Companies People

Harris Leon Brown – a Polish refugee who made Sheffield his home

Harris Leon Brown came to England from Poland with an introduction to Alfred Beckett & Sons. He started by travelling around as a watch maker. Image: H.L. Brown

This is a story of an Eastern European fleeing from Russia, and the tale of a refugee who ended up in Sheffield.

Harris Leon Brown, jeweller, diamond merchant, and horologist, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1843, the son of a Russian government contractor, Baruch Brown.

He received his education at Warsaw Seminary Schools, and became an apprentice to Moses Neufeld, one of the largest firms in Warsaw engaged in the Sheffield trades.

When only 17, he was a revolutionary in Poland, one of the many who could not tolerate the oppression which Russia sought to impose upon his country. His part in the insurrection was of short duration, for he saw too many of his friends either shot by the military or hanged in the streets, so he determined to seek refuge in England. This was no easy task, for in those days the passage of Poles through Germany was fraught with the danger of being caught by the Germans with the inevitably painful process of being pushed back to Poland.

But sleeping during the day and the friendly conveyance of market carts during the night enabled him to make progress to Hamburg, then a ‘free’ port, where he took a boat to Hull.

Harris Leon Brown (1843-1917), diamond merchant, jeweller and horologist of Poland and Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield

Sheffield was his destination, and with no money to his name, and a ‘stranger in a strange city’ he was introduced to Alfred Beckett and Sons (with whom Moses Neufeld did extensive business) and Burys Ltd. These firms, especially the former, treated him in a paternal manner, and through their guidance he remained in Sheffield.

With his instinct for trading, and by strictly honourable dealing, he founded a lucrative business in 1861 as a watchmaker; he began trading from 29 Gower Street in 1867; by 1876 H.L. Brown was situated at 24 Angel Street and in 1877 connected directly to Greenwich, with the introduction of the 1.00pm clock time signal.

H.L. Brown, 71 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown

Around 1888, the firm moved to 71 Market Place (where the earliest known image of the premises exists).

In 1896 the firm moved again to 65 Market Place and by 1906 he had opened a branch on Regent Street.

In 1896, H.L. Brown moved to 65 Market Place, Sheffield. Image: H.L. Brown
In the 1930s, H.L. Brown was modernised. Image: H.L. Brown
While searching for photographs of London’s Regent Street, this image from 1910 appeared and shows H.L. Brown at 90 and 90A. Image: Getty Images

Harris Brown married a Sheffield woman, Ann Kirby (daughter of Charles Kirby, Cutler) at St Mary’s Church, Bramall Lane, in 1865. Instead of giving a dinner for his golden wedding anniversary, he sent a cheque for £100 to the Lord Mayor to distribute among various war charities.

During his early years in Sheffield, unable to speak English, he saw a review of troops at Wardsend, and feeling grateful to his new homeland, joined the Hallamshire Rifles, and took pride in doing ambulance work with the local corps. It was characteristic of him that he presented to the St John Ambulance Association a silver shield for competition.

He became the oldest member of Sheffield’s Jewish community, and for many years was Chairman of the Sheffield Jewish Board of Guardians and served as President of the Sheffield Hebrew congregation. He was a prime mover in building a Synagogue in North Church Street, as well as a new place of worship at Lee Croft. He also helped secure a Hebrew burial ground at Ecclesfield. In 1910, he was elected a member of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the first occasion on which a Sheffield Jew had been so honoured.

H.L. Brown and Son had contracts with the Government’s Admiralty and India offices  for their watches, and had obtained, for excellence in workmanship, several Kew (Class A) certificates. In their goldsmith’s workshops they manufactured the jewelled key which was presented to King Edward when he opened the University of Sheffield in 1905.

The jewelled key presented to King Edward VII at the opening of the University of Sheffield. Image: Picture Sheffield
Newspaper advertisement from 1907. Image: British Newspaper Archive

In 1914, he was on holiday with his wife in Germany when war was declared. After eight nerve-racking days, they made their way home, avoiding the gauntlet of military patrols, before escaping back to England.

When in Sheffield, he resided at Kenyon House, 10 Brincliffe Crescent. He died, aged 74, following a seizure at his London residence, 23 Briardale Gardens, West Hampstead, in 1917.  He was survived by his wife, three sons, and four daughters. One of his sons, Bernard Brown, succeeded him in the business.

At the time of his death, it was said that “he took pride in recognising all the obligations which the adoption of English nationality should entail.”

His interment was at the Jewish Cemetery, Edmonton, London. He had great aversion to any kind of display, and by his own expressed wish, the funeral ceremony was simple. No flowers were sent, the coffin was covered in plain black, and the obsequies were conducted with the strictly simple solemnities of the Jewish ritual. In accordance with the custom of that ritual, no ladies were present.

He left property of the value of £29,785 and gave £100 each to the Jewish congregation in North Church Street, the Central Synagogue, and the Talmud Terah School, as well as donations to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, Sheffield Royal Hospital, Jessop Hospital for Women, and the Sheffield Hospital for Sick Children.

