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  • Sheffield at Work by Melvyn and Joan Jones

    Advertisement showing Vickers' 'contribution to the British naval fleet up to August 1914'. (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    People and Industries Through the Years

    What we set out to do was to record employment change over nine centuries, emphasising the combination of continuity and innovation that has characterised the evolution of employment in industry and other occupations in the city. It has been a fascinating journey. Although already familiar with Sheffield’s industrial past, we have been delighted to record the talent, determination and skill of twenty-first century workers, both those pursuing traditional skills in a competitive market and those entrepreneurs engaged in a host of other industries and occupations. We are keen to champion their cause and to celebrate their achievements through this publication.

    Sheffield has been dubbed ‘Steel City’ but it was, and still is, much more than that. Sheffield grew prodigiously during the nineteenth century from an already substantial 91,000 in 1831 to over 400,000 by 1901 as a result of industrial expansion. But for centuries before that it had had a national reputation for its industrial products. Everyone knows the famous line from Chaucer’s The Reeve’s Tale written about the year 1390 about the miller stating that ‘A Scheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose’. A thwitel was a knife and Chaucer obviously believed that mention of a Sheffield knife would be as familiar then as a Cornish pasty is today. Nearly four hundred years later in 1779 Charles Burlington in The Modern Universal Traveller wrote that Sheffield was ‘the most remarkable place in England for cutlerywares’. During the nineteenth century the light steel trades continued to flourish in the town and in the surrounding villages and were joined by a completely new industry, heavy steel making and heavy engineering. This transformed the former mainly rural lower Don valley to the east of the old town. Even though Sheffield lay 80 miles from the sea, in 1910 it was claimed that three firms (John Brown’s, Cammells and Vickers) were capable of ‘turning out a battleship complete’ and on the outbreak of the First World War Sheffield was described as ‘the greatest Armoury the world as ever seen’.

    Charcoal making (detail from a painting by John William Buxton Knight). (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    It wasn’t all light and heavy steel trades. In the early 1840s George Bassett started his liquorice sweets business. Later, of course, the firm ‘invented’ Liquorice Allsorts. This came about, apparently, when a ‘rep’ was visiting a customer and an assistant accidentally dropped a tray of samples onto the floor. The customer liked the assortment and so Liquorice Allsorts came into being. In the 1920s the Bertie Bassett trademark was designed and with minor alterations is still being used. The firm is now part of the Maynards Bassetts group. In 1883 one of the best known food product firms was established – Henderson’s Relish, Sheffield’s answer to Worcester Sauce. The firm is still going strong today. In 1895 William Batchelor founded Batchelor Foods. The firm became famous for the production of processed peas (including ‘mushy peas’) and Cup-a-Soup. For a short period between 1908 and 1925 Sheffield had its own car industry. Simplex cars owned by Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse produced luxury cars and motor cycles. One of the few surviving examples can be seen on display in Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield. Perhaps the most unusual product was the disinfectant, Izal, produced for the first time in the 1890s by the iron manufacturing firm, Newton Chambers. It was a by-product of the production of coke for their blast furnaces. Their famous toilet rolls, initially given away to local authorities purchasing large quantities of Izal disinfectant for their new public toilets, were used to advertise the brand. Medicated toilet rolls went on sale to the general public in the 1920s and the firm went on to produce 137 disinfectant products that sold across the world.

    Advertisement for Izal products. (Sheffield at Work, Amberley Publishing)

    Industrial growth had its negative effects. As early as the 1720s Daniel Defoe in A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain wrote that the streets were narrow and the houses ‘dark and black, occasioned by the continued Smoke of the Forges, which are always at work’. Even more evocative was J. B. Priestley’s comments in his English Journeys in 1933. He said that when he approached the city from the south it ‘looked like the interior of an active volcano’ adding that the smoke was so thick that it appeared the descending streets ‘would end in the steaming bowels of the earth’.

    Yet today Sheffield has the reputation of being the country’s greenest city. It had one of the country’s first green belts (1938) and 39,000 acres of the Peak District National Park lie within its boundaries. As you drive through or walk in the western parts of the borough, you have to shake yourself to realise that you are in a city of more than half a million people. The city also contains nearly 80 ancient woods, two of them covering more than 300 acres. Sheffield is the best wooded city in the country. What is astonishing is that the woods have survived because of their connection with local industry. They are full of charcoal heaths, charcoal before coal being the fuel for iron and steel making, and of the living archaeology (neglected coppice, stored coppice) of formerly worked trees that formed the raw material for the charcoal makers.

