Benjamin Creswick must have regarded the Cutlers Hall commission as his personal property from the moment it was announced. After all, he had been apprenticed as a grinder to a cutler in Sheffield before health problems forced him to change to Art, so he knew the trade uniquely well.
Creswick was a protege of Ruskin and was establishing his London studio when the the Cutler's Company was evicted from its ancient Hall near Cannon Street by the construction of the Metropolitan Line in 1886. A new site was bought in Warwick Lane and their architect, T. Taylor Smith, produced Neo-Jacobean designs.
Creswick used terracotta, a favourite material of Ruskin's, to create a frieze dedicated to the dignity of manual labour, with added social comment.
A man takes a box of the finished blades to the next process...
Apparently, Creswick intended the frieze to be an accurate portrayal of modern cutlers, but all it does is expose how mired in tradition the Sheffield table-trade cutlers were. It was the late 1880s and everything is muscle-powered from the forge bellows to the lathe. There is some line shafting in the Grinding panel that hints at steam power but otherwise the entire process seems to be unchanged from the previous century. Some of the workers are even wearing knee breeches.
Sheffield's tableware makers resolutely refused to modernise and were undercut first by the Germans and finally by the Chinese. Today just one remains, William Turner, and ironically the company was founded in 1887, the very year Creswick made this frieze.