In the 1920s and 1930s, H.L. Brown opened branches in Doncaster and Derby, with Bell brothers of Doncaster joining the family business.

In 1940, the Sheffield shop was destroyed in the Blitz and business moved to 70 Fargate. Image: H.L. Brown

During the Sheffield Blitz (1940) H.L. Brown’s was bombed and business moved to 70 Fargate, at the corner with Leopold Street. The firm moved to its current location of 2 Barker’s Pool when Orchard Square was built in 1986. To this day, the 1,00pm time signal still sounds daily.

Town Hall Square in 1967 looking towards Fargate and Leopold Street, Goodwin Fountain, foreground, and No 70, H.L. Brown and Son Ltd. Image: Picture Sheffield

James Frampton (Harris Brown’s great great grandson) joined the business in 1989 after qualifying as a gemologist and training in the jewellery trade in Switzerland and London. He became MD from 2001 onwards.

In 2020, the store was modernised, and a Rolex showroom introduced.

Today,  H.L. Brown operates in Sheffield and Doncaster (still using the Bell Brothers name), as well as Barbara Cattle (York), James Usher (Lincoln) and Bright and Sons (Scarborough).

H.L. Brown at 2 Barker’s Pool, Sheffield, in 2022. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Companies

Bad businessmen, rogues, and criminals. The collapse of William Bissett and Sons

New shops erected in Fargate in 1884 for William Bissett. The architects were Flockton and Gibbs. The shops and offices still exist. See image at bottom of post. Image: British Newspaper Archive

When we look at Sheffield, the names of two construction firms – George Longden and Henry Boot – often appear. However, some of our well-known buildings were built by a company that has been erased from history. And perhaps for good reason.

William Bissett was a self-made man. Born in Pilsley, Derbyshire, he came to Sheffield and was apprenticed to Primrose and Company, where he acquired a practical knowledge of plumbing and glazing.

Afterwards, he set up on his own on West Street, adding further trades such as gas-fitting, painting, paperhanging, and general decorating. The success of the business allowed him to take on a partner, John Edwin Elliott, and move to more extensive premises on Devonshire Street, used as offices and showrooms, and workshops at Wilkinson Street, Pinfold Street, and Mary Street.

He launched as a general contractor and builder and managed to obtain important contracts in Sheffield and Birmingham. Amongst the earliest of his employers was Mark Firth, who entrusted him to enlarge his residence at Oakbrook, but this work was dwarfed by the magnitude of his public contracts, the most important of which was the Central Schools, School Board offices, and Firth College (now forming Leopold Square and Leopold Hotel).

Firth College. Now part of Leopold Hotel. Image: DJP/2022

When Sheffield Corporation started its Street Improvement Scheme in the 1870s, Bissett was extensively engaged in the erection of palatial; new business premises on Fargate and Pinstone Street, and himself acquired several valuable sites.

Other building work included Weston Park Museum, Mappin Art Gallery, Cockayne’s department store in Angel Street, and Lodge Moor Hospital.

Mappin Art Gallery

For some years, Bissett was a member of Sheffield Town Council for the Upper Hallam Ward, serving on the Buildings, General Purposes and Parks, and Highway Committees. Far from me to speculate that the success of his company might have been down to council connections, but these weren’t transparent days.  However, he resigned in 1884 to allow his firm to undertake the Sewage Works at Blackburn Meadows.

Unfortunately, Bissett suffered a stroke in 1886, and died at Rock Mount, Ranmoor, in 1888. His partnership long dissolved, the business was split amongst three sons, but hereon, the affairs of William Bissett and Sons unravelled.

In 1889, whilst work was underway to build buildings for the YMCA (Carmel House), on Fargate, a petition was served against his three sons.

“The acts of bankruptcy alleged against the debtors respectively are that William Crellin Bissett and Lawrence Colgrave Bissett, did, on or about the 28th of November, 1889, with intent to defeat or delay their creditors, depart from their dwellings or otherwise absent themselves; and that the said James Francis Bissett did, on the 4th day of December, file in the Sheffield Court a declaration admitting his inability to pay his debts.”

It appeared that some of the contracts did not turn out very successful and the firm had lost considerably by them. A year before, a destructive fire at the Wilkinson Street premises had also caused considerable loss. Stories about the firm’s financial position had circulated for months and everything that could be offered as security, even their interest under their father’s will, had been mortgaged.

Former School Board Offices on Leopold Street.

But the situation took a grimmer turn.

Apparently, the state of affairs was only known to the brothers in Sheffield, William and Lawrence, while James, in Birmingham, had been kept ignorant. The first he knew about it was when he received a letter from them bearing a Paris postmark and informing him that they had absconded.

James immediately came to Sheffield and found that the firm was in a state of financial ruin. From inquiries he learned that both William and Lawrence had been about the business on the Thursday morning, and that early in the afternoon they had left for London. They travelled to either Dover of Folkstone the same evening and caught a boat to Paris. The assumption was that they had then gone to Spain.

