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Paper Knife

circa 1800

This wooden paper knife topped with an owl’s head originally belonged to the hatmaker Thomas Henshaw. This Oldham businessman left money in his will to found both the Blue Coat School and Henshaw’s Society for Blind People.

In the early 1800s Oldham was a noted hat manufacturing town and Thomas Henshaw owed his vast wealth to his success as a hat manufacturer. This paper knife is decorated with an owl – the traditional symbol of Oldham.

At his death in 1810 Thomas Henshaw left over £40,000 to establish a school for local children. The will was contested by some of his relatives and Oldham’s Bluecoat School finally opened in 1834. His will also provided for the foundation of an asylum for the blind and the organisation continues today as Henshaw’s Society for Blind People.