German Swordmakers

In 1691 Herman Mohll and Adam Ohlig with 17 other swordmakers and their families came to Shotley Bridge from Solingen in Prussia [now Germany].  They set up the Hollow Blade Company with a grinding, polishing and finishing mill on the River Derwent. The same year they built three storey cottages on Wood Street with inscriptions in German above the doors.

The cottages stood on this site until early 1960’s, when they were demolished under a slum clearance order.

Demand for swords reflected wars in Europe and in 1711 the fortunes of the swordmakers took a downturn with a reduced demand for blades and many faced financial difficulties.  Herman Mohll died in 1716 and left his mill to his son William who subsequently sold the mill to Robert Ohlig (son of Adam) in 1724. Another swordmaker John Leaton, a local landowner and sheepherder, owned a mill between 1726 and 1750. With the start of the Napoleonic Wars in 1785 the production of swords once again took an upturn and the mills were busy. By 1787 this upturn enabled William and Ann Oley (Ohlig) to build a new Cutlers hall, which still stands today on Cutlers Hall Road.

The upturn lasted until 1815 when the Napoleonic wars came to an end. The final sword mill closed in 1840 and it is believed it was eventually converted into a flour mill. The last sword maker Joseph Oley was buried in Ebchester churchyard, born in 1806 he died in 1896. 

Keith Fisher, a north east historian, has been researching sword making for many years and has now published his research, which includes the fascinating history of the German sword makers of Shotley Bridge. A .pdf version of his book “The Sword in the Hat” is available as a free download.

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