Before they left, they had received a cheque for about £4,000 to which debt they obtained advances. They cashed the cheque, took the proceeds, and with them went the petty cash books and private ledgers. In the end, it was determined that the company owed creditors about £34,439 (about £4.7m today).  

James, left to deal with his brothers’ dirty work, and the discovery that they been living way beyond their means, was absolved, and eventually released from bankruptcy.

However, the whereabouts of William and Lawrence remained a mystery and by all accounts never returned to England.

Until that is, a notice headed ‘Bissett v Bissett’ appeared in The Times in 1897, whereby Agnes Amy Bissett filed for divorce against her husband Lawrence, by reason of his adultery and desertion.

Lodge Moor Hospital was built by Bissett in 1888 as an isolation hospital.

On November 28, 1889, Lawrence had told her that he was going to London to see his solicitors about business, but he never returned, and the next she heard from him was through a letter he sent to her father from Paris, in which he said: –

“Will you please, on receipt of this, go to Amy at once. Our affairs have gone wrong, the bank having turned on us, and to save a little money from the wreck, I have left England for a time. I may have done wrong, if I have, God forgive me. I have no time for more, as the train goes.”

In a subsequent letter he wrote:-

“We had a certain overdraft from the bank, and all went well. They have suddenly shown us that they will not continue it, and nothing but bankruptcy, without a chance of saving anything, stared me in the face, so I thought it best, rightly or wrongly, to leave England with what money I could and try my fortune in another land.”

It was subsequently found that he had gone to San Antonio, Texas, and as a bankrupt, the Official Receiver had instructed the Post Office to send all letters to them.

In this way, another letter came to light from a young lady called Amy Sebright. This letter announced to him that she had given birth to a boy called Cyril Laurence Bissett. It transpired that the young lady had been engaged at the Theatre Royal during the pantomime season of 1888-1889, and that she had met Lawrence, and afterwards lived with him ‘maritalement’ at Manchester, Brighton, and elsewhere. When he was leaving England, he had asked her to accompany him, but she had declined to do so

His wife received another letter from him at the end of 1890 asking for her forgiveness, and acknowledging his guilt, but said nothing about returning.

The divorce was granted.

“Here the husband had left his wife with a falsehood on his lips, and there could be no doubt of his intention to desert her after what had transpired as to his relations with the actress from Sheffield.”

We do not know the end outcome for William or Lawrence (investigations for another day). Bad businessmen, rogues, and criminals. Only James came out of the story with his reputation intact. Remember this story the next time you visit Leopold Square or Weston Park Museum.

Modern day view of the shops that William Bissett built on Fargate. Most of the offices above are now empty. Image: DJP/2022

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Ward’s Brewery – a business decision that might have had different consequences

The iconic Ward’s gateway was relocated and rebuilt after the brewery was demolished. Note that one of the letters is missing. Image: DJP/2022

I know somebody who once went to Dublin and sat on the doorstep of a traditional Irish pub and drank four cans of Ward’s Best Bitter. Much has been written about the closure of S.H. Ward in 1999, but there is a little-known chapter in the brewery’s history that eventually led to its downfall.

Septimus Henry Ward (1831-1905) was the seventh son of John Ward, a gentleman farmer of Pickering, North Yorkshire. He went to London, aged seventeen, and for twenty years was engaged in commercial pursuits.

He came to Sheffield in 1868 and bought a partnership in Kirby, Wright, and Co at the Sheaf Island Brewery on Effingham Road. This was later dissolved, and the company renamed S.H. Ward, although George Wright stayed on as a brewer.

In 1872, it amalgamated with the Old Albion Brewery of Lathom and Quihampton, in Ecclesall Road, and the new firm purchased the adjoining Soho Brewery from the executors of Thomas Bradley.

The site of the Sheaf Island brewery was sold, and Captain Weyland Mere Lathom, one of the former proprietors of the Old Albion Brewery, became Ward’s partner but took little active part in affairs.

The irony is that the Sheaf Island public house now stands on the former site. Image: DJP/2022

Under Septimus Ward, the business prospered and the Soho Brewery on Ecclesall Road was renamed the Sheaf Brewery, where brewing continued until its closure.

The partnership was dissolved in 1893, and the company converted into a limited company with Septimus becoming Managing Director. The Wright family still ran the day to day business, but ownership eventually reverted to the Ward family with a 51% share, and the Wright family owning the remaining 49%.

In later years, the Ward family reduced their brewing interests. The Wright family were given first option to buy and bought two shares to regain control of the business lost when George Wright had handed over ownership to Septimus due to bad investments in 1869.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Sometime during the 1970s, the Ward family was approached by Truman’s Brewery, East London, who were interested in expanding into the north. Truman bought approximately half the Ward’s interests then, and the remainder were bought after Grand Metropolitan acquired Truman in a marathon battle with Watney Mann in 1971.

Matters rested until 1974 when Grand Metropolitan made a bid for the 51% interest held by the Wright family.

Who were Grand Metropolitan?