    Today Sheffield is a prime example of a post-industrial city. Its two universities attract more than 60,000 students to the city every year; the lower Don valley, described in the 1970s as an industrial wasteland, is now crowded with edge of town shopping, entertainment and sporting destinations. The Heart of the City scheme has also helped to modernise the city centre with its Winter Garden, Millennium Galleries, new hotel and water features.  But manufacturing still continues from large works like Sheffield Forgemasters that supplies forged and cast steel to the engineering, nuclear and petro-chemical industries worldwide and Liberty Steel at Stocksbridge that produces special steels for the aerospace, oil and automotive industries. Another Sheffield engineering firm, SCX Group, has completed the second year of a three-year project to construct a foldaway roof for No.1 Court at Wimbledon which will be ready in 2019. They constructed the retractable roof on Centre Court in 2009. At the other end of the scale individual craftsmen, known locally for centuries as ‘little mesters’, still produce knives and other bespoke products in small workshops. A surprising number of firms continue the centuries-old tradition of manufacturing a wide range of metal products. These include Burgon & Ball who manufacture 50 different patterns of sheep shears and are the most important makers of these shears in the world and Swann-Morton who export surgical blades and scalpels to over 100 countries.

    Melvyn and Joan Jones' new book Sheffield at Work is available for purchase now.

  • The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley by Colin Wilkinson

    One sunny, warm September day I set off to find any traces of the old lead mines in the upper reaches of the River Tees. After climbing through woodland and fields I arrived at the disused mines in need of a break and certainly not ready to work all day digging out lead ore. It’s no wonder that the miners slept close to the mines in uncomfortable workshops during the week and only returned home at the weekend. I had chosen a fine day to climb through the hills; facing the climb to work on a wet, cold, windy morning must have been challenging and perhaps was summed up in a verse from the time.

    The ore’s awaiting in the tubs, the snows upon the fell

    Company folk are sleeping yet but lead is right to sell

    Come my little washer lad, come, let’s away

    We’re bound down to slavery for four pence a day.

    Low Skears Mine near Middleton in Teesdale. (The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    These lines refer to a washer lad, his job was to separate the lead ore from the rock, or bouse as it was called, which had been brought out of the mine. This involved breaking up the bouse and washing it through troughs of flowing water where the heavy lead deposits would sink ready to be gathered and sent to the smelters.

    Continuing the mining theme but much further downstream and still avoiding poor weather, I chose a bright spring day to look for some remnant of the iron stone mines in the Cleveland Hills. This involved another climb through what is now a tree lined path that was once the route of a rail line up to the mines. Eventually I reached the entrance to the New Venture mine.

    The industrial area at Barnard Castle. (The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    Later a visit to the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum at Skinningrove brought home the working conditions in the early days of the mines. Protective clothing consisted of a leather cap, a moustache provided a dust filter, candles lit the way through the workings and to keep the rats at bay string was tied around trousers just below the knee.

    In Darlington another museum provides a reminder of the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway. The Head of Steam Museum is housed in an old station and displays some early locomotives used on the railway.

    Ayresome Iron Works, Middlesbrough. (c. Beamish Collection, The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley, Amberley Publishing)

    But the history of the Industrial Revolution is not just found in museums. I wanted to use the book to describe the great industrial heritage of the area and illustrate where reminders can be found. For example in Barnard Castle there are still some of the old mills beside the river although they have now been converted into flats.

    Barnard Castle had long been a market town but places that had been little more than hamlets were suddenly transformed into major towns. Middlesbrough is an example, initially it was developed as a port to ship coal then it became the centre of an iron industry when ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills. Soon blast furnaces were lining the banks of the Tees. W. E. Gladstone the Liberal politician who would become Prime Minister visited Middlesbrough in 1862 and spoke of ‘this remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules’.

    Colin Wilkinson's new book The Industrial Revolution in the Tees Valley is available for purchase now.

    Also by Colin

  • Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk by John Ling

    Herringfleet Mill set against a spectacular summer sky. (Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk, Amberley Publishing)

    Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk is a follow-up to my previous book for Amberley, Windmills of Norfolk (2015). As its title indicates, the new book includes watermills to reflect the rich diversity of milling in Suffolk over the centuries. Long before the first windmill turned a sail the county already had many water-powered mills, most of which were small and primitive structures using a single pair of millstones. Some watermill sites date back to Saxon times, though the mills themselves have been rebuilt or enlarged numerous times over that period of time.

