Thomas Tillotson, the founder of this business, had been born in Gainsborough and became linked by marriage to the family of Peter Spurr. By 1774, he was in Lambert Street, but by 1781 had moved to Coalpit Lane (Cambridge Street). His firm specialised in table knives, using the trade mark ‘ALBION’. Thomas Tillotson became Master Cutler in 1789. He died on 26 October 1803 and was buried at St Peter’s churchyard (Derby Mercury, 3 November 1803). He had a large family, which included four sons – George, John, Thomas, and William (Clay, 1894-6). Thomas’s family was baptised at St Peter’s and piecing together information from its registers (and using baptismal dates as a proxy for births) the life dates of the brothers were apparently: John (1765-1838), Thomas (1769-1797), William (1774-1798), and George (1778-1825). Their apprenticeships (and Freedoms) as cutlers can be traced in Leader (1905-06): John (Freedom 1787), William (1788), Thomas (1791), and George (1798). By 1797, the business was listed as Thomas Tillotson & Sons.
Thomas Sen., Thomas Jun., and William (the latter both bachelors) had died by 1803, so that the two surviving brothers – John and George – carried forward the family name. John may have been associated with John Wreaks in scissors maker Wreaks & Tillotson (active in the 1790s). After his father’s death, John took over the family firm in 47 Coalpit Lane. By the late 1820s, the business had been renamed John Tillotson & Son, merchants and manufacturers of scissors and table knives, butchers’ steels, and dealers in edge tools and files. John became Master Cutler in 1810. During the 1820s, George operated a separate business as a merchant and manufacturer of table knives and scissors in Carver Street. George Tillotson became Master Cutler in 1817. He died on 21 June 1825, aged 47, and was buried in Ecclesall churchyard. His business ceased trading. The brothers had married into the Knowles family of Gomersal (Clay, 1894-6) and George had a son: Charles Knowles Tillotson (1811-1872). However, he spent most of his life (like his uncle) in York Lunatic Asylum, where he died on 1 November 1872, leaving a fortune of nearly £10,000 (Sheffield Independent, 30 July 1853).
In 1831, John Tillotson handed over the direction of the Coalpit Lane business to his sons – Thomas Knowles Tillotson (1801-1878) and John Knowles Tillotson (1803-1852). John died on 30 March 1838, aged 73, and was interred in St Paul’s churchyard. In the 1841 Census, his sons were enumerated as merchants living in a house in Glossop Road. In 1840, T. & J. Tillotson had a New York office with Edward Marshall in Platt Street. By 1850, this office was in John Street in Thomas’s name, because in 1843 John had withdrawn from the business. John died at Scarborough on 7 December 1852, aged 49.
By 1852, Tillotson was at Columbia Place, Suffolk Road – once the location of Bowie maker John Brown & Co. Thomas became involved with this trade. Several Tillotson Bowie knives stamped ‘Columbia Place’, have survived. Flayderman (2004) shows a fine example, hafted in pearl, with ‘Gold Hunter’s Knife’ acid-etched across the blade. Despite these examples of the cutler’s art, Thomas ended his partnership with Marshall in 1857. He recruited another partner, John Kent Turner (John Walters), but three years later Thomas vacated Columbia Place (Sheffield Independent, 17 November 1860). Wm. Harmar liquidated Tillotson’s New York stock. Perhaps Thomas felt that the transatlantic business had peaked (the American Civil War was on the horizon); or he had simply made enough money. In 1850, he had married in Brewood, near Wolverhampton, Charlotte Simpson (1827-1913) – a woman half his age, who was related to the local squirearchy. After a lavish wedding and honeymoon in Italy, they moved into Mount Pleasant, Sharrow – one of the finest eighteenth-century houses in Sheffield. By 1861, he had retired to Aston cum Aughton, near Rotherham. Later the couple moved to Whatton House, Long Whatton, Leicestershire, where Thomas settled into the life of a country squire (he was a deputy lieutenant and county magistrate). He died at his home on 3 January 1878, aged 76. His estate was valued at under £40,000.