This Document is incomplete and contains errors - A corrected version is now being Written
Return to Magazine & Journal Articles Contents Page
A one day seminar was organized by the Division of Adult Education of the University of Sheffield on 16th October 1993 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society in 1933. Today, losses to the Industrial heritage continue and the seminar focused on the threats to surviving sites and buildings in a context of' the long erosion of the material evidence for Industrial history. The Society was a pioneer in the field of preservation. It did much to draw attention to the decline in traditional skills and to the need for action to preserve knowledge and evidence pertaining to them. The day began with a review of the Society & history and achievements given jointly by Jim McQuaid who looked at the main milestones in the Society's development whilst Denis Bradbury gave personal recollections of events, derived from his close connection with the Society throughout virtually the whole of its history.
We have to go back to 1918 to find the start of the movement which led to the founding of the Society. In that year Dr William Ripper took the initiative of establishing the Sheffield Trades Technical Societies (STTS) under the aegis of The Faculty of Engineering of the University of Sheffield. The idea behind the new movement was to "provide a medium through which those engaged in the various industries of the City may come into contact with the University of Sheffield". By the 1930's the STTS were flourishing but a realization was growing that something needed to be done to preserve the knowledge of centuries-old traditions for future generations as the old crafts became obsolescent.
In 1932, the STTS elected a sub-committee to preserve suitable tools and equipment from extinction. A plan was drawn up to re-equip some of the old water powered works in the Endcliffe and Whiteley Woods with these tools and to show them with the articles they were used to produce. In 1933 the STTS sub-committee joined forces with the Cutlers Company under the Joint Committee for the Preservation of the Tools and Equipment of Sheffield Craftsmen. The committee set about making arrangements with Sheffield Corporation for the use of Shepherd's Wheel and Ibbetson's Wheel in Whiteley Woods. But the committee also agreed to widen its scope by forming itself into a separate society to be called the Society for the Preservation of Old Sheffield Tools.
A draft constitution was drawn up and plans prepared for the inaugural meeting. The principal object of the new society was to "collect tools and machinery formerly employed in the district of Sheffield which are now obsolete, or are likely to become obsolete, and to erect them as far as possible in a position similar to that in which they were originally used" . The proposed title of the Society was now to be The Society for the Preservation of Old Sheffield Tools and Machinery, although by the time of inauguration 'The' was dropped.
The inauguration meeting was held on the evening of Monday 30th October 1933 in the Mappin hall of the University of Sheffield. The meeting was preceded by an exhibition of tools and work showing the skill of the local craftsmen in the manufacture of files and all class of cutlery. There was also a spring knife cutler present with his tools giving a demonstration of the boring of shaped holes in scales by means of a two legged parser. The chair was taken by Mr David Flather, J. P. , a former Master Cutler. He was supported on the platform by the Lord Mayor elect, the Senior Warden of the Culters Company, the Chairman of the Applied Science Department of the University and various notable figures of local industry, including Harry Brearley and Sir Eric Osborn. The audience of over 200 was widely representative of the various trades of Sheffield. The meeting formally agreed to the foundation of the Society and elected Mr Flather as President and Mr W H Bolton as Secretary.
The new Society immediately embarked on a range of activities whose pattern has been largely preserved throughout the Society's existence. In summary, these were and are: -
the organising of exhibitions and demonstrations. Up to the outbreak of war, these took place mainly at Shepherd's Wheel and were very popular with the public. In more recent years, this activity has continued to be fostered by the Society at Wortley Top Forge.
arranging lectures and visits. The Society quickly established programmes of winter lectures on topics of industrial archaeology and summer visits to places of interest both within and well outside the Sheffield area. It has regularly hosted visits by other societies and organized special events to coincide with significant dates as, for example, the bi-centenary of the birth of Joseph Bramah.
fostering publications and publicity. An early publication was the Glossary of Sheffield Dialect and more recently Water Power on the Sheffield Rivers. In addition, numerous pamphlets of one kind or another have been produced together with an annual booklet, the 'Cutting Edge'. The Society, its work and the people engaged in it have featured many times over the years on radio and television, beginning as early as 1934 with a broadcast talk by the President. Another significant achievement was the production of a cine film on the manufacture and use of the wortle plate for wire-drawing.
acquiring and receiving donations of tools and equipment. The society has built up and important collection of forging equipment, together with many examples of prime movers of all kinds and sizes. Some of the Society's early acquisitions are now in the keeping of the Sheffield City Museums.
taking on the ownership or care of important sites, in particular Wortley Top Forge, the Rockley blast furnace and Newcomen engine house and the Bower Spring cementation Furnace. The Society's efforts also ensured the preservation of Shepherd's Wheel and Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in the ownership of Sheffield Corporation.
