family planemaking business for sale in “The Scotsman,” 6 December, 1921.

After Stewart Spiers’ death on 19 July, 1899, his daughters ran the business.  Isabella, the youngest, was in control from the 1890s until her premature death in 1901.  Then Maria Carstairs took charge of the business.  For the day to day shop operations, William McNaught, who was making Spiers planes in the shop, became  superintendent.  The budget “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” line was attributed to his innovative work towards increasing production.  Business was slow after the Great War, and the daughters began their endeavor to sell the business, which was eventually purchased by John McFayden (1866-1928) in 1922.

Spiers advertisement, circa 1925. From the collection of George Anderson.

McFayden continued the traditional catalogue offerings which had already been pared down to dovetailed bench planes and the cooper’s plucker after World War One.   The “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” line was updated, and the Stanley-like “Empire” line was introduced.  Despite these efforts, effects of the depression constrained interest in all tool products that lacked economy of scale price advantages.

 

Photo of Stewart Spiers (left) without beard circa 1870. From collection of George Anderson. Thank you George!

Auld Brig, in Ayr, Soctland, showing Spiers’ factory at 2-4 River Terrace (1899-1932).  Spiers’ shop was located between the two chimneys to the right of the bridge.  Drawing from collection of George Anderson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In around 1933, The Spiers factory was moved to 3 Lonend St., Paisley.  Many planes were cranked out from this facility for three years; these were something less than their best work, but circumstances and the market dictated that adjustments be made.  By 1937, it was all over.

© 2020 – Martin Shepherd Piano Service  Using the text, research, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law in most countries.

BENJAMIN AND HENRY SLATER

Henry and Benjamin Slater can be considered among the top four or five producers of  English infill planes in the late 19th, early 20th century.  This output was a direct result of the efficiency of casting as compared with the labor intensive process of dovetailing the plane bodies.  Because the Slaters had an in-house iron foundry, they had the rare opportunity of exerting full control over their casting process and the resulting price structure.  In 1881, Henry Slater had 3 men and 4 boys working for him–a crew of that size would be capable of  creating large quantities of products.  Making Slater planes was a team effort, and not just between the employees and apprentices. Among the family, Benjamin Sr., Benjamin Jr., Henry, Henry Ernest, and George Mosley combined their efforts to make metal planes.  Another factor was Slater’s long production period, starting after Benjamin Slater took ownership of the Wellington Foundry in the early 1860s, to as late as the 1920s.  The last hard evidence of Slater’s plane making that I have found, however, dated from 1911.

Henry Slater mitre plane, 9″, of a type made between 1861 and 1911.

 

Standard Slater design for a mitre plane, with fitted front sole piece, rounded-off front infill, and classic Slater gunmetal lever cap and screw.  Many were bought and sold without attribution.

 

 

 

 

Having earned a good reputation from fine woodworkers, the Slaters were known best in that community for their smoothers, chariots, and shoulder planes. Using the less labor intensive method of casting rather than dovetailing, the Slaters were less expensive than most of the other infill planes. In our current market, Slater smoothers, chariots, and shoulder planes that are up for sale can be found fairly readily. Relatively few Slater mitre planes remain, as not so many were made.  Marked Slater mitre planes are even more uncommon.  Slater mitre planes were rebadged by dealers such as Tyzack or Moseley, but most of the Slater mitres were unmarked.

A particularly fine haul of Slater planes. Photo by Mike at Vintage Tool Shop, Melbourne, Australia, September, 2019.

 

As a surprise to some current plane aficionados, Slaters’ main business was manufacturing other cast iron goods, primarily hinges.  Benjamin Slater (1823-1875) also invented a gas regulator, and he built a separate factory to make them, which lasted a number of years.  Along with patented rising hinges and door ironmongery, the Slater family made the cast infill planes that they are recognized for today.

 

 

 

 

Shown below is a Samuel Tyzack (Slater) cast iron mitre plane.  Second photograph shows the upper and lower sole, done in a way that resembles the New York planemakers, Brandt, Thorested, Erlandsen, and Popping.  This Tyzack mitre postdates Brandt and Thorested, and was stamped  on the lever cap and front infill with the dual address of  “TYZACK  RAILWAY ARCH  345 OLD ST.; S. TYZACK  153 SHOREDITCH  LONDON.” 

Shoreditch High Street scene, circa 1880.

