This business apparently began in 1828 when John Taylor opened a small workshop in St Philip’s Road, Brookhill. He specialised in pen, pocket, and sportsman’s knives and was granted the striking ‘Eye Witness’ mark in 1838. It featured the Eye of Providence – the all-seeing eye. In 1841, John Taylor was listed for the first time in a local directory. But he died at his residence in St Philip’s Road on 9 January 1854, aged, 61, and was buried in Portobello. His business was acquired by cutler and shopkeeper, Thomas Brown Needham (1819-1870), who was also in St Philip’s Road. In 1842, he had married Sarah Fretwell (c.1819-1901). In the Census (1841), Sarah was living with John Taylor and was apparently his daughter.
Thomas B. Needham manufactured knives under his own name at Exchange Works in Headford Street during the 1860s. He lived at Queen’s Terrace, Glossop Road, where he died on 28 February 1870, aged 51. He was buried in the General Cemetery, leaving £3,000. The business passed to one of his associates, James Veall, who had been born in about 1829 in Norton. He was apparently the son of farmer and had been apprenticed to H. G. Long. In the 1870s, the enterprise was based in Milton Street, with a ‘depot’ in Church Street. Products included Cunningham’s patent safety carving fork, Clarke’s patent horse clipper, and Thomas’s patent folding scissors (Sheffield Independent, 10 January 1874). Walter Tyzack (1857-1925) – of the scythe-making Tyzacks of Abbeydale – joined the business in 1879 and henceforth it was styled, Needham, Veall & Tyzack.
These men began expanding the Milton Street business. By 1887, the workforce was apparently about 200. In 1897, Needham, Veall & Tyzack became a limited liability company, with a capital of £60,000, and with Walter Tyzack as chairman and James Veall and William Cleverley Veall as directors. (W.C. Veall was James’s son, who had married Helen, the daughter of Walter Tyzack in 1891.) Another director was Edwin Needham (1858-1933?) – Thomas’s and Sarah’s son – who was living in Birmingham. The company purchased Nixon & Winterbottom, and formed it into another limited company, capitalized at £20,000. Needham, Veall & Tyzack’s purchase of this firm – one of the pioneers of machine-produced cutlery in Sheffield – would have been a logical step for Walter Tyzack. He was sensitive to the threat of German competition and was committed to following their example in mechanizing cutlery processes.
Sheffield and Rotherham Illustrated, Up-to-Date (1897) has a detailed description of Eye Witness Works in Milton Street:
The leading features of Messrs Needham, Veall & Tyzack’s manufactures in these departments are pen and pocket knives in an infinite variety of useful and elegant shapes, table knives, butchers’ knives, carvers, scissors, pruning shears, and razors of the finest make in hollow and plain ground, for which latter goods in particular their reputation is speedily becoming world-wide. Some idea of the range of patterns kept in these various goods may be derived from the fact that in pen and pocket knives alone the firm possess over two thousand separate designs, most of which are made in four or five separate coverings.
In 1902, the firm and Thos. Turner co-jointly purchased the goodwill and assets of Joseph Haywood & Co, Glamorgan Works, Pond Street. While Turner’s took Haywood’s pocket-knife trade, Needham, Veall retained the table, razor, scissors, and electro-plate department. By 1911, the operations of Nixon & Winterbottom had been moved to Glamorgan Works (where they were merged with the assets of another firm purchased at about this time – Michael Hunter & Co). Needham, Veall & Tyzack expanded into plated goods. It acquired silver marks in 1890 and 1892 and began the manufacture of spoons and forks, fish-eating knives, plated desserts, fish carvers and tea and coffee services at Nimrod Works in Eldon Street (formerly owned by Bartram, the powder flask maker). James Veall died at The Elms, Collegiate Crescent, on 11 August 1906, aged 77. He was buried in Norton cemetery, leaving £17,202 net. One obituary stated that the workforce had reached nearly a thousand, compared to about thirty or so workers in the 1870s. This seems exaggerated, but certainly the number of workers probably fell to less than half that total by the end of the First World War.
Needham, Veall & Tyzack was one of the first adopters in 1915 of stainless steel for table cutlery. But after 1918, the firm was hit by falling demand, especially for high-quality pocket knives and razors. Walter Tyzack’s response was to lead a merger of Sheffield cutlery companies. In 1919, he organized Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers Ltd, which was a combination of his own company and Joseph Elliot, Lockwood Bros, Nixon & Winterbottom, Southern & Richardson, and Thos. Turner. However, Tyzack suffered a seizure in March 1922 and he retired to London, where he died on 24 January 1925. His funeral was at Golder’s Green Crematorium.
Bad management and poor trading conditions in the 1920s ruined Tyzack’s grand merger. In the aftermath, Needham, Veall & Tyzack took over Southern & Richardson. The company survived the inter-war period and prospered after the Second World War. W.C. Veall remained a director until his death on 23 February 1941, aged 74. He was buried at Dore, leaving £7,654. The firm acquired other Sheffield names and marks: notably those of Saynor, Cooke & Ridal in 1948, Wheatley Bros, Parkin & Marshall, Hawcroft, and Brooksbank. In 1965 the firm was styled as Taylor’s Eye Witness. Ten years later, it was itself absorbed by Harrison Fisher & Co, which eventually renamed that company Taylors Eye Witness.
The company's home until 2018 was the Eye Witness Works at Milton Street in Sheffield. The Grade II listed building was the only traditional works remaining in Sheffield which still manufactured its original products at the time. Although the interior of the original factory changed, with new working practices and modern machines, the exterior of the building altered very little over the 160 years manufacturing was there. Whilst the history in the Eye Witness Works was important, it became apparent that a building of that age was not well suited to expansion and modern manufacturing. The location in the heart of Sheffield was once a selling point, but it had now become a hindrance, because of the way the layout of the city centre has evolved over the years and its atmospheric winding, steep-stepped corridors were not conducive to accessibility. So, after over a century and a half, the company moved to a new purpose-built headquarters in 2018 at 5 Parkway Close. Still firmly in Sheffield, the new building is more accessible and a streamlining and update of manufacturing processes into a single area with upgraded office space. A whole floor is now dedicated to a permanent exhibition area to display past, present and future products.
Nigel Needham is working on a One Name Study of the Needham name and his website includes more information about the Needhams as cutlers. See https://needham.one-name.net/UK%20Records/Trades/Trades_Cutlers.htm for more details.