This business began in 1934 and was a UK-based, international hotel and catering conglomerate that diversified into areas such as home milk and dairy deliveries (Express Dairies), steak restaurants (Berni Inns) and gambling (William Hill and Mecca Bingo Halls). It entered the beer, wine, and spirits markets through the purchase of two UK breweries including Watney Mann, which itself had recently taken over International Distillers and Vintners. In 1997, after more mergers and acquisitions, Grand Metropolitan finally merged with Guinness PLC to create the largest drinks company in the world, Diageo.

Subtle reminders of the site’s past. Image: DJP/2022

The Wright family had no wish to be absorbed into the Grand Met machine but reconciled themselves to the fact that they would probably sell it to someone sooner or later. It happened sooner, when the shares were sold to Vaux and Associated, a Sunderland-based brewer.

Vaux then tidied up matters and bought Grand Met’s 49% and Ward’s, with its brewery and 110 pubs, became a wholly owned subsidiary.

The former Ward’s site is now an apartment complex. Image: David Poole

S.H. Ward operated successfully until the 1990s, but events were taking place in Vaux Group’s boardroom that had devastating consequences. The business had diversified into Swallow Hotels and the board of directors accepted the advice of their corporate financier to close all their brewing concerns in 1999.

The Vaux Group was rebranded the Swallow Group and taken over by Whitbread a year later, and the pubs sold to Enterprise Inns.

The last brew at Sheaf Brewery was in June 1999, and despite valiant efforts by former board members to save it, the site was shut down. It was subsequently flattened, apart from the brewing tower and a few adjacent buildings, that were absorbed into a new apartment complex.

All these years later, with the benefit of hindsight, what might have happened had S.H. Ward been sold to Grand Metropolitan? Still gone? Or, one of Britain’s leading beer brands?

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Companies

Kangaroo Works will honour the site it stands on

The scheme comprises 364 dwellings with a mix of 1, 2  and 3 bedroom apartments, which will be built and operated under the Build to Rent (BtR) Sector model.  Commercial space will be provided at ground floor levels, providing active frontages to Rockingham and Wellington Streets. Image: Whittam Cox Architects

Next year, people will start moving into a new residential complex in Sheffield City Centre. When they do, the occupants of Kangaroo Works, a 364 apartment development, will have one of the oddest postal addresses in the city.

Designed by Whittam Cox Architects, with construction underway by Henry Boot, Kangaroo Works is the latest building in Sheffield’s Heart of the City II development. The building, with frontages to Rockingham and Wellington Streets, is designed around the vernacular Sheffield courtyard plan, and provides a stepped roofscape, responding to the sloping typology of the site and forming a transition between the formal city centre and more historic Devonshire Quarter.

The block has a peak of 14 storeys whilst a unique brick façade, taking inspiration from Sheffield’s urban heritage, supports the Masterplan palette and industrial heritage of the original Kangaroo Works site, which the development now stands on.

Kangaroo Works was home to Robert Sorby and Sons, makers of edge tools, later becoming a merchant and steel maker, that had set up on Union Street in 1828 and then moved to Carver Street in 1837.

About 1896 it moved a short distance to this site at the corner of Trafalgar and Wellington Streets.

Former premises of Robert Sorby and Son Ltd, edge tool manufacturer, No. 44 Wellington Street, (his trade mark was a kangaroo so was referred to as the Kangaroo Works) with the Fire Station, Wellington Street in the background. Image from 2006 by David Bocking/SLAI/Picture Sheffield

Their products included adzes, axes, augers, edge tools, joiners’ tools, saws, scythes, hooks, sheep shears and crucible steel. The company sought markets worldwide, and the Kangaroo brand, which was used until the 1980s, was adopted to emphasise the company’s interest in Australia.

Former premises of Robert Sorby and Sons, edge tool manufacturer, No. 44 Wellington Street. Image from 2006 by David Bocking/SLAI/Picture Sheffield

Robert Sorby and Sons was acquired by Hattersley and Davidson in 1923, and vacated Kangaroo Works in 1934 to share a site on Chesterfield Road. It still survives in premises on Athol Road at Woodseats.

The former Kangaroo Works became dilapidated and converted for multi-use, and remained so until demolition in 2008, after which it was used as a car-park.

Former Kangaroo Works gateway. Image: The Glasgow Gallivanter

But what happened to the famous stone-carved Kangaroo trademark that once stood over the gateway on Wellington Street?

It was rescued and re-erected at Kelham Island Museum, slightly shorter in height so that it would fit into the restored Russell Works building that houses the Ken Hawley Collection of tools, cutlery and silversmithing made in Sheffield.

And so, the name lives on, and Kangaroo Works will occupy pride of place overlooking Pound’s Park, the new urban green space also under construction.

Located within close proximity to the Cambridge Street Collective and Elshaw House project, Kangaroo Works is a privately funded development forming part of the Heart of the City masterplan. Image: Whittam Cox Architects

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Companies

John Atkinson – “The best services that can be provided by all who are responsible.”

