To be born with a silver spoon in your mouth is to be born of privilege. To be born with a nickel-silver spoon like this in your family is to be born of the working class – but no less richer for it.
This large tablespoon weighs 61 grams, feels solid to hold and the handle sits neatly in the palm of your hand – although even small hands could grip it with ease. It has worn with age and the rim of the spoon feels sharp to the touch. It has been in our family for over a hundred years but is still used to dish out some delicious baked goods.
Despite its age and heavy use, you can still make out a faint stamp on the handle, S.S.P&C Co Ltd. This links it to the Sheffield company who made Nickel & Silver Plated cutlery and were active at Globe Works, Green Lane from 1877 to 1898.
Nickel Silver (sometimes stainless steel) is the base metal onto which silver is plated. Despite its name, nickel silver contains no silver at all but is an alloy of Nickel, Zinc & Copper. Whatever silver there was has long since been rubbed off. The Term used to describe this is EPNS.
This 1-ounce spoon was used by Nana Mac – who served as a cook most of her life in the big houses in North Wales and Cheshire, feeding families such as textile merchant Robert Barbour in Bolesworth Castle, and industrialist Sir Henry Robertson at Pale Hall.
Life would have been tough for Nana Mac, in her first job as a scullery maid at the local big house, Pale Hall, Bala, Wales, as her daughter Betty recounts:
“Cook. Dreadful woman who kicked if stone corridors were not scrubbed by 8am.”
Here are some words from Jan Scott, Nana Mac’s grand-daughter:
“In 1901 Pale Hall had an amazing number of servants – 10 in all plus a governess and gardener. All these people to look after a a family of six.
“Nana Mac started work in 1898 as a scullery maid and was still a scullery maid in the 1901 census. However, she must have progressed to eventually becoming a Cook as she next appears in the 1911 Census working at St Martin’s, Hooton in Chester as the Cook. Her next job, according to family records was at Bolesworth Castle between 1912 -1914 also as a cook. I’ve always wondered how she got these jobs – it must have been word of mouth and her reputation – especially to land a job at Bolesworth Castle.
“She married in 1915 aged 31. Her daughter, Betty was born in 1920 but there are no records to show if she worked after her marriage.
What we don’t know is who worked out that a heaped tablespoon was the equivalent of an ounce? Was that by design or good luck? Perhaps it’s something you only discover with years and years of use.”
Nana Mac was not born of privilege, as this other story explains. But real wealth doesn’t come from the spoon, but what was made with the spoon. Over the decades, the spoon has been used by three generations of women to flollop flour, butter, and sugar into mixing bowls – and make some delicious cherry buns. In fact, recent scientific research indicates that the spoon could have helped manufacture over ONE MILLION CHERRY BUNS* during its one hundred year life.
So what is the role of the cherry bun? In our family, it’s what marks special occasions and helps to keep us all together. Nana Mac’s daughter, Betty Sparling, was a strong believer of this, and we can still smell the warm notes of baked flour and sweet cherries in her kitchen – and the sound of the spoon in the mixing bowl. Betty passed away July 4th 2014, and at her funeral, her grand-daughter read the following words:
“Thinking about Noo, there are so many stories that come to mind. But for me, there is one legacy that stands out.
Noo, Nana Mac’s daughter, was much loved for her cherry buns, a gift she took from her mum. And although Nana Mac wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth, we think that this nickel-plated spoon (and a million cherry buns) helped to make this family much, much richer.
*Number of buns could be an exaggeration