The following account is a transcription of a commentary describing slides taken during the restoration of part of the maintenance building at Wortley Top Forge. The very lively and detailed commentary is by Ken Hawley, recorded by Bert Crookes in November 1991.
The description is intended to be as brief and concise as possible but will hopefully give glimpses of the magnitude of the task, Ken Hawley, the custodian of Wortley Top Forge says that it would have been impossible without:-
a) the experience and expertise of Albert Cooper (Toby) (his ability to move very heavy weights with little equipment);
b) his son John Cooper's knowledge and expertise in building work and
c) the very enthusiastic, resourceful band of workers.
Many people came and went (including Francis Evans and various students from Sheffield Polytechnic) but the other regulars were:- David and Elsie Jeffery, Emily Hawley, Grandma Cooper, Madge Cooper, Flo Moxon and her son, David Moxon, Jim Ellam, three of John Cooper's ex scouts - Gary, John and Graham - Willie Bailey, Brian and Alan Scott, Dennis Broadbent, Alan Biggs, Bill (who worked with David Jeffery), "Fuzz" Bill Ferrat and Duncan Smith. 'Me ladies receive special commendation for the tremendous backing they gave to the Wortley Workers enabling them to 'get on with the job'.
Perhaps you will look at the maintenance building with different eyes on your next visit. The slides are an evergreen interest.
I hope that all the regulars who helped with the first stage have been included. M.I.C.
The group of people who had made a start an the restoration of Wortley Top Forge met on Sunday and Tuesday evenings.
When the dam had been cleared they looked round for something to do indoors during the dark evenings.
What seemed to be a pile of scrap metal had been dumped at some stage; really the parts of a Gas Work's Steam engine from Neepsend. The men decided to sort it out, clean it, paint it and put it together again. Relatively small pieces 4' and 5' long were taken into the cottage, where there was a coal fire. The cottage, however, was too small for the big pieces. Where could they go?
The Blacksmiths, Joiners end of the Maintenance Buildings was a roofless ruin; the slates, timbers and floorboards of the first floor had been sold in the past (pre S.T.H.S.). The roof joists were rotten; the first floor walls were down to the window ledges. The ground floor was full of rubbish 4' deep. Nevertheless they decided to use that place and restore it, if they could.
Ken says that somehow someone seemed to be looking after them, things worked in their favour. They had nothing - no money or equipment (Just boundless enthusiasm) but something always seemed to turn up when they were in need.
One Saturday morning a man called at Ken's shop and told him that a building in Solly Street had to be demolished; that they could have the timber but they'd have to get it that weekend (i.e. an the Sunday). At that time Ken made a round trip in his Estate cat to pick people up and take them to Wortley. That Sunday they headed for Solly Street; pulled out timbers, from the wrecked building, stacked them by the roadside then loaded them into a borrowed small pick-up truck which carted the timber to Wortley. The biggest timbers were 6" or 8" square, cross-section by 20' long. they were now beginning to acquire material! By a lucky chance some corrugated sheet steel destined for scrap arrived at the forge the following week.
John Cooper thought they could put some 20' timbers across the walls, cover them with these sheets to provide shelter for work below but would also be a floor for work above - a brilliant idea!
About six timbers had to be hauled up; John, Ken, David and others lifted one end, With rope, to the first wall; (standing on rotting first floor supports). Then the beam had to be hauled bodily up and across to the other wall 20' away.
The weather was superb, very warm and sunny; some of the ladies were sitting outside the cottage watching; Grandma Cooper asked Emily Hawley to help her to go inside as she couldn't bear to watch such dangerous antics.
One Sunday they were working inside when a man appeared and asked what they were doing; they explained but said they needed more big timbers. He said "There's some at ah place, you can 'ave 'em."
The place was Stairfoot Chemical Works (buildings 40' high) - they were told they'd have to get the timbers out of the buildings themselves; the building.-, were still intact, complete with roofs, the men would have to demolish them (would it be allowed today?). Their equipment was chains given by Mr. Walker!! It was a seemingly impossible task but Albert was there!! He had been a 'Task man' in a colliery and could virtually move anything (however heavy or however limited the space) - anywhere. Nothing was impossible for Albert he just got on with things.
A hole had been knocked in a wall, Albert spotted a weakness in the timber roof support and attached a chain, - he found a railway line 2-3 feet down in the filthy rubble, secured the chain and using his Sylvester (a pulling device) between the bottom and top chains tightened the chains - first came the dirt, then the roof went slates were flying everywhere (a group of W I ladies, once viewing the slides, put their hands over their heads and ducked at that point - the slide was so realistic) they were able to pick out the timbers they needed.
The timbers were also pulled from another building, John and Ken were 40' up - 15' above the upper floor level - balancing on two beams (very precarious). They had to knock out bricks from the side walls to demolish the end wall round the timbers - working in a big V shape - 18" x 10" x 40' timbers - very, very heavy. They were dropped from the high roof line to the first floor - manoeuvred through the windows to 30' below: - seemingly impossible but reasonable when it was worked out - using chains; the ratcheting level moving an inch at a time - In quartet of an hour past point of balance - moved out and down.
