Arkote History - A Cut Above

With a history stretching back over 130 years, Arkote is still a thriving and innovating business in the 21st century, making us world leaders in machine knives for the tobacco industry.

1881 1980 1980 1980 1980 1980 1980 1980 1980 1980 1980
1881
Today


P F Osborne, known to all as Percy, father of John Osborne.

Arkote Ltd is based in Parkway Rise, just outside the city of Sheffield. Over the past century the company has evolved to become one of the world’s leading suppliers of knives to the tobacco industry alongside a range of other products.

Today, Arkote continues to work with the leading machine manufacturers to develop knives which will give greater cutting efficiency and long life at reasonable cost.

The company takes its name from a contraction of the name of its parent firm: A R Heathcote & Company. The original business was formed by Albert Reaney Heathcote in 1881, and was based in Dacre Street in the Park district of Sheffield, where the Parkhill flats would later stand.

Born in the first decade of Queen Victoria’s reign, AR Heathcote had previously been a chisel and edge tool manufacturer. The first sale of tobacco knives by him was recorded on 5 April, 1881, to WD & HO Wills for the sum of £24 17 shillings. From that time on the firm would continue to supply specialist knives to makers of tobacco cutting machines. But such knives were not the only product. The company was simultaneously selling edge tools, and in addition had a flourishing business in grindstones quarried at Ackworth near Pontefract.

Though the business prospered until the First World War, it soon declined as its founder grew older, and the worldwide economic slump of the 1930s arrived.

Meanwhile, in August 1919, A R Heathcote, then already aged 75, had taken Percy F Osborne into partnership and a limited company was formed. Mr Heathcote was now Chairman and Mr Osborne, who had previously been works manager for J Riley Carr, was Managing Director.

Samuel Staniforth?s circa 1900.

Following Mr Heathcote’s death in 1941 at the remarkable age of 97, Mr Osborne became the sole owner of the company and assumed the Chairmanship. During the period between the two world wars the company’s activities had undergone a significant change. The edge tool business had disappeared and now the main activity was the manufacture of knives for the tobacco industry. The company had also extended its activities into the manufacture of machine knives for the paper, metalworking and woodworking industries.

A new factory had been opened in Sydney Street, Sylvester Gardens, in 1934. P Sidney Osborne joined the company in the same year, followed by John Osborne in 1939.

It had been decided by then to consolidate production and sales by concentrating all activities connected with the tobacco industry at Arkote whilst A R Heathcote took over all the companies’ other products.

Arkote moved into its new premises at Hawk Works, Mary Street, in 1962, where it operated as an entirely separate entity from A R Heathcote under the direction of John Osborne and Percy Osborne’s grandson, Joe Truelove.

In the course of the Second World War the products of the company were essential to the war effort: in addition to knives the company also manufactured Primer Cap Plates (PCPs) which were used in the manufacture of percussion caps, and tank turret doors which were supplied to Vauxhall Motors. After the war, the company continued to expand and diversify. The demand for its products was such that by 1950 it had become necessary to acquire more manufacturing space. In the meantime there had been a revolutionary change in the method of cutting tobacco: this involved a totally different type of knife being used which in turn meant the need for new machinery and new methods of production. As a consequence, in June 1950 Arkote Ltd was formed. It began operation in Hope Valley and continued there until 1955.

Production was moved back to Sheffield when it became difficult to recruit local labour. There, Arkote produced the modern types of tobacco cutting knives which were still marketed under the old and respected name of Heathcote.

Percy F Osborne died in 1961. Sidney Osborne succeeded him as Chairman of A R Heathcote Ltd whilst John Osborne became Chairman and Managing Director of Arkote Ltd.

Sydney Osborne, John Osborne and Joe Truelove.

In 1969, AR Heathcote & Company was sold to Balfour Darwins Limited, after which it had various owners before finally ceasing manufacturing.

Arkote, however, had a happier future. In 1979, Arkote acquired Samuel Staniforth Limited, an old-established Sheffield cutlery forge. As a consequence, for the next two decades Arkote became one of the main manufacturers of trade knives used in the catering and meat industries. That business was sold by Arkote in 1999.

In the meantime, after a very serious fire at the Hawk Works, in 1985, the efforts made by the whole workforce at Arkote to get production restarted illustrated the wonderful corporate spirit of the business. No customers were let down, and indeed very few were even aware how close Arkote had been to disaster. Many of the staff have very long service records and it has been said ‘Arkote workers don’t leave, they retire’.

In 2002, Chairman John Osborne and Managing Director Joe Truelove took the decision to sell the business and in December 2002 the company was bought by Fi-Tech Inc of Richmond Virginia, in the USA.