    Suffolk was one of the first English counties to embrace the newfangled windmill in the late 12th century and many hundreds were built here during the next 700 years. The post mill was the earliest type of corn mill, followed by tower and smock types. Drainage mills or windpumps were primarily used to drain low-lying marshland but could also pump water from wells.

    Woodbridge Tide Mill has become a Living Museum. (Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk, Amberley Publishing)

    This book takes an in-depth look at most of the county’s surviving mills, some of which are still capable of working. Many others have been converted to family homes or holiday accommodation. Several watermills have become hotels or restaurants. The book acknowledges a number of the many mills that sadly no longer exist, including some of the long lost giants. It also traces the rise and fall of traditional windmills and watermills and looks at the reasons behind their decline. Windmills of various types outnumber surviving watermills in Suffolk and this is reflected in the amount of space devoted to each. The book is intended to inform and entertain those already interested in mills and also to introduce newcomers to these ancient machines. It includes histories of all featured mills along with one or more photograph(s) of each. The book includes relevant facts and figures but does not claim to be an exhaustive academic study.

     Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk is mainly illustrated with new colour photographs specially taken for this publication. This necessitated several trips around Suffolk and led me to many locations I had not previously visited. Other images have kindly been supplied by various contributors. Information regarding the location of each mill is included to assist those who wish to visit or view them. Almost all of the main featured mills can be seen from the roadside and some are open to the public on at least a part-time basis. The two mills pictured here represent the wind and water varieties and both are in full working order. Herringfleet Mill is still operated by volunteers on open days and Woodbridge Tide Mill is open to the public as a Living Museum.

    John Ling's new book Windmills and Watermills of Suffolk is available for purchase now.

  • Industries of East Shropshire Through Time by Neil Clarke

    The Area’s Natural Resources

    Modern farming in a former mining landscape: Little Worth with Coalmoor beyond, in the parish of Little Wenlock. (Industries of East Shropshire Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    East Shropshire has been endowed with a variety of natural resources, both below and above ground. In addition to minerals such as coal, iron ore, clay, limestone and building stone, the area possesses rich agricultural land, woodland and water supplies. A wide range of manufacturing industries developed from these resources.

     

    Manufacturing Industries

    A remarkable range of industrial activity has taken place in East Shropshire over many centuries. Artefacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages (possibly made locally) have been found in the area, and it is thought that the Romans used coal in their manufacture of metal and clay products at locations in and around Wroxeter. In the Middle Ages, the local monasteries at Buildwas, Lilleshall, Wenlock and Wombridge granted licences for the mining and quarrying of coal, ironstone and building stone on their estates. The towns that grew up in the area from the medieval period onwards – Wellington, Newport, Shifnal, Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock – developed the manufacture and trade of such items as textiles, leather and metal goods. The granting of market charters and other privileges to these towns recognised their growing status.

    However, from the late sixteenth century, the biggest changes in the area developed on the Coalbrookdale Coalfield. Here, the working of deposits of coal, ironstone and clay laid the foundations of the industries that were to give the area an early lead in the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century.