“My great-grandfather used to go out and meet the carriages on The Moor when they arrived in the morning.” Nicholas Atkinson. Image: DJP/2022 

In March 1929, John Atkinson, aged 84, took to his bed at No. 86, The Moor, and remained there for a week. He had been in ill-health and died a week later.

His death meant that Sheffield had lost a veteran businessman, who not only had built up a great establishment, but was largely responsible for the development of the principal shopping thoroughfare in the city.

While John Atkinson lay on his death-bed, would he have ever contemplated that his business would still exist 150 years later?

John Atkinson (1845-1929). Image: Neil Anderson

The Atkinson family came from Low Dunsworth, near Boroughbridge, and John, one of a family of nine, was determined to try his fortune away from his home surroundings.

His first venture was at York, where he became an assistant in a leading establishment of that city. But he was stirred with ambition, and he fixed his eye on Sheffield, a growing centre of commerce.

He came in 1865 and became acquainted with the Sheffield public by working at Cole Brothers, at their premises at the corner of Church Street.

Once settled in Sheffield, he looked for an opportunity, and in 1872 secured premises in South Street, on Sheffield Moor. No. 90 was a two-windowed shop and was opened by 26-year-old John in March of that year.

In those days the Moor was not the shopping centre that we are familiar with. It was on the fringe of the country and people used to ‘go to Sheffield’ to do their shopping when they really meant going to Fargate and High Street.

It was his mission to see that his windows were sufficiently attractive to draw the attention of those on their way to ‘shop in town’ and was one of the pioneers of the ‘Shop on the Moor’ movement and had the pride of seeing the completion of his commodious emporium that became his life work.

Atkinson worked hard for seven years and established gradual growth of regular customers. His business required expansion, and in 1879, a piece of land known as Holy Green became available. It adjoined his premises and two additional shops, Nos 86 and 88 were erected, the former leased to a trader. But trade and custom grew, and in 1884, No 86 was taken over by Atkinson and became the millinery department.

From 1900. John Atkinson, The Draper, 76, 80, 82, 86, 88 and 90, The Moor. Image: Picture Sheffield

Three years later, Nos. 2,4, and 6, Prince Street (a street that has disappeared) were added, and became the furniture department, and four years after that an extensive space at the back of the Prince Street premises was secured and covered for the development of the mantle and shawl trade of the day.

The business expanded, and a few years later brought another acquisition. In 1892, the shops, land, and works covering a large block of buildings as far back as Button Lane (another lost street), facing Eldon Street, were purchased, and in 1897 a new dress warehouse was built in another portion of Holy Green.

Atkinson’s love of beautiful architecture, and his ever expanding business, led him to demolish all his shops, ranging from Nos. 79 to 86, on the South Street site. The foundation stone was laid in 1901, and the new building was ready for occupation in 1902.

The store had a glass roof to let light down into the three floors which were decked with flowers and maintained by a gardener.

South Street, Moor, decorated for the Royal Visit of King Edward VII in 1905, Nos 76-90, John Atkinson, Draper. Image: Picture Sheffield

At the outbreak of World War One, the shop had empty warehouses, and these were utilised for war work, responsible for making hundreds of thousands of stamped parts for guns, shells, and tanks.

In 1918 two new wings were added, and in 1920 more of the Eldon Street block was brought into use.

By the time of its fifty year centenary in 1922, Atkinson was assisted by his sons, Harold Thomas Atkinson, and John Walter Atkinson.

“There is an atmosphere of completeness about the store. It is not merely a draper’s store. It is a general outfitting establishment, with its well-cuisined restaurant, and its café; with its departments for gas-fitting, and electrical outfit; its men’s clothing department and its footgear stores; it has an ironmongery branch; as well as its branches for stationary, sweetmeats, and drugs and perfumes; for china and glass, as well as for bedding and bedsteads; while its fur department, its section for robes and gowns, costumes and skirts, wools, dress goods, piece silks, velveteens, Manchester goods, and millinery, gloves, and hosiery, and its cabinet and carpet and oilcloth departments, are just part of the wide-varied whole.”

Newspaper advertisement celebrating fifty years of John Atkinson in 1922. Image: British Newspaper Archive

A lot changed afterwards, the business flourished, but during the Second World War the store was destroyed in the Blitz of 1940, resulting in temporary shops for all its departments across the city.

The business operated like this until 1960 when a new purpose built store opened on The Moor.

This year marks Atkinsons 150th anniversary and John Atkinson would have been  shocked to find that his family-owned store is now the only department store left in Sheffield.

Atkinsons. The family-run business has seen wars, new out-of-town shopping developments and the coronavirus pandemic. Image: DJP/2022

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


GT Newsworld – “It was the talk of the trade and attracted all the major publishers to look at ventures which broke new ground in its field.”

GT Newsworld, Chapel Walk, Sheffield. Image: Keith Farnsworth

They say that print has no future. This is the case with newspapers that are in terminal decline. These days, we choose to get our news from a mobile phone instead. Magazines have fared a little better, but even these will go the same way.