Little would change, however: John Osborne remained as a Director until 2007, when Arkote regretfully accepted his decision to resign in order to fully enjoy his retirement. Mr Osborne’s contributions to the business are still apparent today. 

Fi-Tech is owned by the Bassett family. The company had been the distributor for Arkote products in the USA and Canada since 1980 - although its Chairman Lee Bassett had been involved with the distribution of Arkote products since 1967. 

The Fi-Tech company is the supplier of a well known range of Adamantine Grinding Wheels and Discs, first introduced to the tobacco industry in 1967. These electroplated abrasive tools made to original manufacturers’ specifications are utilised in all cigarette-makers and tippers, and contain either high quality industrial diamond or Borazon®, a synthetic diamond material manufactured by the General Electric Corporation in the USA.

Fi-Tech Inc. is involved in the supply of capital equipment and spares to the non-woven fabric and synthetic fibre industries. A new company, Fi-Tech Europe, now operates from the Arkote’s premises to supply spare parts and machinery to UK and Europe.

Meanwhile, close links with special steel technology, and the ability to implement new advances in the manufacturing programme, have been the key factors in the continuing success of the Arkote range of knives.

Yet, although the most modern techniques play an important part in production, the eye and the hand of the craftsman still remain vital in determining the quality of the finished product.

Arkote?s heat treatment Department.
The automatic polishing department.

The Fi-Tech company is the supplier of a well known range of Adamantine Grinding Wheels and Discs, first introduced to the tobacco industry in 1967. These electroplated abrasive tools made to original manufacturers’ specifications are utilised in all cigarette makers and tippers, and contain either high quality industrial diamond or Borazon®, a synthetic diamond material manufactured by the General Electric Corporation in the USA. A modern and environmentally-friendly process is used to manufacture these wheels and discs.

Meanwhile back in Sheffield close links with special steel technology and the ability to implement new advances in the manufacturing programme have been the key factors in the continuing success of the Arkote range of knives.

Yet although the most modern techniques play an important part in the Arkote production programme, the eye and the hand of the craftsman remain vital in determining the quality of the finished product.

Arkote?s Directors 2012, L-R: Peter Oxspring (Financial Director), Jeff Bassett (Director), Lee Bass

The present factory, utilising rolled alloy steel and having continuous electric furnaces and automatic grinding and polishing equipment, is a far cry from the early production methods. Strict quality control throughout all processes ensures consistency in size, temper and finish. Arkote products are recognised worldwide for their trouble-free performance and built-in efficiency.

As well as producing knives for primary and secondary cigarette production, the company also offers a range of cigar cutting knives and a re-grinding service for cork cutters. Arkote is also able to supply a complementary range of knife grinding products used both in the primary and making/tipping areas of a tobacco manufacturing facility.

High quality bonded abrasive wheels made to original manufacturers’ specifications can be supplied for most model tobacco-cutters. The Diamond Dressers required to dress these wheels are also supplied by Arkote. A world leader in its niche market Arkote, exports up to 90 per cent of its production to over 80 countries. To complement its high quality products Arkote also provides a prompt and
reliable delivery service worldwide.

Due to the growth in the business, a decision to move from Hawk Works to larger premises was now taken. New premises were being planned just off the Parkway. The developers, J F Finnegan, were happy to customise one of the new units to Arkote’s specification and the move took place in October 2008.

The following year Arkote added another string to its bow. Joseph Pickering Ltd was established in 1824 as a manufacturer of polish. It later moved into the manufacture of boxes for packaging. Arkote was a customer for Pickering’s specialist ‘stitched’ boxes and when the company went into receivership in 2009 Arkote acquired the wire stitched box part of the company. Arkote now manufactures its own boxes, and also sells boxes to customers who previously bought from Pickerings.
     
Stepping outside of the tobacco industry, in 2015 Hardy UK Ltd was added to the ever growing group. Specialising in the design and manufacture of a comprehensive range of helical blades for leather shaving and fleshing to the global leather industry, the Hardy UK home is moments from the historic docks of Liverpool, UK. Arkotes ownership of Hardy UK consolidates a reputation garnered over more than a century and adds a drive and enthusiasm required for evolution based on innovative technologies and sustainable manufacturing.
     
Then, in the early part of 2016 Arkote acquired HMK Ltd of Congleton, Cheshire. The two businesses have a long standing relationship, supplying Tungsten Carbide knives to the Tobacco industry and the HMK acquisition expands the total product scope and provides security for the future of HMK.
      
With a history now stretching back over 130 years Arkote and our group companies are still thriving and innovating businesses in the 21st century.

Content courtesy of “Nostalgic Memories of Sheffield”. With addendum by Rob Andrews 2017.

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