Dearne Valley Scythestones

August 1932

South Yorkshire Times, Friday, August 26, 1932

Dearne Valley Scythestones

Who is not interested in ancient crafts? With what absorption will children follow the operations of a farrier. Observe them at the seaside—how they hang round the longshore fishermen! Old-time handicrafts have a romantic appeal that modern machinery and mass production will never attain!

Here is an occupation a little older than Methuselah. The craft as probably known to Adam Cain, a “tiller of the ground,” could not have tilled much without it. This man is not making dumplings. He is a scythestone worker. He lightens labour by giving an edge to farm and garden tools.

Scythestone-making has been carried on in this district for centuries, and modern invention is not likely to supersede it. There are at least two quarries in the Dearne Valley area where scythestones ads being turned out by the thousand, the stone in that locality having the requisite quality. At one quarry the craft has been carried on by one family for generations, and their scythestones are known and used all over the globe. There was a time when artificial preparations enjoyed something of a boom, but the natural scythestone is now more than holding its own. There is a belief among farmers that artificial preparations take the temper out of steel and do more harm than good.

A representative of the “South Yorkshire Times’ watched a scythestone maker at work and got a slight inkling of the craft. It may be simple when you “know how,” but any conceit our representative entertained was dispelled when a practical man told him frankly, “You could not make one in a month; and if you did succeed you would never make another like it.” It is all a matter of delicate manipulation. The rows and rows of scythestones seen here are exactly alike as pins for size, colour and shape.

“You have to be born to this business,” said an old quarry worker. “I have been working in stone all my life, but I could not make a hundred a week.”

The man in the picture could probably make that number in a day. Scythestone-making is a back aching business, but, like most jobs, “you get used to it.” The stone must be specially selected for texture and hardness. There is one particular bed that yields exactly the right quality. The stone is first cut into blocks about a foot in diameter, and then further reduced into strips with a short handled pick having a point like a parrot’s beak. Each strip is the size of two scythestones. Having been roughly shaped with the first-mentioned tool and a scraper, the scythestones are then rubbed smooth on a stone block with a concave surface standing in water. When finished the stones are put out into the open air to dry and thee packed into boxes in dozens for dispatch all over the world, straw being used to prevent damage by vibration in transit.

A more moderate but not less interesting operation is that of making bird-baths, sundials and garden ornaments. The demand for these has accelerated in recent months. When completed in either rough or smooth stone they are usually packed in sections.