19th century Hornworking in Bewdley

Hornworking in Bewdley continued after the 18th century. Two local families, the Lankersters and Humpherstons continued the trade into the 19th century. The former Snuff Mill, in Golden Valley, changed its purpose and was used to cut the teeth of combs. A trade card of the last horn works run by the Humpherston Family shows the variety of products manufactured in the 19th century. These included powder horns and flasks, combs, shoehorns, spoons and containers for salt, pepper and tobacco. The hornworking industry declined, like other Wyre Forest trades, when horn ceased to be used by consumers for everyday items.

17th and 18th Century Hornworking in Bewdley

By the late 17th century, hornworking was well-established in Bewdley. The property of one horn worker, which is described in an inventory of 1676, shows that he had commercial connections with Birmingham, Gloucester and London. The Gloucester Port Books for the late early 18th century reveal that horns and manufactured products made from horn were transported up and downstream.

Domestic and Industrial Demand for Horn

By the 17th century, horn was used for a range of domestic wares used by working families such as combs, cutlery and drinking cups. Horn lanthorns or lanterns were in widespread demand given their translucency and fireproof qualities. The growth of spectacle wearing also led to a rising demand for horn frames. Horn also had industrial applications. Horn combs were used to dress or clean wool and flax by hand before it was spun. This was a skilled task which was not mechanised until the 19th century.

Hornworking and Local Trades

Hornworking was a by-product of other economic activities in the Wyre Forest. Bewdley was a market centre for the cattle trade and its tanneries provided a plentiful supply of the raw material – cattle horns – for the industry.


Image: Showcase displaying the products of the local hornworking industry in Bewdley Museum.

The showcase represents a reconstruction of the shop window of G J Humpherson and Son, Hornworker, Bewdley (established in 1749).


Horn-made objects are no longer in daily use, but before the 20th century, they served many purposes. Cattle and deer horns were turned into a household items and products used in the textile industry. Horn working was one of many traditional crafts which operated in Bewdley for several centuries. The industry was even significant enough to experience a degree of mechanisation when the Snuff Mill outside of the town, was adapted to cut the teeth of combs. Like other local trades, horn working declined because of a fall in demand. The history of the trade is illustrated by photographs of artefacts and displays held at Bewdley Museum.