undertaking historical research. The Society had an active historical research sub committee for several years before and after the second world war. In recent years the Field Recording Group of the Society has carried out important work in documenting many industrial sites of Sheffield and District
In 1934 the society decided to shorten its title to 'Society for the Preservation of Old Sheffield Tools', This survived until 1949 when the title was changed to the [then] present one, in preference to other proposals of 'Sheffield Society for Industrial History', 'Sheffield Industrial History Society' and 'Hallamshire Historical Society for Industry', In 1969 there was an intention to change the title yet again to 'South Yorkshire Trades Historical Society' and to devolve the responsibility for the restoration of the Wortley and Rockley sites to a separately constituted Trust. Only the latter intention was fulfilled and the 'South Yorkshire Historical Trust Ltd' was set up and granted a lease of the Top Forge in 1976.
[The Society has been the 'South Yorkshire Industrial History Society' since 1994]
Of the many achievements of the Society, two are of special significance and worthy of recounting in this short account.
The first was the preservation of the former scythe works at Abbeydale. The owners, W Tyzack Sons & Turner Ltd ceased production in 1934. The Society immediately took steps to preserve the works. In 1935 the works were gifted to Sheffield Corporation by the J G Graves Trust as an industrial museum to be used for the purposes of the Society. In 1936 the Society submitted a detailed scheme for a museum, with the estimated cost of renovation of £1000 to be paid by the Society. A sum of £1250 was transferred in 1939 and in the same year the Society received the gift of a pair of tilt hammers from W Jessop and Sons Ltd which were installed on the site. The work of restoration was held up by the war. By 1948, the Corporation had decided against a museum. They repaid the £1250 and pressed for the removal of the Jessop hammers and other equipment. The Society mounted a continuing campaign until 1954 when the Council for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities (CCSA) was formed with other societies to carry on the campaign. The Council gave notice of demolition in 1956, but the Society led a successful move to have the works scheduled as an ancient monument thereby preventing demolition. In 1963 the CCSA launched an appeal for funds for restoration, to which the Society immediately contributed £750 for essential repairs. The CCSA appeal was successful and, with matching contributions from the Corporation and the Ministry of Works, ensured the successful rebirth of the old works as Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.
The second important acquisition was that of Wortley Top Forge in 1953. The Society had earlier been instrumental in saving the tilt hammers in the forge from being scrapped in 1942. Production had ceased 1908/1912 and the site lay dormant until put up for sale in 1944 when the Society decided to purchase with funds offered by Sir Stuart Goodwin. The purchase took until 1953 to be completed at a cost of £600. Essential repairs were carried out in the following two years with the support of Samuel Fox & Co Ltd. Restoration was carried out by a volunteer workforce, organized by the Society until 1976 when the site was leased to the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust. The trust has since then continued the work of restoration, with the help of generous funding from English Heritage and the River Don Millowners Association and a succession of voluntary workers engaged in the work and in the raising of funds. The importance of the Forge has now been recognized by the award of the Engineering Heritage Hallmark by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The first sixty years of the Societies existence has brought very significant achievements of which the Society can be Justly proud. The persistence and dedication of very many people have been necessary to this success. Long may that voluntary commitment continue.
During the first world war Professor Ripper, Professor of Engineering, and for a time Vice Chancellor of the University, was very active in extending scientific knowledge among Sheffield's cutlery, file and tool trades. Professor Ripper instituted courses of lectures on engineering methods as applied to the trades and these were enthusiastically attended. Very soon he developed the idea of forming technical societies for each trade to provide a common platform upon which all persons engaged in the industries could meet, whether they were managers, staff or workmen, and discuss technical problems arising out of their work.
The lecturer for the first course was Mr. W, H. Bolton, who had been on war work in the Department of Applied Science. Towards the end of 1918 three Technical Trades Societies were formed with Professor Ripper at the head and Mr. Bolton as secretary of the whole movement. When Mr. Bolton retired as secretary at the end of 1961 there were 23 Societies and about 6000 members. By 1927 there were 6 societies and in 1937 14 societies. The Societies were sponsored by the University which also paid Mr. Bolton's salary.
The Society for the Preservation of Old Sheffield Tools and Machinery was formed in 1933 with the object of preserving tools and equipment of former Sheffield craftsmen and to equip permanent industrial museums as a record of work done in former times. The Society's name was subsequently changed to the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, being less of a mouthful. Shepherd's Wheel was equipped with representative examples of grinding equipment driven by the water wheel and at the Spring and Summer bank holidays demonstrations of grinding knives were given by local craftsmen, which attracted considerable numbers of visitors.
Mr. Bolton conceived the idea that the society should be semi independent, though still numbered among the other Technical Trades Societies. The members, paid a higher subscription 5/- (25p) instead of 2/6 (12½p), had a slightly different constitution and prepared its own balance sheet for the A.G.M. In the light of events many years later this arrangement was to prove the saving factor when the Technical Trades Societies were to close down.