A few months ago, a mate of mine asked me where he could buy a copy of The Grocer, the long-time voice of the food industry. I couldn’t answer that one, but there was a solution. This turned out to be an expensive online subscription that quickly got the thumbs down.

And then, last week I was browsing the magazine section in WH Smith and there it was. A solitary copy of The Grocer sandwiched between The Oldie and The Week. “We shouldn’t have it,” said the shop assistant, “It came by mistake, and we certainly won’t be stocking it again.”

So, where do we buy magazines these days?

According to the Periodical Publishers Association there are about 8,000 titles published in the UK, with a quarter of this made up by consumer magazines, the ones that we might buy in a newsagent or supermarket.

The biggest retailer is still WH Smith, but the supermarkets took a big chunk of its market share. and now the choice of magazines has shrunk and take up less and less selling space.

It has become a subscription world, where material is available online, or a glossy copy of your favourite magazine arrives through your letter box.  

But it wasn’t always this way, and in 1984, long before a digital world existed, a shop opened on busy Chapel Walk that threatened the monopoly of WH Smith.

GT Newsworld opened on Friday 2 March and was distinctive in that it became the first outlet in the country to sell nothing but news, offering a range of nearly 2,000 titles, with 1,000 displayed full face.

It was part of the George Turner Group, established in 1891, and better known in Sheffield as GT News.

Keith Farnsworth, the local writer, wrote a marvellous book about the history of the company in 1991, and it probably contains the only account anywhere about this rebellious undertaking.

“It was the talk of the trade and attracted all the major publishers and others to look at ventures which broke new ground in its field.”

GT Newsworld. Image: Keith Farnsworth

No.20 Chapel Walk had been a jeweller and its 800 square foot selling space had become available. Initially, the company had thought of using it as a GT Sports outlet, but Ashley Turner, had reminded his fellow directors that it was the ideal spot for a specialist magazine shop.

And so, the shop was refitted at a cost of £25,000, incorporating a computer system in which every title was barcoded, to ensure that sales and stock were constantly updated to keep the full range of titles on view.

It appeared to be a success, with customers milling around all day choosing every type of magazine available, including those imported from the United States. And it was easy to part with a tidy sum of cash and leave with a stack of reading material that never got read. But was it just a reading room where people spent an hour or so browsing magazines before leaving empty-handed?

At any rate, it seems to have lasted until the 1990s before closing, and we haven’t seen anything like it since.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


A Dublin view – ‘Sheffield’s £240m supertram superflop’.

I take you back to April 1998 when the Dublin Evening Herald published this gloomy article – ‘Sheffield’s £240m supertram superflop’.

“The experience of the Supertram in Sheffield is not a happy example of how LUAS can curb Dublin’s traffic problems. The light rail cost £240m in public funds to build and was touted as the green solution to traffic and pollution. Yet even its supporters now admit it’s been a disaster. Built in 1996, one year later, the Tories decided to privatise it. The value was set at £100m but late last year it was sold to Stagecoach, for £1m. It has always run at a loss and constantly failed to woo passengers from cars. Traffic is worse since construction was completed.”

Luas (Irish for ‘speed’), Dublin’s equivalent tram system opened in 2004, and was subject to the same pre-build criticism that Sheffield experienced.

The Sheffield Supertram network flourished under the management of Stagecoach. Passenger numbers increased rapidly and reached a peak of 15million a year in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The network was expanded in 2018 with the Sheffield/Rotherham tram-train but passenger numbers fell between 2017-2020 and then, of course, COVID came along.

But far from being a disaster, Supertram is now embedded in Sheffield history.

Stagecoach’s existing contract runs out in 2024, the same year that South Yorkshire taxpayers are due to stop paying the 5p a week levy to plug the early losses.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


When the Triumph Motor Company had a Sheffield owner

A 1939 Triumph Dolomite. Image: Classic Driver

It wasn’t that long ago that Triumph cars populated our roads. Sadly, the Triumph marque disappeared, but not many people realise that the car company once had its head office in Sheffield.

Triumph’s origins were in 1885 when Siegfried Bettmann and Moritz Schulte from Germany founded Bettmann & Co and started selling Triumph bicycles from premises in London and from 1889 started making their own machines in Coventry.

In 1930 the company changed to the Triumph Motor Company and made upmarket models like the Southern Cross and Gloria ranges. The company had financial problems and in 1936 the car, bicycle and motorcycle businesses were sold.

Donald Healey, a Triumph manager, bought the motor business and developed a new car called the Triumph Dolomite.

1938 Triumph Dolomite mascot

The Triumph Motor Company went into receivership in 1939 and was bought by T.W. Ward, the Sheffield-based ship-breaking, iron, and machinery business. The head office was at Albion Works on Saville Street, but it wasn’t a successful acquisition. World War Two stopped production of cars and the Triumph works at Priory Street, Coventry, was destroyed by bombing.

“The Triumph Company was to us merely a plain straightforward speculation,” said Mr S.J. Dyal, a director. “And because of the outbreak of war we really did not have the chance of continuing car production. We had no manufacturing space, and as a policy decision it was agreed that car production was not to be our line of business. So eventually the assets – little more than the name Triumph – were eventually taken over by The Standard Motor Company.”