A handy 40 gallon oil drum was used - one end of the beam lowered to the ground, the other end lifted by ropes - bricks put underneath, then the drum was rolled under. Used judiciously it was like a see-saw, balanced and easy to move. The 40' beam-,, cut in two, were big enough for the joiners shop floor.
Back at the forge the men made holes in the walls of the Blacksmiths' shop and using blocks and timbers in situ were able to swing the old beams out and to the ground. They used the same technique in reverse to get the new beams in to make the floor (the spaces were filled in afterwards).
The timber from Staitfoot provided almost all the wood for renewal. The spare large pieces were cut down to smaller sizes - nothing was wasted.
A chain saw and a portable electric circular saw had been given to the workers' when the need was made known and they were tremendously useful and did sterling service.
All the transport was voluntary. Chapeltown Scouts' Van and someones' father-in-law's van moved all the wood etc. from Stairfoot.
Bill Bailey (Secretary S.T.H.S.) had a friend, Roy Johnson, (the Societies' Honorary Architect) who had written a thesis about an early cast iron roof in one of Jedediah Strutts Cotton Mills at Millford, Derbyshire. The building was to be demolished. Bill acquired certain sections of this unique cast iron roof, because the span was the same as the roofless joiners shop and they were stored at Wortley Top Forge. Thus a very important roof truss system would be preserved and there was the framework for a new roof. He had the foresight to make sure that the castings were marked with the 1817 date cast in.
The girders which had been stored for about fifteen years were pulled out with the Sylvester. They looked like a giant meccano set. The girders each weighed about a ton and the connecting beams each weighed about 3 cwts. It was difficult to appreciate which part went where as this was only a section of the whole roof gun. It was trial and error with these heavy pieces to co-ordinate the linking holes. There were top right and bottom left bolt holes or top left and bottom right holes. Had they been given the right castings?
They spread it all out in the cottage garden. There were four main girders and ten short connecting ones.
It was a puzzle but they solved it (Later confirmed by a photograph of the original roof structure which proved they were right).
Once more there was the problem of lifting the tremendous weight into the air and getting it into the right position (manhandling - no lifting gear but very resourceful people). The long sections each weighed over a ton and each one had to be manoeuvred 20' up into the air.
Albert was always totally confident that things could be done, this inspired the others and gave them confidence. They pulled, lifted, shoved as directed and it all happened. An enormous ramp was made (using two "halves' of beams from Stairfoot). They went from the ground to a high window space. Cross laths were nailed onto the left beam to make a ladder; steel sheets were nailed to the parallel right beam; there were lifting blocks at the top. The castings were levered sideways over the timbers and pulled up with a chain. Near the top a spike was driven through the nose so that it wouldn't slide back. At the point of balance there was one ton of weight in the air at 45° the castings had to go over the very, very rickety floor-roof, which was extremely unstable. (It moved up and down and swayed about if one person walked across). Initially four tons of metal went across.
Albert put two builders planks across this floor in the required direction, they pulled with the chain. At midpoint the casting rocked down then a piece of telegraph pole, (unearthed by Albert) was put underneath and the whole thing tolled forward easily.
The men followed Albert's directions implicitly and it always worked out in a brilliant way.
So, the roof framework was there but no slates (and no money). This was a major problem. Ken contacted the department which dealt with Unsafe Buildings and Demolition at Sheffield Corporation and explained the situation. They were given a note to get the slates from some derelict houses almost in the heart of Neepsend. They had to break through the roof from inside to get the slates, which were passed down to the bedroom, down the stairs, along the corridor out to the trailer then back up for more. The trailer made several journeys to and from Wortley Top Forge to unload slates and return for more. The slates were later re-sorted; as slates break very easily there was a high damage rate, however, they did salvage enough to re-roof the building.
It was an utterly filthy job - a hundred years of Neepsend grime. This took two or three Saturdays and Sundays. They worked well together - a really good team, who drove themselves to get the job done - that was the only cost - hard work - the slates were free!
Once the new floor was in position there was the problem of windows. They had to be the right size and the right kind (another seemingly impossible task), but once again something turned up. Billy Ibberson's Works moved from Rockingham Street and the Restorers were invited to look over the old premium. The windows were the right period! The only original window in the Maintenance Building is the one second from the left on the ground floor but the others look authentic.
It took Ken and John a long time to get them out carefully; they were built into the wall to be very secure. Bricks had to be knocked out from the four comers an enormous, painstaking task, they had to be so careful not to do damage.
They were all feeling very pleased that the building had been finished when John Cooper said, "Now we've got to make the foundry secure!"
Part of the foundry roof was about to fall in and two of the walls were failing down I So back to Square One (Part Two) but that is another story.
The Cutting Edge - No.8 - 1992
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