By 1937 the society had 96 members, several from the university staff. A year later the membership had increased to 107. Lectures during the Winter months dealt with the cutlery industry, Sheffield dialect, old time machines and materials. Summer visits were popular and included places like the Dukeries, Keddleston Hall near Derby, the scythe works at Ford, Cresswell Crags and Old Morton Hall.
About 1938, the Abbeydale Works came up for sale. It was proposed to demolish the works, fill in the dam and build houses on the site. An appeal was launched and the site was saved, very largely I believe by a generous donation from Alderman J.G. Graves. It was proposed that the buildings should be renovated so that craftsmen could work there all their different trades under the wing of the Sheffield Parks Department. To this end £1000 was collected following an appeal to put the buildings in order, However, the war broke out before anything could be done and the money was handed over to the City Council for safe keeping. During the war the crucible furnaces were in use for steel making.
The Society was given a tilt hammer by William Jessop which was mounted on a massive concrete foundation in the middle of the yard at Abbeydale. Soon after the end of the war there was a meeting at Abbeydale between members of the Parks Department and the Trades Historical Society at which we were told that the Parks Department was not prepared to go ahead with the plan to turn Abbeydale into a working museum with craftsmen working there, the reason given being one of insurance, and the £1000 which had been handed over to the Corporation was returned to us.
There followed several years in which the Trades Historical Society fought a rearguard action with the Parks Department over the future of Abbeydale. As already mentioned the Jessop Tilt hammer was mounted on a massive concrete foundation in the middle of the yard at Abbeydale. The Parks Department could not begin to demolish the buildings until the hammer was moved. From time to time letters came to us from the Town Hall telling us to get the tilt hammer moved, but the Society had no money to pay for the cost of removal and there was nowhere to which the hammers could be moved. The Parks Department could not do it as it was not their property, so there was a position of deadlock.
About 1956 the British Society for the Advancement of Science held their annual meeting in Sheffield. On the first page of their presented programme appeared a photograph of Abbeydale. Soon after this the buildings were scheduled, which meant that the Corporation could not demolish them.
In 1954 various local industrialists formed the Society for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities and started on the restoration of Shepherd's Wheel.. By this time the 'stick in the mud' officials of the Parks Department had retired and it was not long before the Society for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities turned its attention to Abbeydale. The restoration was finally completed at a cost of about £30,000 compared to the original estimated cost of £1,500.
In April 1949 the Society together with the Newcomen Society celebrated the bi-centenary of the birth of Joseph Bramah. On 9th. April, a coach party with members from both Societies went to Wentworth Castle where there was a reception and an exhibition of some of Joseph Bramah's inventions:- locks and a fire engine for example. From there we went to Cranemoor to see his blacksmiths shop, his birthplace at Stainborough Lane Farm, then to Silkstone Church to see the Parish registers and finally to Barnsley Town Hall for a reception by the Mayor. A good time was had by all. The only drawback was the Chancellor of the Diocese of Wakefield refused to give a faculty for the erection of a memorial tablet to Joseph Bramah in Silkstone Church. The tablet languished behind a curtain in the vestry for 34 years till 1983, by which time there was a new Chancellor for the Diocese who granted the faculty. The tablet was put up and dedicated at the same service on May 15th, attended by descendants of Joseph Bramah and also Miss Walton and myself.
In 1959 Wortley Top Forge and Rockley Furnace were purchased by the Society, largely through the efforts of Mr. Inman, the chief engineer at Samuel Fox's, and Mr, Bolton (assisted by a generous gift from Sir Stuart Goodwin). They both became trustees of the property and I was also made a trustee, being the honorary treasurer of the Trades Historical Society. Some years earlier Mr. Bolton, in order to reduce his workload, had asked Mr. Bill Bailey to take on the job of honorary secretary for the Trades Historical Society. Mr. Bailey who made himself responsible for administering Wortley, dealt with the problems as they arose and kept accounts of the expenditure on such items as repairs, electricity consumption and so on.
In 1964 the Society launched the scheme to make a documentary film on the wortle Plate. It took the best part of four years to complete the film. Filming was done by a team from the Swinden Laboratories of the United Steel Co.. The film started with shots of the water wheel at Shepherd's Wheel. It then moved to the crucible shops at T. W. Pearson Ltd. in Shoreham Street, which was probably the last firm in Sheffield to make steel in crucible furnaces.
The next scene was shot at George Seniors at Ponds Forge to show the forging of the billet into a wortle plate, and the use of punches to prick the holes in the plate in their blacksmiths shop. William Winterbottoms works at Oxspring was the next scene, showing the wortle plate in use for wire drawing. They also staged a demonstration of annealing a wortle plate after the holes had got too large, and subsequent repricking.
