English scythe making traditions at Issac Nash Ltd

Many of you who have an interest in country crafts will know of the many regional county patterns of billhooks that developed over centuries of use.  A similar diversity of scythe patterns were also once available. Issac Nash manufactured scythes in a number of regional patterns from little 18inch (46cm) Briar to a great 56 inch (142cm) broad heeled Devon.  The farmers in Norfolk called for a scythe with a broad heel while in the south of England, they liked the longer type known as “London Grass” (a throwback to the days when the meadows aroundLondonwere mown by the country folk to feed a large horse population in the city.) ‘Crown’ scythes, as made in Belbroughton, Worcs. by Issac Nash from 1842 to 1939, became popular because they would not snap, they were easy to sharpen and held their edge for longer. Crown scythes were so named as the blade is forged along its midline so that it presents a concave surface to the ground and has a ‘crowned’ upper face.

Issac Nash 36" best crown blade with patent ball-joint fitting

These quality blades were not made of a single piece of stamped metal like cheaper inferior blades, but a forged laminate of four separate strips of iron and steel.  This was a multi-staged process involving many differently skilled scythesmiths.

The hardened core of the blade was a strip of ‘shear’ steel which would form the cutting edge. Mild ductile steel was laminated around the core to support and strengthen the blade and form the raised back edge and tang. Whilst the initial stages of forging a English crown blade are not dissimilar to those used to shape Austrian blades, the finishing processes differ.  Austrian blades are hammered to a much finer degree and the edge drawn out and work-hardened by peening.  English crown blades were hardened by heating and tempering and the edge profile formed on a large diameter sandstone grinding wheel. The primary bevel is ground on the underside of the blade. The finished English blade once hardened, tempered and set will not take peening: the core steel is too hard and brittle. Sharpening can only be achieved with a stone. The structure of crown blades does make them easier to maintain than cheaper blades as all the whetstone had to do was to rub the soft covering of iron to reveal and put an edge on the thin hardened steel core.

Crown blades were probably the best quality hand crafted English blades made but are not as refined as Austrian blades and are more than twice the weight. The simpler and therefore cheaper ‘Patent’ scythe blade (patented 1791), with the stamped blade and riveted rib, was manufactured in large numbers by Tyzack in Sheffield until the 1970s (30 years after crown blade forging ceased). Patent blades are of similar weight to crown blades.

Tyzack Horseman brand patent riveted blade

Issac Nash ltd merged with toolmakers Joseph Tyzack Ltd in 1942 to become Nash Tyzack industries Ltd. The demand for scythes and other hand tools after the war fell as most farms had become fully mechanised and as a result the Belbroughton factory finally closed in 1967.  By 1972 the old company names of Nash & Tyzack as well as Brades, Elwell and others were subsumed by mergers and takeovers into Spear & Jackson plc.

Information taken from ‘The Scythemen of Belbroughton’ by Dorothy Cope, a nicely researched and written booklet published by, and available from, the Belbroughton History Society.

Images from an original Issac Nash catalogue.

13 thoughts on “English scythe making traditions at Issac Nash Ltd

  • Hi there. Our future son-in-law who is a police officer and lives at Calcot Hill is interested in buying a sythe made by Isaac Nash of Belbroughton. Where could I obtain one of these, I know the company ceased trading in 1970, but any help would be welcome. Best wishes Mick Caulton.

    • Not for sale but I have one (near Bristol). I’ve just been on a scything course and I took it along for expert advice. It attracted great interest, and after the briefest of honings it cut grass easily – first time in over 30 years (the time I’ve owned it). I’ve just started researching its model type. Blade (rivetted) is 33″ from tip to base. I think it’s pretty old and original because a former owner has made some ‘bodge’ repairs using handmade nails as wedges. A farmer no doubt. Someone else has made another ‘repair’ using modern baling twine – definitely a farmer!
      The two handles look like modern replacements and are about knackered.
      I’ll probably renew them. The old Woodworm holes ought to be treated too I guess, and all the wood with preservative.

  • Issac Nash produced a lot of scythes in their heyday before WW2. These do turn up from time to time in farm sales and on ebay, (The ball-jointed example in this post was from ebay).

  • I came across the occupation of “harter in a forge” in a census transcript while tracing a family tree involving ancestors in Belbroughton.
    As a retired engineer I assume that it was the process of preparing the centre lamination of high carbon tool steel for “sandwiching” between the lower carbon outer laminations. I would be obliged if anyone can confirm this.

    It was in the 1861 census for a man named Thomas Cole.

    • Geoff
      I cannot see any reference to ‘Harter’ in the Belbroughton History Society book “The Scythemen of Belbroughton”. As you say probably to do with a hardening process (from German word?). Scythe blade processes described in the book in order: forging, plating,planishing,hardening,tempering,grinding,glazing (polishing), packing.
      Well known family names mentioned in the book included Coley and Cope but not Cole.
      I hope this helps.
      For an excellent film of the Issac Nash forge in 1967 see http://www.macearchive.org/films/atv-today-24051965-belbroughton-forge

  • Hardly imagined that when I started researching the Timmins family of Belbroughton for a colleague today that I would be looking at a site to do with Scythe making 🙂 It must be highly probable that the Timmins family worked for Isaac Nash and one is even described as a “labourer in Scythe works”!

    • Hello David If you want to research the Timmins family at Belbroughton there are the Isaac Nash employment record ledgers at the Worcester Record Office. My forefathers were scythe forge men working for Isaac Nash at Townsend Forge before he moved to Belbroughton. I have two sickles made by Isaac Nash and trying to find a scythe, possibly stamped with Waldron, which would indicate it was an early example.

  • I have a Nash scythe head with the Patent ball joint, I see there is an image on this site, unable to read the Patent number on mine, anyone let me know what the number is.

    Museum of Gardening

  • When I worked on a farm in the 60s nettels and thistles in the cider orchards wre cut with a sythe a lot of the pastures were nothing but this is as there were then no sprays to control them so sytheing was done on a piece work basis to earn extra money. They all called the sythe Isaac .

  • Hi
    I found this a good read very interesting my Great Grand Father and his brother Plus his Older Children worked in Newtown Forge / Nash Works Forge Lane Belbroughton in late 1800s and my grand Farther worked in the Grinding mill which I think was called Drayton Mill as a Grinder on the old Mill Wheels.
    My family goes back for years and lived in the village and its surrounding Village Chaddesley Corbett.
    I have Photos of the Scythe Men which includes my Great Grand Farther and His Brother in it and the Jesse Price Master Forge Man with his brothers and Walter Coley Who was also a Master Forge Man and also he was a Licensee at the Queens Head Hotel (PUB) in Belbroughton

    Most of the Forge Men would gather at the Queens Head Hotel on a evening and played in a Bowling Team there
    J Perrins

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