Stone, Benjamin (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
Stone, Benjamin

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STONE, BENJAMIN (fl. 1630–1642), sword-maker, was an enterprising cutler of London who about 1630 established on Hounslow Heath, on the site now occupied by Bedfont powder-mills, the earliest English sword factory of which anything is known. He employed English workmen under the direction of foreigners, probably Flemings, paying by the piece and finding workshops, tools, &c., as usual in the trade until recent times. His grindstones and polishing wheels were turned by a water-wheel, this being in all probability an innovation. His establishment was on a scale that enabled him to produce about a thousand swords a month. His blades were of exceptional quality. On one occasion three of his blades which were falsely represented by a rival cutler to be of Toledo manufacture were purchased by Robert South, formerly cutler by appointment to James I, who, despite fifty years' experience, did not detect the false pretence. Stone's persistent condemnation of the work of contemporary London cutlers converted them into personal and bitter enemies. Their opposition and the remote site of his factory, combined with the popular belief in the superiority of imported blades, served in course of time to ruin Stone's business, and in 1636 he was in danger of arrest for debt. He appealed to the king for protection and assistance, and was appointed blade-maker to the office of ordnance. Subsequently, upon the occasion of a contract for four thousand swords being given to his rivals, Stone attempted to claim a monopoly of supply to the royal stores; but the influence of Captain William Legge [q. v.], master of the armoury, was cast against him, and the attempt failed. The withdrawal of Charles I and the flight from London of the chief officers of ordnance, with the rest of the nobility, left Stone without protectors and with a stigma of ‘malignancy’ upon him in the midst of enemies. The parliamentary party was too poor to encourage the making of new swords, and when Waller and Hesilrige in 1643–4 appealed for two hundred horsemen's swords of Stone's Hounslow make, the appeal was met by public subscription in kind. After the civil war the factory passed to other hands, and was removed to a point lower down the river. The industry languished and ceased in the eighteenth century. The Duke of Newcastle testified both in his ‘Truth of the Sword’ and his ‘Country Captain’ (act i. scene 2) to the surpassing excellence of Hounslow blades, at a time when the mill was probably under Stone's management.

[State Papers, Domestic; Ordnance Office, Declared Accounts and Journal (Harl. MS. 429); Glover's Survey of the Hundred of Isleworth.]