Having made the film there was no money available for the sound track. After many vain appeals Miss Walton came to the rescue, having received a small legacy which she generously used for the sound track.
In the 1960's the Trades Historical Society was in very low waters. The Winter programme of lectures was generally uninspiring and attendances were poor. This state of affairs lasted until Ken Barraclough took over as secretary, He brought new life into the Society and also found time to publish a newsletter.
The Technical Trades societies seemed to always be in financial crisis, and I spent more hours than I care to remember attending finance meetings. The reason for this was quite simple, namely that the annual subscription of 2/6 was too low. Mr. Bolton refused to increase the subscription, maintaining that to do so would result in hundreds of members resigning, so we never got anywhere. The money from subscriptions had to pay for the printing of the hand books, postage and salaries of Mr. Bolton's staff of two or three ladies. About the time of the outbreak of the war, Mr Bolton had the idea of starting societies in other parts of the country, like Darlington and Wednesbury, and the name of the Society changed to the National Trades Technical Societies. Generally speaking the move was not a success. Administrative problems increased, Mr. Bolton was no longer master in his own house and there was a good deal of infighting. Mr. Bolton retired at the end of December 1961 and was given the honorary degree of M.Sc. Tech. the following year by the University as a mark his many years of hard work and vision in building up the Technical Trades Societies. Mr. Bolton was succeeded as general secretary by Mr. White but in 1966 the Technical Trades Societies came to an end due to a Spring Gale.
From time to time the Technical Trades Societies organised Trade exhibitions which stimulated trade amongst the varied industries in Sheffield and also boosted the funds of the Societies. A trade exhibition was arranged in May 1966 and was housed in a large marquee erected on waste ground at the top of Devonshire Street, When the exhibition was just about to open, however, a severe gale caused the marquee to collapse, so the exhibition could not take place. A lot of money had been involved in its Organisation and though a number of exhibitors cut their losses the Societies were left owing £3000 to the bank. This spelt the end of the Societies. Mr. White and his staff had to resign and the offices in Sherwood Road closed.
This, however, did not affect the Trades Historical Society as we had our own funds and we became more or less the Sheffield Trades Technical Society. One or two other societies continued for a year or two afterwards, as did those in other towns. The Trades Historical Society's documents which were housed at Sherwood Road had to be moved and responsibility for this was largely taken by Mr. W.H. Bailey, but a certain number were lost.
Having been kicked out of Abbeydale the Society rented the Rivelin Corn Mill for a number of years, more or less as a place to store our own possessions, though at one time there was an idea that it might become an industrial museum if we lost Abbeydale. The mill was a bit of a white elephant and we gave it up when we were able to move into Wortley Forge.
There have been many outstanding people associated with the Trades Historical Society and it would not be possible to give a biography of each of them. I will only mention four - Mr. Bolton, Mr. Walker, Mr. J, B. Himsworth and Tom Merrill.
Mr. Bolton was an incredible man. He worked 13 hours a day, five, sometimes, six days a week. For many years he had a small office in the Applied Science Department in St, George's Square, with one secretary Miss Lucy Doxey who worked as hard as he did. He attended all the Council meetings of the societies and wrote up the minutes of the meetings in his own, rather beautiful, writing. It is true that he sometimes wrote the minutes before the meeting took place, which must have lead to occasional awkward situations when discussions were made contrary to what he had expected. As the societies expanded, more staff had to be set on and the University found him more accommodation, firstly in Bolsover Street and finally in Sherwood Road. He was always courteous even when he must have been sorely tried by the infighting which took place with the National Trades Technical Societies, and decisions were made without his being consulted.
Mr. Edwin Walker was a man of vision. His firm was the Don Foundry near to Salmon Pastures. Being widely travelled, he knew what was going on in the world and had no time for officials, be they local or national. He did not hesitate to speak his own mind and that lay behind the chilly relations between the Society and the Corporation over Abbeydale. Mr. Walker's other interests lay in horses and he took many prizes at shows, like the Bakewell Show.
Mr.J. B. Himsworth was a historian and expert on cutlery, indeed he published a book on cutlery. He was president of this Society in the 1940's
. Mr. Tom Merrill was a working craftsman up to the end of his days. He had a small workshop near St. Vincent's Church.
Over the years the Society has been associated with the publication of a number of books. One of the first was a "Glossary of the Sheffield Dialect." Later Miller's "Water Mills", which was reprinted twice. Miller was a member of the Council. Then came "The Story of Wortley Iron Works." and more recently "A Sheffield Heritage" and Mr. Crossley's "Water Power on the Sheffield Rivers."
The Cutting Edge - No.10 - 1994
Return to Magazine & Journal Articles Contents Page