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Peter Turner, Silversmith

September 14, 2018
by the gentle author

I am delighted to publish this post by Julie Price who was a graduate of my blog writing course this spring. Julie’s family were originally from the East End and consequently the capital has always held a fascination for her. Follow Julie’s Price’s View Of London.

We are now taking bookings for this autumn’s course, HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on November 10th & 11th.  Come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe, eat cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog. Click here for details

If you are graduate of my course and you would like me to feature your blog, please drop me a line.

Peter Turner

One of my relatives, Peter Turner, is a retired silversmith who lives in the village of Great Abington with his wife Ann. It is inspiring for me to have another creative person in the family, so I was keen to find out more about his work.

While visiting, I was amused to hear villagers refer to him as ‘Hatton Garden Pete.’ When I asked to see his workshop, he caught my eye with a cheeky glint as he declared, “I work in a studio darling, I’m ‘Fine Art’!”.

Peter said he had always been interested in artistic subjects at school but there was no career guidance available and boys were simply told to take a form to the Labour Exchange. He said, “I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands and the Labour Exchange gave me a form for an apprentice engraver. The apprenticeship was for four years, which was lucky because it could have been up to seven years.”

Peter was offered the apprenticeship and started work at fifteen years old at H J Greenwood & Son, a father-and-son firm in Stratford High St. Mr Greenwood, was a silversmith who was known to be one of the best at lettering. Peter remembers his strict Victorian attitude but feels lucky that he was taught by such a talented man.

Peter reminisced about Stratford sixty years ago, “I remember there being a leather shop downstairs, Woolworths was opposite and it was close to Yardleys in the Mile End Rd, with beautiful tiles depicting a lavender seller. Next to Yardleys was a knacker’s yard where they boiled bones for glue and – when they opened the vats – it stank. I used to put a hanky over my mouth!”.

“I worked on simple things there, initials on signet rings, cufflinks and bracelets,” Peter recalled. After his apprenticeship, he left to work for Gill & Stevenson in Hatton Garden. The interview was at 8:00am on a Saturday morning and he was told to bring his own tools. “The guv’nor, Ernie Stevenson was the only person there so I laid my tools out on the work bench,” Peter explained. Ernie left him some work and said, “Do what you think you can do and I will be back.”  Peter did all of it with an hour and a half to spare, so he did some other things that he noticed on the shelf.  When the ‘guv’nor’ came back, he asked Peter, “When can you start?!”.  He was chuffed because he was given £36 for the work although his weekly wage was only £11. He was only nineteen years old at the time but proudly remembers Ernie telling the other employees “This is Peter and he set his tools up himself!”.

Peter worked at Gill & Stevenson for twelve years, commuting from the village of Over in North Cambridge. He remembers, “I worked next to an old boy called Harold Fuller who was the tops in heraldry” and added, “I’ve been lucky to have had two excellent masters.”

In Hatton Garden, Peter met a gentleman who had lots of connections with major silver and antique dealers in London.  This connection led to enough extra work that he could become self-employed.

While he was self-employed Peter worked for many clients in Bond St, Hatton Garden and the silver vaults in Chancery Lane.  He also did work for the royal family. “Prince Charles brought his Mum a silver thimble and asked me to engrave it with ER II,” he recalls, “I think it was her Christmas or birthday present.”  He engraved for the Queen too.  “While she was at Sandringham,’ he explained, “she brought me a sheep’s dog whistle and I engraved it with ER II.” At this time, Joe Bugner won the European & Commonwealth Boxing Championship and Peter was asked to engrave his name onto the championship belt. Peter laughed as he confesses, “My two sons were running around the house wearing Joe Bugner’s belt on their shoulders and blowing the Queen’s sheep dog whistle at the same time!”.

I asked Peter what he was most proud of and he told me how a Jewish New York dealer had asked him to re-engrave two Paul Storr sauceboats.  When I asked who Paul Storr was, he revealed, “He used to be a silversmith – one at the top of his game. A Huguenot who came over from France or Holland with a lot of silk weavers and set up shop in East London, he is rated to be the top English silversmith ever.”

Once Peter was asked by a dealer to erase a crest and coronet from a pair of Paul Storr silver sauceboats, but the engraving was so beautiful he took a print before removing it. This was silver that Lord Lucan had sold to pay off gambling debts. Later, the Lucan family asked Peter to erase the new engraving and replace it with the original crest. Fortunately, having taken a print of the Lucan crest, he was able to do it quickly. Peter admitted to me, “The family said it was so beautiful, they could not tell the difference from the original.”

I wanted to learn the basic principles of engraving and asked Peter to give me a lesson. This is what he said, “Wipe your fingers on your forehead or chin, to get a grease deposit, then rub it onto the silver. Then take a tin of powdered chalk and rub some onto the metal with cotton wool. Mark guide lines in the chalk with something that doesn’t scratch but just leaves a mark on the chalk – I used old knitting needles. Then you look at it, ask yourself, ‘Is that right?’ When you are happy, use rules and a pair of compasses to mark the size of the lettering. Scratch through the chalk with a sharp point so marks of the letters are left, then wipe off the chalk and start, using a small chisel.”

Since retiring, Peter has now taken up wood carving and wants to make handles for gentleman’s canes. He is currently working on his first, which will be in the shape of an elephant’s head. He wants to carve another in the shape of “an heraldic dolphin, the type you would see wrapped around embankment lampposts.” I  cannot wait to visit Hatton Garden Pete and his wife again to see how the cane handles are progressing.

Peter’s design for a Dutch marriage box

Peter’s design for a crest

Examples of fonts engraved by Peter

Examples of romantic keepsakes that Peter makes for his wife each Valentine’s Day

Photographs copyright © Julie Price

You may also like to take a look at

At Derry Kean & Co, Engravers

Hatton Garden Portraits

Harry Permutt, Goldsmith

6 Responses leave one →
  1. September 14, 2018

    Peter has a wonderful talent! Valerie

  2. September 14, 2018

    What skill. A beautiful craft, silversmithing. If only, many years ago, I had been aware of it or been able to take it up.

  3. Suresh Singh permalink
    September 14, 2018

    What a ray of sunshine this beautiful craft brings. Thank You Spitalfields Life a friend for Life. Singh and Lohri Ji

  4. Paul Loften permalink
    September 14, 2018

    Thank you both GA and Julie for this most interesting story of a superb craftsman ! I wonder why people choose to buy “artistic ” made by a machine, when there is all this human history , in fact greater beauty , in something that is made by hand . Peter’s work even has his DNA included for free .
    Perhaps we should start to give computers and printers names so that bloggers of the future can write about what a machine called ” Geof or Rose” printed out . Although perhaps not .

  5. Leana Pooley permalink
    September 14, 2018

    I have very much enjoyed reading this interesting, affectionate piece. I particularly liked the useful information on how to engrave.

  6. Stella Herbert permalink
    September 14, 2018

    What a treat! Such skills. And having lived for many years near Over and now near Abington I would love to bump into Pete one day!

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