Donald Healey stayed on at T.W. Ward before leaving to join Vickers-Armstrong in aircraft production.

Albion House, Savile Street, Sheffield. Former head office for T.W. Ward and briefly for the Triumph Motor Company. Image: Rightmove

Under ownership of the Standard Motor Company a new range of Triumph models appeared after the war. Sporting models were badged as Triumph while the Standard name appeared on saloons. The Standard name was dropped with the introduction of the Triumph 2000.

Afterwards, the company was bought by Leyland Motors and further mergers led to the formation of British Leyland (later Austin Rover) in 1968.  The last Triumph produced was the Acclaim in 1981 and the marque disappeared completely in 1984.

The trademark is currently owned by BMW, acquired when it bought the Rover Group in 1994, and when it later sold Rover, retained the Triumph marque.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Companies People

Tommy Ward – the man who built an empire

T.W. Ward, Albion Works offices, Savile Street, in 1937. The former offices still form an imposing appearance. Image: Picture Sheffield

When Thomas William Ward died in 1926, he had owned during his lifetime enough warships to make up a respectable fleet. He had founded T.W. Ward in 1877 and left what was probably the largest ship-breaking, iron, and machinery business in the world.

Once upon a time, businessmen had looked with suspicion on the scrap iron merchant and second-hand machinery business, but by honesty and square trading, Thomas lifted his business to the pinnacle which commanded the respect of the industrial community.

T. W. Ward, Coal Office, London Road, 1936. Image: Picture Sheffield

He was the son of Thomas William Ward of Wadsley Bridge and was born in Sheffield in 1853. He started his business career with Moss and Gamble, and in 1877, aged 24, launched out with his brothers as a coal, coke, and iron merchant. Within five years, he had cleared off obligations incurred in his father’s business and soon added the sale of machinery to his activities, extending the area of operations to deal with obsolete works and battleships.

Thomas William Ward (1853-1926)

Thomas had had the idea of dismantling old ships and recycling the material for other ‘useful’ purposes.

The business became a limited company in 1914 and such was the remarkable progress that it embraced 32 distinct undertakings in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The company dismantled many famous works, including Abbots Works, Gateshead; Bowling Ironworks; Kelham Rolling Mills, Sheffield; Derwent Rolling Mills, Workington; Dearne and Dove Works; Birchills Furnaces; West Cumberland and Whittington Works.

Many large battleships and merchant vessels were dismantled at Ward’s works, the list extending into several hundreds, including the steamers Luciana, Adriatic, H.M.S. Inflexible, H.M.S. Dreadnought, H.M.S. Magnificent, H.M.S. Prince of Wales, the German battleships Helgoland and Westfalen, and the steamer Canopie.

Lizzie Ward, the famous elephant, working for T. W. Ward in World War One. Image: Picture Sheffield

After World War One the company bought 1,000 tanks, the record purchase of 115 war vessels from the Admiralty, the acquisition of the Palestine pipeline, the Lartigue Railway, and the Marconi Wireless Station, Cliften, all for dismantling purposes.

Thomas Ward never sought public office but served as a J.P. and in 1913 had the unique honour of serving as president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Master Cutler, both at the same time. He also gave advice to several commissions in connection with the Merchandise Marks Act and the National Insurance Act

While conducting business, he travelled a great deal visiting America, South Africa, Australia, Sweden Norway, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

“I have succeeded because I worked very hard at the beginning, and as a young man I studied mechanics and metallurgy.”

His younger brother, Joseph, was involved in the business from the start, becoming chairman and managing director, while another brother, Arthur, and nephew, Ashley, were joint assistant managing directors. Together they erected an imposing headquarters on Savile Street, known as Albion Works, with other extensive premises at Preston and Wednesbury.

T.W. Ward Ltd Shipbreakers Yard, Grays, Essex, Seen from above in 1921. Image: Britain from Above

Thomas was a member of the Wesleyan Church, holding many lay offices, and gave generously to the church. He was an enthusiastic horticulturalist, and his gardens at The Grove, Millhouses, and then Endcliffe Vale, were a source of great pride and pleasure to him.

He died at  Endcliffe Vale House, aged 72, in 1926, and was buried at Crookes Cemetery.

The company was run by the family until the latter part of the 1950s, by which time there were five divisions – raw materials, construction, engineering, motor distribution and industrial supplies. Through acquisitions the Ward Group consisted over 35 companies by the 1960s, but its fortunes dwindled in the following decades.

A display of Hillman, Humber and Sunbeam Ralbot cars at E.H. Pickford and Co, motor dealer and engineer, c1953. The company became part of the T.W. Ward Group. Image: Picture Sheffield

The Group was acquired by Rio Tinto Zinc in 1982 but after significant losses an administration order was granted to the parent company, Ward Group, in 1992 and although the subsidiaries traded normally, most were subsequently sold.

