Skip to content

By Stewart Emmens on

The World Of… Forks!

At lunchtime today, I was faced with one of those trivial, yet rather frustrating aspects of convenience food. 

Shunning those tasty looking crisps in favour of a healthy leaf salad, I queued and then paid – only to find that the post-checkout cutlery bin contained nothing but very small plastic spoons. Not a fork in sight. 

But before I get all Jeremy Clarkson, once back at the Museum a good old metal one was unearthed and the minor salad-based trauma was over. Still wish I’d gone for the crisps though…

Of course, this lunch-saving fork wasn’t actually part of our collections. And yet, there are actually quite a few that are. Especially in the more eclectic corners of the medical collections. Here’s a selection of some our more unusual… forks!

Grindall's combined knife and fork
Vice-Admiral Grindall's combined knife and fork, c1795-1820 (Science Museum)

This first one’s a bit of a cheat really. It’s a combined knife and fork developed for Sir Richard Grindall (1751-1820), a Vice-Admiral in the British Navy. 

Grindall lost his arm in a military action in 1795 and subsequently used this type of combined cutlery. Curiously, his more famous seafaring contemporary Admiral Nelson used a similar device after losing his arm a couple of years after Grindall. Designs of his so-called Nelson knife are still available today.

Artificial arm
Artificial arm with fork attachment, early 20th century (Science Museum)

Our second fork builds on this theme. When attached to the palm of this artificial arm it can be used in the conventional way and then removed at the end of the meal.

Group of forks
Group of forks, c1775-1825 (Science Museum)

Take a close look at this final group of forks. The design seems to wilfully compromise its very purpose as the prongs are almost too short to be of use. But they are poignant reminders of a hidden past.

These unusual forks were provided at mealtimes for inmates of a ‘lunatic asylum’ at the turn of the 19th century. The intention being that any potential harm to self, or others, would be limited by the shortness of the prongs.

3 comments on “The World Of… Forks!

  1. I enjoyed this post, thankyou. Very interesting. Apart from the knife-forks, do you have an early specimen (indeed even a contemporary specimen) of a Spork, which is a very useful camping utensil?

  2. Thanks Lucy Anne, glad you enjoyed the post. Sadly, a quick check of our catalogue suggests we are lacking a spork – either historic or contemporary. An oversight we really should rectify. I feel that ‘spives’ (or would they be ‘knoons’?) may well also be absent – although a future delve into the ‘World of Knives / Spoons’ may reveal otherwise!

  3. why do we even use a multi utensil like a spork, isnt it easier to use a spoon and a fork?

Comments are closed.