Meat cleaver returns home to Longton Market – after being discovered 3,000 miles away

Published: Monday, 8th January 2018

This meat cleaver made its way more than 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to the United States from Longton Market – but how, when and why remains a mystery.

It was recently purchased by American George Short for $100 at an antiques shop in Lunenburg, a small town with a population of 1,300 in the state of Vermont. The cleaver has an engraved plaque on it, which reads: 'Presented by David Shemilt Esq for cleanest and best dressed stall of meat in Longton Market, awarded to Thomas Rushton, Fulford.’

After carrying out some online research, Mr Short, of New Hampshire, got in touch with Stoke-on-Trent City Council and arranged for the cleaver to be flown back to its "rightful home" in the Potteries. Now staff at the council-run market are appealing to members of the public to shed some light on the cleaver with a view to putting it back on display in the building along with the story behind it. It is believed it was presented at some point between 1894 and 1904.

Mr Short said: "My wife and I were returning from an antiquing trip to St Johnsbury, Vermont, and by chance stopped in Lunenburg to see what the Briggs Antiques had to offer. Upon entering this very small shop, I saw the cleaver on the back wall near the window. The brass plaque was not immediately apparent, but when I picked up the cleaver it became the focus of my attention.

"It spoke of a history that sparked a host of questions about a different time, place and people. After negotiating a price, I carried my prize home to Lancaster, New Hampshire and began the research to determine who, what, where, when and how. I was able to answer very few of the questions, but the research did lead me to the city council, which very helpfully facilitated the return of Thomas Rushton’s cleaver to its rightful home. How it arrived in the United States remains a mystery, but Mr Rushton’s cleaver belongs in Longton Market."

Through her own research, Julia Smith, a market development officer at the city council, has uncovered information on the cleaver. However, there are still important pieces of the story missing, including how it ended up in the United States in the first place.

Julia said: "We got a message on our council market Facebook page from Mr Short who had searched for Longton and Fulford on the internet and came across us. He was asking for more information about a meat cleaver he had bought and when I started to look into it, it became apparent quite quickly that this was an exciting piece of Longton Market’s history.

“According to the dealer, the family who brought it in had said the cleaver belonged to their ancestors who had emigrated from the UK but the surviving descendants saw no use to it so sold it. I’ve done a lot of research on the cleaver and found several leads but we still don’t know how it ended up in the United States – did a member of the Rushton family go over there with it or was it simply that it was picked up by an American tourist while visiting England?

“We know we had a Thomas Rushton working in the market in 1907 who died in 1915 aged 49, and we know there was a butcher called Thomas Rushton living at Olde House Farm in Fulford around that time, so the cleaver was most likely presented in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Why it was presented, whether it was an annual prize for example, is unclear.”

Councillor Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, transport and heritage, said: “It’s quite amazing how this meat cleaver, presented in Longton Market, ended up in a small antique shop on the other side of the Atlantic. There could be a great story behind its journey and we are hoping the public can help us fill in the blanks before we put this fantastic piece of the market’s history back on display where it belongs.”

The council’s markets team is looking for more information on:

  • The background of David Shemilt Esq;
  • Which member of the Rushton family, if any, travelled to America;
  • When the presentation of the cleaver took place and what the occasion was.

Anyone with information on the history behind the cleaver is asked to contact Julia Smith at julia.smith@stoke.gov.uk or telephone 01782 233148.