    At first, most of the coal that was mined on either side of the Ironbridge Gorge was transported down-river to areas where it was used as a domestic and industrial fuel. The coal trade on the Severn continued to expand over the next 250 years, but much of the increased output of the Coalfield was needed to feed the area’s developing iron industry in the form of coke. It was Abraham Darby I who first successfully used coke to smelt iron at Coalbrookdale soon after 1709, and from the middle of the eighteenth century all new blast furnaces were coke-fuelled. The earliest method of making coke was to burn off the coal’s impurities in open heaps, but coking ovens were later introduced. In the 1780s, Archibald Cochrane 9th Earl of Dundonald) established works at Calcutts (Jackfield) and Benthall for the extraction of by-products from coal – coke, tar, pitch and oil. Several local ironmasters built coke and tar kilns based on those of the Earl of Dundonald. Another by-product of this destructive distillation of coal was what became known as town gas, which was made at a number of gasworks in the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    The moulding shop at the Court Works, Madeley, in the 1920s. (Industries of East Shropshire Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The earliest way of making iron was by the direct process of heating ore in a bloomery; however, by the sixteenth century charcoal-fired blast furnaces producing pig iron had been set up at four locations in the area. The introduction of coke as a fuel in the early eighteenth century, with the availability of local supplies of limestone as a flux, led to a rapid expansion of the iron industry, and by 1800 there were some fifteen ironworks with coke-fired furnaces on the Coalbrookdale Coalfield – one of the country’s leading ironmaking areas. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Old Park ironworks was the largest in Shropshire and the second largest in Britain. During the century, local production of pig iron continued to increase, but its proportion of the national output fell from over a quarter of the total in 1800 to about 10 per cent in 1830 and 4 per cent in 1860. By this time, apart from John Onions’ foundry at Broseley, all the East Shropshire ironworks – including furnaces, foundries, forges and rolling mills – were north of the Ironbridge Gorge. Dwindling mineral resources and competition from other areas led to the closure of most of the furnaces by the end of the nineteenth century, with only Madeley Court, Blists Hill and Priorslee, together with some local foundries, surviving into the next century. Heavy engineering and steel-making firms established in the second half of the nineteenth century at New Yard (Wrockwardine Wood) Horsehay, Donnington and Hadley continued to operate until the 1980s.

    Local clays were used in the manufacture of a variety of products from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. There was a concentration of works on the south bank of the River Severn: at Jackfield earthenware and pottery, bricks and tiles, and encaustic tiles were made; Broseley was famous not only for its tobacco smoking pipes but also its bricks and tiles; fine porcelain was made at Caughley and pottery and later drainage pipes at Benthall. North of the river, fine china was made at Coalport; brickworks were built over a wide area, particularly by most of the ironworks owners; drainage pipes were made at Doseley; and sanitary ware was manufactured by the Lilleshall Company at Snedshill (Oakengates).

    The quarries of Wenlock Edge were the last productive source of limestone in the area. In the second half of the twentieth century, the bulk of the limestone was used for aggregates in the construction industry, while some was used for concrete-based products and agricultural lime, and a small amount was used for fluxing purposes and building stone.

    The produce of the land has fostered a range of manufacturing industries. In the past, crop farming provided barley for brewing and hemp for rope-making, while animal farming provided milk for dairy products, skins for leather, wool for textiles and meat for the food industry. Local woodland at one time provided domestic and industrial fuel, as well as timber for building construction, furniture-making and the production of wood naphtha. Streams drove the water wheels of local corn and paper mills, and a supply of water from the River Severn was a critical factor in the siting of both Ironbridge power stations.

     

     Industry Today

    Joseph Sankey bought Hadley Castle Works in 1910 and utilised the buildings of the former tramcar works. Sankey's works specialised in motor vehicle wheels and bodies, and expanded with the burgeoning motor industry. (Industries of East Shropshire Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Today there is possibly a greater variety of industrial activity within East Shropshire than there ever was in the past, but it is of a very different character. Mining and heavy industry have been replaced by a range of light engineering, technical, food and service industries, and this newer industrial activity has been concentrated on industrial estates and business parks. However, a handful of older industries have survived, including Aga cookers at Ketley, GKN Sankey at Hadley, Blockley’s brickworks at New Hadley/Trench Lock, and Leaton quarry at Wrockwardine. Brewing and the making of encaustic tiles at Jackfield have been revived on a modest scale, and soft toy manufacture is still carried on by Merrythought Ltd at Ironbridge. The newspaper and tourist industries also have their roots in the past.

    The largest concentration of industrial estates and business parks is within Telford, where six sites were designated for such use when the New Town area was enlarged in 1968 – Halesfield, Heath Hill, Hortonwood, Stafford Park, Trench Lock and Tweedale. In fact, the first industrial estate had already been laid out at Tweedale and the first factory occupied two years previously (below). Outside Telford, industrial estates and business parks have also sprung up at Bridgnorth, Broseley, Much Wenlock, Newport and Shifnal.

    As well as the different character of modern industrial activity in East Shropshire, few local resources are now used in the manufacturing processes. The movement of goods, whether raw materials or products, has been by road haulage since the 1960s, with the completion of the M54 in 1983 providing a vital link to the national motorway network. The only regular rail-borne traffic in recent years has been that to Ironbridge Power Station, which ended with the closure of the plant in 2015. The potential of the rail freight terminal at Donnington has still to be realised.

    Neil Clarke's new book Industries of East Shropshire Through Time is available for purchase now.

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