Thwitel by thwitel………….

Who’s got a Sheffield thwitel in his trousers? The Miller of Trompington of course! Although it did him no good when two students came to have sex with his wife and daughter and steal his bread!

The Miller, from the ‘Reeves Tale’ in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales may not have been an expert in dealing with students but he certainly knew his knives. By the time the Canterbury tales were written in the late 15th Century, Sheffield had been producing knives for nearly 500 years and by this time were considered to be of the very finest quality.

The first recorded mention of Sheffield cutlery is in the inventory of King Edward III’s possessions in the Tower of London in 1340. King Edward must have valued the knife as he was very specific about leaving it to a beneficiary in his will.

Of course back then these knives wouldn’t have been known as half of the knife and fork combo, instead people would be more likely to see a knife and, well, another knife before them at the dinner table. That’s assuming they had their knives laid out at the dinner table as we do today, what’s actually more likely is that they would have carried their personal eating knives around with them. For this reason they were treated as treasured possessions and some people would even be buried with their eating knives.

So what of forks? Moped riding, penne munching, Italian Fancy-Dan-ery is what! While we in Britain were quite happy to eat our scraps of meat with our filthy hands, the Italians were developing forks for carving and eating, the first of which didn’t grace our shores for another 50 years.

This tradition continues today; in Italy forks are indispensible in the eating of pasta, the national dish. Meanwhile, it only takes a trip down West Street on a Friday night to see that one of our national dishes, the donner kebab, is still absolutely fine to eat with grubby fingers and actually contains the same quality of meat that could be found in the pantry of a 14th century peasant!

Now no conversation about cutlery can be complete without mention of the good old spoon. The spoon originated in the stone age and was usually a pretty crude device made out of scooped out animal horn or a shell tied to a stick. Strangely, even after the iron and bronze ages spoons were still largely made from these same materials, very few bronze spoons have ever been found and iron is not easily bent into the spoon shape.

Just like knives, people would often carry around their own personal spoons and when the Romans arrived in Britain they bought with them a whole new range of sophisticated spoons often with decorative ends and leaf shaped bowls. Spoons remained in this shape for a number of years until the puritans came along and decided that a decorative spoon was only one step away from a godless, alcohol fuelled, satanic orgy and so insisted they had the decorative ends removed and the bowls flattened giving us the shape we are familiar with today.

Looking at all this, you would be forgiven for looking back at the Miller of Trompington with his Sheffield thwitel and think that life was much more simple when the knife was the only item of cutlery anybody had to worry about. However, who could resist the pronging potential of a fork or the pain-free soup eating experience provided by a spoon? That’s right, no-one!

If only there was a way to experience all of the different cutlery  items in one handy easy to use eating implement… Oh ………………..wait for it………what the?! ………….it’s a SPORF!!!


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