 

153 Shoreditch was right around the corner from 345 Old St.  This dual combination of addresses was known to be used circa 1876.

 

 

 

Samuel Tyzack probate calendar, died 12 August, 1903.

Slater mitre plane, marketed by Tyzack.

 

 

 

Tyzack (Slater) mitre plane, showing upper and lower front sole pieces.

 

Samuel Tyzack & Son Railway Arch  345 Old Street.  Photo from tyzack.net.

 

 

 

 

Large Tyzack sign on the right is mounted on the iron railway bridge crossing Old St.  Picture was taken circa 1920, just before 345 Old St. was remodeled.  Photo from tyzack.net.

 

 

 

 

 

Some Slater family history

David Slater (1769-1830) married Jane Kelly (1770-1808) at St. Marylebone Church, 5 January, 1795.

A baptism for a David Slater at St. Luke’s in Finsbury was recorded on 31 May, 1778 (born 17 May, 1778).  That David Slater would only have been 16 in January 1795.  Given  the proximity, and the fact that the Slater family on Motley St. also used St. Luke’s Church–but mainly attended St.Leonard’s–these two Slater families were almost certainly related.  An 1830 burial was entered for David Slater, age 61 (born 1769) at St. Leonard’s church in Shoreditch.  The burial record is compatible with both this marriage document and the later David Slater Sr. tax records on Motley St. in Shoreditch.

Detail of Shoreditch, in C. & J. Greenwood’s 1826 Map of London, showing Motley St., David Slater Sr.’s home.

 

This Greenwood map excerpt also includes the locations of a number of metal planemakers, including Christopher Gabriel, 100 Old St., and Banner St. (1779-1822); Robert Towell, Edward St., 1840; Samuel Tyzack et al, 345 Old St., (1861-1975).

 

 

Jane and David had the following children: Jane, born 26 March, 1798; Sarah, born 7 April, 1800; David Jr, born 10 May, 1802; John, born 21 April, 1804.  David Jr. was born on Motley St., but the family was likely there before 1798, as the 3 older children were baptized at nearby St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch.  John was baptised at St. Luke’s.

Death and burial of Jane Slater, 27 December, 1808, of Motley St., at Bunhill Field Burial Ground, City Road.

Unfortunately, Jane Slater died at the young age of 38.  Christopher Gabriel was also buried at Bunhill Field, in 1809.

 

David Slater Sr., tax roster, on Motley St., 1831.

 

 

1831 was the last year that I could find for David Slater Sr.  After 1802, and before 1831, there were a number of similar tax entries for David Slater Sr. on Motley St., enough to establish that he was living there continuously.  A Mr. Wilson was his landlord.

David Slater Sr. died 18 May 1830, age 61 (born 1769). St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.

 

 

 

 

 

David Slater Jr. was born 10 May, 1802 to David and Jane Slater of Motley St., Shoreditch.  St. Leonard’s Church.

David Slater Jr. married Elizabeth Frances Thompson (1794-1878), became an engineer, and engaged in the business of hinge making.  It was not that uncommon to marry years after starting a family.  In the case of this marriage (1836), 13 years had passed since their firstborn, Benjamin (1823) had arrived.

 

David Slater married Elizabeth Frances Thompson at St. Botolph’s Bishopsgate, 27 February, 1836

Elizabeth Thompson was baptised 11 April, 1794, in the county of Norfolk. Unconfirmed document.

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth [Frances] Thompson Slater gave Norfolk as her place of birth in her 1851, 1861, and 1871 U.K. census entries.  And 1794 was a close average for her reporting of various birth years.

David and Frances Slater had the following children: Benjamin b.1823, John b. 1826, David, b. 1827, Walter b. 1834, Alfred b. 1836, and Henry b. 1839.  While several of these sons became active in the hinge making business, Benjamin (1823-1875) and Henry (1839-1900) were the most instrumental.  David Jr. died sometime before 1841.

Wellington Foundry Advertisement, from the London Times, 15 December, 1831.

 

Francis Slater, widow, “Hinge Manufacturer,” and her six sons, Benjamin the oldest (also a “Hinge M.F.”), and Henry, the youngest.  1841 U.K. census, City Garden Place.

 

 

 

 

Benjamin Slater married Elizabeth Scotchford, 1 Oct., 1843. Father, David Slater was an engineer.

 

 

 

 

Apparently, David Redmund Slater was related to inventor David Redmund (1784-1844), of the John Gollop & David Redmund Hingemaking Company, 59 Greek St., Soho, and owners of the Wellington Foundry.  I had expected to find that Jane Slater’s maiden name was Redmund and not Kelly, but certainly the Slaters and Redmunds were related, by marriage and blood.  In 1891, planemaker Henry Slater identified his father as “David Redmund Slater” in his marriage document.

David Redmund Slater, “Hinge Fitter, Deceased,” father of Walter Slater (1834-1881).

David Redmund, posthumous listing, 1845, in Kelly’s London Trade Directory.

 

 

 

 

 

David Redmund, Engineer, Charles St., 1841 U.K. census.

David Redmund’s burial 28 July, 1844 at St. Luke’s Church. Born circa 1784.

 

 

 

 

Francis Slater Jr., 12, was living with David Redmund in 1841.  This was another clue around the relatedness of the Redmund and Slater families.  David Redmund’s daughter, Emilia Gollop (1814-1893) was living there as well.  Emilia married John Gollop on 20 May 1838.  John Gollop (1813-1851) was David Redmund’s partner in hinge making.  In 1841, Emilia seemed to be taking a break from the marriage.

Emilia Gollop, “hinge manufacturer,” Wellington Foundry, and Fanny Slater, 32. 1861 U.K. census.

Twenty years later, Frances (Fanny) Slater was still living with Emilia Gollop, and working for her as a house servant.  Benjamin Slater’s 1864 advertisements in “Skyring’s Builders’ Prices” referred to the former Wellington Foundry proprieter as “late E.[Emelia] Gollop.”

In the 18th and 19th centuries, referring to an individual as “late,” did not imply dead, necessarily.  In many cases it simply meant “formerly’ or ‘previously.’

Section on David Redmund, in “Steam Locomotion on Common Roads,” by William Fletcher, 1891, London.

“Steam Locomotion on Common Roads,” continued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A scathing account.  What was the other side to this story?

David Redmund made a steam Engine boiler, 1839 Kelly’s London Trade Directory

 

David Redmund was very active as an inventor, with his omnibus, his steam engine boiler, and his hinges.  Benjamin Slater must have been working on a Redmund Steam Engine, which he documented in his marriage record with Elizabeth Scotchford in 1843.

 

 

City Gardens, City Road, from C. and J. Greenwood’s Map of London, 1826.

 

This map shows some early locations of the Slater family.  Henry Slater’s later location on Wynyatt St. is shown, as well as 13 Nelson Place, and 14 Rawstorne St..  Wellington Foundry was not built when map was surveyed.

 

 

13 Nelson Place, Shoreditch, in 1851 U.K. census (part 2), including Henry Slater, “Clasp Maker.”

Francis Slater, “Laundress,” living at 13 Nelson Place., Shoreditch, during the 1851 U.K. census.

 

 

 

 

Benjamin Slater, “Hinge Maker,” living at 36 Allerton St., Shoreditch, during the 1851 U.K. census.

Benjamin Slater, “Hinge and Lathe Maker,” and Benjamin Jr., “Engineer’s Apprentice,” at 14 Rawstorne St., Clerkenwell, in the 1861 U.K. census.

 

 

 

 

Frances and Henry Slater, Foundry Yard, Wellington Foundry, in 1861 U.K. census. Henry was a “Brass Finisher.”

Benjamin Slater’s Wellington Foundry, from the “English Mechanic and Mirror of Science and Arts,” 6 August, 1869

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frances Slater, “Owning Account” (retired) back at 14 City Gardens, Islington (Clerkenwell), during the 1871 U.K. census.

Frances Slater was admitted to the Islington Workhouse at Barnsbury and Liverpool Streets., 14 June 1872.

 

 

 

Frances Slater died 8 April 1878.

 

 

 

 

 

Hinges, Gas Meters and Planes, etc., cast at the Wellington Foundry

Location of Wellington Foundry in Clerkenwell. From 1895 Ordnance Survey of London.

“Benjamin Slater wishes to direct the attention of Model Makers, Plane Makers, Jewelers, Opticians, and other, to the superior tough quality and softness of the Annealed Castings, the facility of working which effects a saving of 50 to 60 per Cent in Files and Labour.  Also the MALLEABLE IRON CASTINGS tough as Wrought Iron, which effects considerable saving in all small work, which otherwise must be forged.” 1864.

David Redmund’s Patent Rising Hinge, 1821-1826.

 

David Redmund’s Patent Rising Hinge was very popular and successful.  The Slater family dynasty was involved in producing it for 100 years:

  1. David Redmund Slater c. 1825-1840.
  2. Francis Slater (David’s widow) 1840-c.1845.
  3. Benjamin Slater 1845-1875.
  4. Benjamin Slater Jr. and Henry Slater et al 1875-1920.
  5. Henry Ernest Slater 1920-1929>.

It did not make them rich.

 

John Gollop & David Redmund’s bankruptcy, 5 May, 1843.

 

The Redmunds, Gollops, and Slaters, had most of the requirements for success: good ideas, an in-house facility, and an ample labor pool.  But near the end of their full century of trading, no appreciable amount of capitol was attained. Benjamin Slater Jr. died  19 September, 1920 with less than £400 in savings.

 

 

 

 

 

Slater’s proprietary hinges as shown in “Skyring’s Builder’s Prices,” circa 1864

Slater’s proprietary hinges as shown in “Skyring’s Builder’s Prices,” circa 1864.

 

 

Benjamin Slater’s gas regulator. From “Skyring’s Builder’s Prices,” circa 1878.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From “The Commissioners of Patents Journal, March, 1871.

 

 

 

 

 

Benjamin Slater, will index , died 18 November, 1875, age 52

Benjamin Slater, 68 Charles St. (Wellington Foundry), Clerkenwell. 1871 U.K. census.

 

Benjamin died relatively young, raised a large family, and assumed ownership of the Wellington Foundry in the early 1860s.  This would be around $300,000 in 2020.  For owning a medium sized business that dealt in high volume, this was a decent amount of savings, but still relatively modest.  Benjamin and Elizabeth gave two of their sons Redmund for their middle name:  Henry William Redmund Slater (1857-1935), and Ernest Redmund Slater (1865- 1896 ).  Also, Benjamin and Elizabeth named one of their daughters, Elizabeth Frances (1849-1879) which was a tribute to her mother, but also to her grandmother, Elizabeth Frances Thompson, born in Norfolk, circa 1794.

Benjamin Slater Jr.

Benjamin Slater Jr. took over the business of his father, and continued to produce an abundance of products.  The 1875, 1880, and 1891 Kelly’s London Trades Directory entries show Benjamin Jr.’s involvement in planemaking.  An omission is apparent in these entries, it should read: ” …iron & [gun]metal plane maker & tool warehouse.”  Production plane making likely began after Benjamin Slater Sr. assumed ownership of the Wellington Foundry from Emelia Gollop after 1861, but no later than 1864.  A small number of planes have been found, stamped “Benj. Slater  London.”

Benjamin Slater Jr. and Sr., in Kelly’s London Trades Directory, 1875.

Benjamin Slater Jr., (1845-19 September, 1920) 2 Foundry Yard, Clerkenwell. From 1881 U.K. census

 

 

 

 

Benjamin Slater Jr., in Kelly’s London Trades Directory, 1880.

Benjamin Slater, still listed as planemaker, 68 Moreland St. 1891 London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

 

Moreland Street history, from Finsbury.gov

 

Charles Street was change to Moreland Street circa 1885.

 

 

 

Henry Slater, Planemaker

 

Henry Slater, in the 1869 London Post Office Directory.

Henry Slater, in the 1868 London Post office directory.

 

 

Benjamin Sr’s youngest brother, Henry Slater, 17 Wynyatt St., 1870 London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

 

 

I think this was a misclassification.  Henry Slater was an ironfounder, making hinges and planes. Henry did not make iron plates of the rectangular or circular kind, and he did not plate metals either.  In another part of the 1870 directory, Slater was listed under “Iron and Tin Plate Workers.”  Regardless of the possible oversight, Henry Slater had at least two years to follow up and clarify his moniker.  But he did not.

“iron plate worker ; iron plater; cuts iron plates on table of power shears; bends, in bending machine or with hammer on block shape; rivets and fits up iron plates generally in connection with constructional iron work; cf. plater. From “A Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population,” 1921. Compiled by the Ministry of Labour and published by HMSO, 1927.”

Photos from Slaterplanes.com

 

“H. Slater Maker.” Henry would have received the unfinished castings from Benjamin Jr. and then finished them off himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slater chariot plane, gunmetal. with rosewood wedge.

Henry Slater, “Planemaker,” 17 Wynyatt St. (1868-1872) Goswell Rd., Clerkenwell, 1871 U.K. census.

 

Almost all of the Slater Planes were stamped “H. [Henry] Slater.”  Since the planes were signed by Henry, it is a sound assumption that Henry was primarily (but not exclusively) responsible for finishing off the castings from Wellington foundry, fitting the infills, and the irons.

 

 

 

Listings as “Planemaker,” in the 1871, 1881, and 1891, U.K. census entries, underscore Henry’s specialization in this area.

17 Wynyatt St. as it appears today. It was built in 1804. Photo from Zoopla.co.uk

Henry Slater, Hinge Maker, 34 Meredith St., 1875 London Post Office Directory.

Henry Slater, 1875 Electoral Register.

Henry Slater’s location at 34 Meredith St., Clerkenwell, 1914 Ordnance Survey Map.

 

 

 

The block of Meredith Street containing no. 34 has since been razed for urban renewal.

 

Henry Slater, “Metal Plane & Spring Hinge Maker; Master of 3 Men, 4 Boys,” 34 Meredith St., 1881 U.K. census.

 

 

 

 

Henry Slater, “Planemaker,” at 34 Meredith St., in the 1891 U.K. census.

 

 

 

Henry Slater, “planemaker,” married his longtime partner Annie Rayfield at St. Mark’s Church, Myddleton Square, Clerkenwell, on 24 March, 1891.

Henry Slater, London P.O. Directory 1900.  Hinge maker rather than planemaker.

For some reason, in the 1881 and 1891 U.K. census entries, Annie Rayfield Slater was reported as “Amy,” but her birth year, 1851, was consistent in all records. Annie was recorded as “Ann Rayfield” in her 1861 and 1871 U.K. census entries.  Henry’s father, deceased, was recorded as “David Redmund Slater, Hinge Maker.”

 

Henry’s mother Frances stated Henry’s birth to be 1839 in the 1841 and 1861 census entries.  Henry shaved two years off his age, and gave 1841 in all documents from 1871 onward.

 

Henry Slater died in his house at 34 Meredith St., on 18 June, 1900.

Neither neighbor Elisa Patrick nor registrar John Weigler knew or cared about what Henry Slater did for a living, as he died as a singular “Master Screw Maker.”

 

 

Henry Slater’s burial, 23 June, 1900, Manor Park Cemetery, Newham.

 

 

 

 

 

After the death of Henry Slater.

Annie Slater, widow, “Fancy Hinge Maker,” Employer, 34 Meredith St., 1901 U.K. census.

Annie Slater continued to live at 34 Meredith St. (maintaining the listing under Henry’s name) until 1908, and presumably continued the business along with Benjamin Slater Jr.

 

Henry Slater, posthumous 1902 London P.O. Directory entry.

Henry Slater in the 1905 Kelly’s London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

“Henry Slater, [Annie] 34 Meredith St. Clerkenwell.” 1908 London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

George Mosley (1864-1912) worked with Henry Slater for most of his life.  After the death of Henry Slater, and along with Benjamin Slater Jr. (1845-1920) and Henry Ernest Slater (1878-1942), he continued the family planemaking business.

JOHN MOSELEY & SON 54 BROAD ST. LONDON (1883-1894).  Slater mitre plane. Photo by Hans Brunner.

There was no known connection between George Mosley and the Moseley dynasty of tool dealers, though Henry Slater sold a number of his infill planes to the Moseley enterprise for rebadging as Moseley planes.

George Mosley and Henry Slater, at 16 and 17 Wynyatt Street, respectively.  1871 U.K. Census.

 

 

At the time of the 1871 U.K. census, George, age 6 was being raised at 16 Wynyatt Street, next door to Henry Slater at 17 Wynyatt St.  Henry Slater was single in 1871.

George Mosley, “Iron Planemaker,” age 16, at 16 Wynyatt St., Clerkenwell. 1881 U.K. census.

 

 

 

Ten years later, George was an iron plane maker, working for Henry Slater, who had moved to 34 Meredith Street to live with Annie Rayfield.

 

George Mosley, machinist, 64 Canonbury Rd., 1901 U.K. census.

In 1901 George Mosley was working for his “own account,” which could mean that he was producing as a piece worker for Slater.  Or it could also indicate that George was participating in profit sharing from the Slater business, in more of a leadership role after Henry Slater’s death in 1900.

Annie Slater, widow, married George Mosley, Holborn Register Office., 10 June 1908.

 

In 1908, George Mosley married widow Annie Slater, and in the 1911 U.K. census, was again working as an “Iron Plane Maker,” for his “own account.”

George and Annie Slater, 11 Loraine Rd., 1911 U.K. census.

 

 

Sadly, after less than 4 years of marriage, George Mosley died.  Just three months later (also in 1912) Annie died as well.

 

 

 

George Mosley’s death certificate, 3 March 1912.

Annie Mosley’s death certificate, 30 May 1912.

 

 

 

 

Burial of George Mosley, at Finchley Cemetery, Islington, 9 March, 1912.

 

 

 

 

 

Henry and Annie Slater did not have children, so the 1909 and 1910 listings below could be Henry W. R. Slater, (1857-1935), son of Benjamin Slater Sr., or Henry E. Slater (1878-1942), son of Benjamin Slater Jr.  Henry William Redmund Slater was a silversmith, engraver, and comb manufacturer.  Henry Ernest Slater was an Iron Founder, and the more likely of the two to be a producer of metal planes.

H. Slater & Son, from 1909 London Post Office Directory.

In 1909 Henry Ernest Slater shared the commercial part of 4 Clerkenwell Green with R. Barrett & Co.

 

 

Henry Slater & Son, “Metal Plane Makers,” 4 Clerkenwell Green, from 1910 Kelly’s London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

 

Clerkenwell Green circa 1870s. Map from British History Online.

 

The residential part of 4 Clerkenwell Green housed two families in 1911, the Beachams and the Walkers.

Has anyone seen a plane stamped with “4 Clerkenwell Green?”

 

 

 

Henry Ernest Slater, ” Moulder (Iron Foundry)” 163 Essex Rd., 1911 census. Likely metal planemaker.

Henry Ernest Slater, 1911 U.K. census, signature.

 

 

 

 

Henry Ernest Slater and his family lived in the same house as his father Benjamin Slater Jr., at 163 Essex Road, Islington in 1911.  Henry Slater had one son, Henry Reginald, born 9 May, 1901, so the 1909/10 Post Office listings “H. Slater & Son,” was likely a father’s proud nod to his young son.

Benjamin Slater, “Iron Founder,” 163 Essex Rd., Islington, in the 1911 U.K. census.

Benjamin Slater Jr. died 19 September, 1920. From Wills Calendar.  Henry Ernest was his son. b. 1878.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posthumous listings for Slater’s Foundry:

In 1928, Henry Ernest shared 68 Moreland St. with two other businesses.

Benjamin Slater Jr.’s business, in the 1925 Kelly’s London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

Benjamin Slater (Henry E.) in the 1928 London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

 

Benjamin Slater (Henry E.) in the 1929 London Post Office Directory.

 

 

 

 

1929 was the last London Street Directory listing that I have encountered to date, facility apparently active.

Henry Ernest Slater, 2 Bingham St., Islington, was still casting iron during the 1939 War Register.

Henry Ernest Slater, “Iron Moulder; Furnace Man; Heavy Worker,” As late as 1939, Henry E. Slater had the ability to produce plane castings.  It was doubtful that they were made at this late date, however.

Death of Henry Ernest Slater, 12 March 1942.

 

Life around a foundry was and is hazardous to your health.  Silicosis and various cancers were common.

Henry Ernest Slater was buried 19 March 1942 in the Finchley Graveyard, Islington

 

Most men in the Slater family business sadly died young: David Redmund Slater, 37; David Redmund, 60; John Gollop, 38; Benjamin Slater Sr., 52; Henry Slater, 61; George Mosley, 47; Henry Ernest Slater, 62.

Unmarked Slater mitre plane. Photo from Ebay, 2017.

 

Henry Reginald Slater (1901-1967), the “& Son” part of the 1909 and 1910 London Street Directory listings, may have actually been in the shop helping his father make planes.  In 1939, Henry Reginald was casting iron, probably with his father Henry Ernest.

 

Eva Constance Beinder (née Slater) was a daughter of Henry R., born 1922.

Henry Reginald Slater, “Iron Moulder, Heavy Worker,” 25 Avenell Rd, Islington. 1939 Register.

Henry Reginald Slater, in the Probate Calendar, 25 Avenell Rd., Islington, died 5 August, 1967.