When I started out on my quest to discover my roots I had long known that the name MARPLES was associated with joiner’s tools. How? My Dad had a plane and a chisel on which the name appeared and he often wondered whether there was a connection to our family.


Further research rapidly turned up the firm of William Marples & Sons in Sheffield. A letter of enquiry to them was referred to a former director of the company who was also a member of the family. I was told that the firm was started by a William Marples, who was born in Baslow in 1773 (the date being calculated from his gravestone).  


At first this was a bit of a problem because there were no Williams baptised in Baslow in 1773. However there was one in 1772 and another in 1774. Better yet – they both featured in my family. There is no conclusive proof as to

which is the one who went to Sheffield and started making joiners’ tools, but I have plumped for the one baptised in 1774.


Some time later I discovered that there were two more Sheffield firms of joiners’ tool makers in the mid 19th century with possible family connections: one started by Robert Marples and the other by Joseph Marples. Was it more than just coincidence that there should be no less than three firms in Sheffield, all using the name Marples, and all making edge tools? And why were these firms all making edge tools instead of other steel products; cutlery, for example?


The trademark of William Marples & Sons


That excellent book “The Ultimate Brace” by Reg Eaton (published in 1989 by Erica Jane Publishing, ISBN 0 9514695 0 9) provides an excellent story of how the firm of William Marples & Sons was started and prospered in the early years. The ultimate brace in question being a very splendid joiner’s brace; a device for boring holes before the days of electric drills! There was much competition to produce the highest quality brace and the finest examples use brass, ebony and ivory. William Marples & Sons is said to have been founded in1828.  


Reg Eaton's book


A Unique Product of Victorian Sheffield

The back cover photo is that of an old catalogue page from William Marples & Sons. You can just make out their trademark at the bottom - the shamrock


In the meantime, in another part of Sheffield, Robert Marples, and his brother William set up in partnership in 1828 to make joiners’ tools, but the partnership did not last long for William does not appear as partner in 1838. As time went by Robert took his son into the business and they traded as Robert Marples & Son and then Marples & Co. into the 20th century.  


There was much fierce competition between these two companies – they made very similar products and used very similar names for their products. I doubt there was much love lost between them!    


The term edge tools also includes razors and here is a lovely example of an old fashioned cut throat razor with an ivory clad cover by the Robert Marples company. Note their beehive trademark in the middle picture, repeated on the original box in the bottom picture.  




Meanwhile in 1840 the third of the Marples joiner’s tool makers businesses was started, this time by Joseph Marples, who later took in his son, William, into the business and they traded as Joseph Marples & Son. Subsequent generations of the family, all bearing the name Joseph successively took the company forward.


Use of information from the 1851 and other censuses for Sheffield soon established that Robert & Joseph were brothers, being the sons of Robert Marples & Charlotte Foster. This raises the very interesting question (but sadly one for which I have no answer) of why Robert & Joseph did not go into business together, which would seem the logical thing to do. Perhaps Robert was not easy to get on with as his brother William left their partnership. I doubt that we will ever know.


Now where did Robert & Joseph’s father, Robert Marples come from? My interest in him was definitely of a high order as practically all the Robert Marples I had encountered in the 19th century, and earlier, appeared in my family tree. I could see his marriage to Charlotte Foster in Sheffield Cathedral on 20th October 1800, but there was no sign of his baptism there.


Reg Eaton supplied the confirmatory evidence is his book: on page 69 he cites the fact that in Robert’s household in the 1851 census were Elizabeth Marples, 18, and James Marples, 16, both born in Dronfield, who were not children of Robert. Inspection of my parish register extracts for Dronfield showed that Elizabeth & James were the children of Benjamin Marples & Mary Gregory. The 1851 census showed that Benjamin had been born in Calver (a hamlet of Baslow) and indeed his baptism appears in the Baslow registers, showing his parents to be Robert Marple & Ann White.


Now this Robert Marple was baptised in Baslow in 1772, the son of John & Mary Marple, who were the parents of William Marple who was the father of the founder of William Marples & Sons. Robert married Ann White in Sheffield Cathedral on 3rd June 1795. Sadly Ann died in 1800 leaving Robert with his young son Benjamin. I surmise that Robert moved to Sheffield and there married Charlotte Foster. This would make Elizabeth & James, who appear in the 1851 census, his half niece and nephew. This explanation fits all the known facts.


That makes William Marples, the founder of William Marples & Sons, the brother of the father of the other founders of tool making businesses, Robert & Joseph Marples. This, I feel goes a long way to explaining why the businesses all concentrated on making joiner’s or edge tools and why there was such intense rivalry between them.


William Marples & Sons was eventually sold to Record in the 1950s or so. Robert Marples & Son disappeared in the early 20th century, presumably having been taken over by a competitor. However, it is pleasing to report that Joseph Marples Limited is still in business today, and, better yet, is still in the family, being run today by Joseph Anthony (Tony) Marples. Click on the link below to visit their website. Tony is the 6th consecutive generation of his family to bear the name of Joseph and run the business, and indeed has baptised his young son Joseph Samuel. I wonder if one day the young lad will inherit the business and become the 7th generation so to do? Below are some of the company's product range.