The machinery division was acquired by an MBO in 1983 and is now known as T.W. Ward CNC Machinery, still operating at Albion Works.

In 1937, T.W. Ward were appointed to demolish the remains of fire-damaged Crystal Palace in Sydenham Park, London. The company reclaimed scrap iron and debris.
Albion Works. Seen from Bailey Bridge. Image: DJP/2021

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved


The HOME of Stanley Tools

“For many of us, you hear the name “Stanley” and you think blades. And when you think “blades”, you think Sheffield. Yes, Sheffield and Stanley seem to go together like peaches and cream.”

The signs around Bramall Lane and Hillsborough used to say ‘The Home of Stanley Tools’ and a generation of us thought this was another great old Sheffield company.

However, the story of Stanley Tools takes place on two continents.

The forebears of Frederick Trent Stanley were English and emigrated to the United States. He was born in Connecticut in 1802 and began working on the family farm before labouring in various manufacturing industries. In 1843, he co-founded the Stanley Bolt Manufactory, and later the Stanley Works,  in New Britain, to make door bolts and other wrought-iron hardware. He could often be seen driving around New England in his horse-drawn buggy, visiting homes and farms to fit them up with his products.

By the time of his death in 1883, The Stanley Works’ capital investment had increased more than tenfold, and the enterprise had developed into a well-known manufacturer of hinges, planes, bolts, bits, and other tools.

Frederick Trent Stanley (1802-1883)

In 1857 his cousin, Henry Stanley, founded The Stanley Rule and Level Company in the city. Planes invented by Leonard Bailey and manufactured by the company, known as Stanley/Bailey planes, were prized by woodworkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The two companies merged in 1920, and the Stanley Rule and Level Company became part of Stanley Works.

And now to Sheffield where James Arscott Chapman (born Bristol, 1827) began making carpenters’ braces in the 1860s at the Industry Tool Works, Woodside Lane. On his death in 1891, the W.A. Chapman company might have passed to his eldest son Joseph, but he was about to spend time in prison after being found guilty of embezzlement. Instead, James, his youngest son, took over the business which grew and prospered.

After the turn of the twentieth century further expansion took place, and during the First World War the company manufactured thousands of bayonets in addition to their regular line of tools.

The business changed hands after the death of James Chapman in 1925 and the manufacture of planes, hand drills and breast drills were added to the line of carpenters’ braces. In 1934, it started making hand planes under the Acorn name.

In 1936, the Stanley Works of New Britain, Connecticut, purchased J.A. Chapman Ltd and started developing its celebrated range of Stanley Tools which had previously been imported from the United States since the 1870s.

Existing plant and facilities were expanded, and a new five-storey building was erected in Rutland Road.

The Stanley Tool Works on Rutland Road and environs, Sheffield, 1950. Image: Britain from Above

The first line to be introduced was the famous Stanley bench plane, and production was well established by the time World War Two put a stop to further developments.

During the war the production of planes, braces, breast drills and hand drills, was expanded to meet the ever-increasing demands of the armed forces and Government departments.

In addition, millions of shell primers and tracer shells were manufactured on modern automatic plant.

The building was extended in 1950 and 1961 and a second site opened at Ecclesfield, but like the rest of Sheffield’s tool industry, the company suffered at the hands of cheap imports. A lot of production was switched abroad, and the Rutland Road/Woodside Road site was closed in 2008.

Better days. The former Stanley Tools factory on Rutland Road. Eventually killed by cheap tool imports. Image: Hill Shadowed City

But that wasn’t the end of the Stanley Tools story.

Tool manufacturing was switched to an efficient new factory at Hellaby, Rotherham, and allowed the manufacture of Stanley Tools to return from Asia.

And what about that famous utility knife, generically known around the world as a Stanley Knife? In 2012, Stanley brought the manufacture of steel blades for its knives back to the UK. Made in Rotherham.

Stanley Works and Black & Decker merged in 2010 to become the world’s largest tools and storage company, the world’s second largest commercial electronic security business and the world’s second largest engineered fastening company.

But there is a sad twist to the Stanley Tools story in Sheffield.

Search ‘Stanley Tools Sheffield’ on the internet and you will come across loads of urban explorer sites that record the decline and fall of a former manufacturing facility.

The Rutland Road site is empty and becoming more derelict by the day. Image: Google

“The Stanley Tools Factory, which quickly fell into a state of disrepair, was being frequented by homeless. It was put up for sale, with parts of the factory used on the weekends as a zombie-themed Airsoft venue. When a buyer for the full site couldn’t be found, some of the buildings were sold to smaller businesses, such as car dealers and scrapyards. On 30th January 2021, a large fire tore through one of the derelict buildings on the Stanley Tools factory site. Around 25 firefighters tackled the blaze overnight and got it under control by the early hours of the following morning.”
Lost Places & Forgotten Faces

Today, the term “utility knife” also includes small folding-, retractable- and/or replaceable-razor blade knives suited for use in the general workplace or in the construction industry. The latter type is sometimes generically called a Stanley knife, after the prominent brand.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved