The Hadfield Bean. Built with famous Sheffield steels

Hadfield Bean. The steel-maker Hadfields took it over in 1926 but by 1929 it ceased car production. In 1933 Hadfield re-launched the company as Beans Industries, making components for other motor vehicle manufacturers. Photograph: Fluxposure

Hadfields limited of Hecla and East Hecla, Sheffield, founded by Robert Hadfield in 1869, was an established manufacturer of special steels, in particular manganese alloys and steel castings. The company was taken over by his son, Sir Robert Abbott Hadfield (1858-1940) and by 1911 was believed to employ more workmen than any other business in the city. It specialised in the production of war materials but in 1926 agreed to rescue Harper Bean Ltd, manufacturer of Bean Cars, with factories in Dudley, Worcestershire and Coseley, Staffordshire.

The car company traced its origins to two auto component suppliers, A Harper and Sons and Bean Ltd. For a few years in the early 1920s Bean outsold Austin and Morris, the business model relying on high volumes, but its financial troubles resulted in its rescue by Sheffield-based Hadfields which supplied steel for the cars.

The 1928 14-45 H.P. Hadfield Bean with fabric body was featured in magazine articles of the day. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

From 1927, all cars were known as Hadfield Beans, but the last model was launched in 1928 and by the following year production had ceased.

Hadfields eventually merged with Samuel Osborn and after various takeovers came to prominence in the steel strike of 1980 when ugly picket line scenes hit national headlines. It eventually suffered the same fate as much of the British steel industry and was closed in 1983. The East Hecla site is now mainly covered by Meadowhall Shopping Centre.

A 1928 newspaper advert for the Hadfield Bean 14-45 car. Built with Hadfields’ famous Sheffield steels. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Buildings Companies

Castle House: From the Co-op to Hollywood in 80 languages

Castle House designed by George S Hay, Chief Architect for CWS, with interior design by Stanley Layland, interior designer for CWS. Reinforced concrete with Blue Pearl granite tiles and veneers, grey granite tiles and veneers, buff granite blocks, glass, and brick. Photograph: DJP/2019

Ever wondered who creates the subtitles for Hollywood movies from the likes of Disney, HBO, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, Viacom, and Netflix?

Look no further than Sheffield company, Zoo Digital, established in 2001 by Stuart Green and Ian Stewart of Gremlin Interactive. In 2003 it had a worldwide smash with the first interactive DVD game, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? Afterwards, it developed new tech and started subtitling, dubbing, cloud operations and streaming.

Zoo Digital creates subtitles and dubbing voiceovers in 80 languages for Hollywood films shown around the world. But unlike rivals based in studios shuttered by the pandemic, its cloud-based tech can be used anywhere. The firm has 7,000 freelance voice artists and translators who mostly work from home. It also has offices in London, Dubai, and Hollywood, with total global staffing at more than 270.

Recently, it completed a strategic investment in Istanbul-based media company ARES Media to grow ZOO’s services for Turkish content.

Zoo Digital posted posted a 64% increase in revenue for the six months ended 30th September 2021. Photograph: Insider Media

Based on St Mary’s Gate, it’s now moving all its 160 Sheffield-based workers into the former Co-op department store on Angel Street. It joins another top city tech firm, WANdisco, which made the building home in October 2019. Castle House is also home to popular food hall Kommune and a Barclays tech accelerator.

Grade II listed Castle House was designed by George S. Hay, chief architect for the Co-operative Wholesale Society, for the Brightside & Carbrook. It was built between 1959 and 1964 before closing in 2007.

ZOO operates from production facilities in the key entertainment hubs of Los Angeles, London, Turkey and UAE and has a development and production centre in Sheffield. Photograph: Netflix

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved

Buildings Companies

Boots: Prescriptions on the High Street for 123 years

A modern-day view of Boots on High Street, Sheffield

Boots might be a Nottingham company, but Sheffield has played an important part in its long history. Established in 1849 by John Boot, it was his son Jesse who built the company into a household name with stores all over the world. Its first chemist branch outside Nottingham was at 17 Spital Hill, in 1884, followed by branches at Snig Hill, West Street, South Street (The Moor), Attercliffe, London Road, Netherthorpe, Abbeydale, and Shalesmoor.

Sheffield was firmly in Jesse Boots’ sights and for a brief time, in the early 1890s, he lived here with his wife Florence. Its most prominent branch opened in May 1898 at 6 High Street, on land owned by John Walsh (of department store fame) between the Fosters Building (erected 1896) and the auctioneers Nicholson, Greaves, Barber and Hastings (now Café Nero). All were constructed as part of High Street widening plans.

The High Street branch opened in 1898 and the illustration shows what the original building looked like. Photograph: British Newspaper Archive

Boots opened its narrow shop alongside the Thatched House Restaurant, taking advantage of heavy footfall between High Street and Fargate. On 8 October 1918, a Government Information Bureau opened in-store. The Bureaux had been established by the government earlier in the year to provide information to the public on matters relating to the First World War; national war aims, national services, war savings, food, labour, and so on. This was one of just twenty such bureau, each located in a prime Boots store, and it required only two square yards of space for its small, pre-fabricated stand.

Boots refitted its store in 1922, but when the Thatched House Restaurant came on the market in 1929 it bought the property and announced plans to extend next door. The plans were radical and involved demolition of both properties, only 33 years after they had been constructed.

The new enlarged building was designed by Percy J. Bartlett, the Boots’ architect, and was constructed by Thomas Wilkinson and Sons, Olive Grove Works, Sheffield.

“Cheap drugs would be dear if they were cheap and nasty. Nasty to the palate many drugs are bound to be; but worse is the nastiness of bad quality.” – Jesse Boot

The handsome elevation was based on the Renaissance style, the modern shop front, the black and silver canopy, the green slates surmounting the lower story, and the blue-green of the windows above, formed a modern building combined with traditional beauty.

It was constructed in Stoke Hall stone, provided by Percy J. Turner from their own quarries at Grindleford. Warm yellow in colour, it claimed to be impervious to the effects of acids in smoke-laden atmospheres.

The shop front was a tribute to Sheffield’s staple industry, completed in Firth Brown ‘Staybrite’ steel, which was as much attractive to the eye as the deeply recessed entrance, and non-slip paving. The steel was used for framing the windows and main entrance doors, and the Boots sign was cast in Staybrite and mounted with neon lights.

The glass and iron canopy decorated in black and silver was capable of illumination at night, and replaced old-fashioned shop blinds, to provide permanent protection against rain.

Photographs: Walgreens Boots Alliance

The interior fittings were chiefly light mahogany, the floors laid in ceramic mosaic on top of ‘bison’ concrete flooring, and heating was generated by rooftop pipes to provide even temperature throughout its three sales floors.

The ground floor was set aside for the principal business of chemist and toiletries. A surgical department, staffed by fully trained nurses, provided a private fitting room and a dispensary.

Photograph: Walgreens Boots Alliance

A staircase in the centre of the showroom led to the basement, where travelling goods, stationary, books, pictures and artists’ materials were displayed. The first floor contained the ‘Booklovers’ Library’ decorated in blue and green, and a fascinating exhibition of artistic gifts, silver, and fancy merchandise. All three floors were served by a staircase and two lifts.

Electric lighting in the store was designed by Harcourts, of Birmingham, based on original suggestions of Percy J. Bartlett. The fittings were arranged to take four one hundred watt Cosmos lamps, with a combination of four crystal etched glass cylinders.

Photograph: Walgreens Boots Alliance

It opened in October 1931, and the address became 4-6 High Street. Two years later a Bargain Basement opened, bringing a modern style of retailing to the store. Further alterations were made in 1936 and it was later extended into the adjacent Foster’s Building.

Photographs: Walgreens Boots Alliance

Those of a certain generation will remember that the basement eventually opened out into a subway that stretched across High Street, and which was eventually lost when Supertram works started.

Sadly, the frontage we see today is the result of the generic modernisation of the retail sector, but remember it only disguises the past.

Boots is now part of the Retail Pharmacy International Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.

Percy J. Bartlett, the Boots’ architect, on his retirement. Photograph: Walgreens Boots Alliance
Shop windows as they used to be. Photograph: Walgreens Boots Alliance

See also Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive and Lenton Hall as featured on House and Heritage – the sister site to Sheffielder

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


From horse and cart to Big Green Parcel Machine

Tuffnells adopted its slogan – The Big Green Parcel Machine – in 1985. Photograph: Tuffnells

Which Sheffield company operates from a network of 34 depots, with a head office in the city, and serves about 4,000 businesses?

This is a company founded in 1914 by Harold James Tuffnell  (1886-1963) with a horse and a cart he bought for £100. His surname is the giveaway, and today Tuffnells is a nationwide parcels carrier.

Harold James Tuffnell was once a groom to Charles Crookes, a steel manufacturer of East Cliffe House, East Bank Road. He died at the Royal Hospital in 1963. Photograph: Tuffnells

By the 1920s, Harold Tuffnell was operating on Langdon Street as a motor haulage contractor and coal merchant, living at 261 Pearl Street. By 1936, H.J. Tuffnell Ltd, carriers, were on Mary Street, with Harold living at 149 Folds Lane

By 1951, H.J. Tuffnell operated seven vehicles with a livery of maroon and cream, but two years later was sold to Mr E.J. Shaw, who had bought into removal company Caudles (established in the 1890s by William Caudle as a coal merchant, furniture remover, and haulier).

The company moved to Woodbourn Road, and subsequently to Shepcote Lane in the late 1960s.

Tuffnells new Shepcote Lane distribution centre in 1968. Photograph: Picture Sheffield

In 1971, Tuffnells was sold to TDG (Transport Development Group), a company founded in 1922 as The General Lighterage Co, and which eventually was swallowed up by Nobert Dentressangle and XPO Logistics. Under TDG, Tuffnells expanded and by the 1980s operated out of fifteen depots nationwide.

It changed its name to Tuffnells Parcels Express in 1985, and with a fleet of two hundred vehicles, adopted the slogan, The Big Green Parcel Machine.

Tuffnells was subject to a £33m management buyout in 2005 and turnover exceeded £100m for the first time. It came to the attention of the Connect Group, another company with a long history – originally known as W.H. Smith News and renamed Smiths News in 2006 from the demerger of W.H. Smith. It became the Connect Group before reverting to Smiths News again.

Connect paid £100m for Tuffnells in its centenary year, later moving its main distribution centre to Europa Close and its head office to the former Sheffield City Council Offices on Carbrook Hall Road.

The takeover was not without its problems and subject to a run of poor performance, (“a drag on profitability and cash”), Connect had considered closing it, before off-loading the company (and its 1,200 green trucks) to investment vehicle Palm Bidco for £15m in July 2020, effectively returning the company back into private hands once again.

Still going strong, despite plans by the Connect Group to close the business in 2019. Photograph: Tuffnells
Measuring 20,000 square foot and sitting on a four-acre site, the Europa Close site is home to 41 vehicles, 51 loading bays and 139 employees. Photograph: AKV Group

Picture Sheffield

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Béres: from Budapest, a Sheffield success story

The Béres hot pork sandwich has been hailed as a Sheffield favourite for the past 50 years. Photograph: Béres.

If it hadn’t been for a speech in 1956 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev then you might not have been able to enjoy your modern-day Sheffield pork sandwich.  Khrushchev attacked the period of Joseph Stalin’s rule and, encouraged by the new freedom of debate and criticism, a rising tide of unrest and discontent in Hungary broke out into active fighting in October 1956. The following month, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to stop the revolution.

Sandor Béres , a young Hungarian butcher, left his home city of Budapest after communists had taken possession of his father’s butchers shops, and arrived in the UK as a political refugee. He was one of many evacuees to seek a new life in Sheffield, and in 1960 married a Barnsley girl, Eileen Lovell, whom he met at a dance.

A year later, Sandor and Eileen, opened their first butchers shop at Wadsley Bridge, and set up a mobile round selling to nearby estates. Béres specialised in pork and beef, and quickly realised the potential of selling freshly-made pork sandwiches to Sheffield folk. Within a few years, they’d opened three more Béres shops.

Photographs: Béres

Their son, Richard, joined the business in 1988, and under his leadership embarked on a significant expansion plan. In the 1990s, he was joined by his two sisters, Helen and Catherine, and the business trebled in size with further shops in the north of the city.

Larger production facilities were needed, and Béres converted a factory on Rawson Spring Road allowing it to bake its own bread.

In the early part of this century the company expanded into Crookes, Woodseats, and Chapeltown, as well as shops on Pinstone Street and Crystal Peaks, and will open their fourteenth shop at Broomhill next month.

Béres shop at Crystal Peaks shopping centre. Photograph: Béres.

Béres bone-out and roast all their own joints and each pork sandwich is freshly made to order. The success of the Béres Pork sandwich is said to be down to the taste, enhanced by the roasting juices that each breadcake is dipped in. And, of course, the company sells a range of other tasty products, including pies, cooked and raw meats, and pork dripping.

After 60 years, Béres (note the Hungarian diacritic) is a Sheffield institution.

Béres production facility on Rawson Spring Road. Photograph: Google.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Companies

The rise and fall of Sheffield General Post Office

A sketch of Sheffield Post Office, Fitzalan Square, in 1909. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.

There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.

The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.

In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).

A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.

Sheffield’s first Post Office, in the Commercial Buildings on High street. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.

The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.

Sheffield Post Office, Market Place. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.

While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.

In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.

These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.

The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.

In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.

And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Buildings Companies People

Sheffield Telegraph

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1855, soon after the abolition of newspaper stamp duty, that had set newspaper prices at 5d to 7d, a dour down-at-heel Scotsman called Mr Benson turned up in Sheffield. After looking the town over, he called at the offices of Joseph Pearce Jnr, a printer and bookseller on High Street, and told him that he had people in London and Manchester who proposed starting a newspaper in Sheffield.

Joseph Pearce was convinced, and Benson recruited shop canvassers from street corners to obtain subscribers at 1s 6d for a month’s issues. The campaign netted a small fortune, and the next day Mr Benson arrived at the office wearing a brand new hat a new pair of wellingtons.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

The first issue of the four-page Sheffield Daily Telegraph appeared on June 8, 1855, distributed by Benson’s messengers on the back of a wheelbarrow.

Ten days later, Mr Benson, the comic-faced Scot disappeared and was never heard of again. His promised capital was so far behind him that it never caught up.

A man sent to London to telegraph back news milked from the national papers found himself out of pocket, and unable to ask for help, because Benson had failed to mention his colleague back in Sheffield. On his last night in London, the representative of the ‘country’s first great provincial daily’ had to split his journey home.

Joseph Pearce, left with the fallout, met his obligations to initial subscribers and decided to carry on. He arranged to take Reuter dispatches from the Crimean War, a story that was filling everybody’s minds, and sales started to grow.

There were already several weekly newspapers in Sheffield, all of which ignored this ‘upstart’, but when Sheffield writers gathered around the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, it burst this bubble of complacency, and one of them, the Sheffield Independent, was forced to publish daily as well.

Despite the rising popularity of the paper, published at 8am every day, it was a financial struggle for Joseph Pearce, and after nine years he decided to make way for younger blood.

Photograph of Editor’s office by Picture Sheffield

In 1864, Frederick Clifford and William Christopher Leng arrived, the latter becoming editor, and relocating to Aldine Court, off High Street.

Under these two, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph aimed to popularise the Conservative Party cause amongst the working class, and Leng’s trenchancy and personal courage during the trade union outrages in the 1860s enhanced the newspaper’s prestige.

By 1898 it was selling 1.25 million copies a week, along with its sister publications, the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, with articles and serialised fiction, and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

In 1900, Winston Churchill became South African war correspondent for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, as well as the Morning Post, and the January issue carried his story in four columns of his capture by the Boers.

Photograph by Prime Location

Between 1913 and 1916, a new front to the extensive old buildings of the editorial and printing departments at Aldine Court, was built. Constructed in English Renaissance-style, it was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, and still dominates High Street today. (It was eventually replaced with modern buildings on York Street).

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Clifford-Leng ownership ended in 1925, bought by Allied Newspapers, controlled by William Ewart Berry, Gomer Berry and Sir Edward Mauger Iliffe, which had been systematically buying up provincial newspapers, though chairmanship was retained by Frederick Clifford’s son, Charles, who actively shared management of the paper until his death in 1936.

Sir Charles Clifford had arrived in 1878 and ten years later was instrumental in the purchase of the Sheffield Evening Telegraph’s rival, the Evening Star, a name familiar to us now as the Sheffield Star.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1931, Allied Newspapers bought the rival Sheffield Independent, printing both separately, but both papers started losing ground to the national press and at one time the loss of both seemed possible.

The Allied Newspapers partnership was dissolved in 1937, each partner needing a raft of holdings to pass onto their heirs, with James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley, taking control of the Sheffield operation, briefly dropping the word ‘Daily’ from Sheffield Telegraph, and amalgamating it with the Sheffield Independent in 1938 to become the Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent, with a broader policy embracing the fundamental principles of both newspapers.

During the first years of World War Two, Kemsley Newspapers, as it had been renamed by Lord Kemsley, became the Telegraph and Independent, commanding world correspondents of Kemsley newspapers, and across the British Isles.

The newspaper eventually became the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent, subsequently the Sheffield Telegraph, and was bought by Roy Herbert Thompson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet, in 1959.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1965, it was briefly renamed the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, then the Morning Telegraph, continuing a long tradition of producing excellent news correspondents .

Notable staff across its history have included Sir Harold Evans, who was later Public Relations Officer to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and head of ITV News; author Peter Tinniswood; novelists John Harris and J.L. Hodson; cartoonists Ralph Whitworth and J. F. Horrabin; critics George Linstead and E. F. Watling; sports writers John Motson, the BBC football commentator, Lawrence Hunter, Peter Keeling, Peter Cooper, Frank Taylor (who later survived the Munich Air crash of 1958), and Keith Farnsworth.

Other editorial staff members have included Keith Graves, who was later with the BBC and Sky TV as a much-travelled reporter; Peter Harvey, a long-serving feature writer who was awarded the MBE in 2002; Geoffrey L. Baylis, who in later years was honoured for services to journalism in New Zealand; Barry Lloyd-Jones, Brian Stevenson and Clive Jones, who were news editors; Leslie F. Daniells and Frazer Wright were long serving industrial reporters; Alf Dow, a news editor who was later the company’s first training officer, and ended his career in public relations at Newton Chambers; Richard Gregory, who became a leading figure at Yorkshire Television and was later chairman of the Yorkshire Bank; George Hopkinson; Jean Rook, who was later a women’s writer with the Daily Express; and Will Wyatt.

Photograph by Hold the Front Page

The Morning Telegraph was sold (along with The Star) to United Newspapers in the 1970s, ceasing production in 1986.

The collapse of the newspaper was attributed to moves by estate agents to move advertising away from the highly-popular Saturday edition, and set up what turned out to be an unsuccessful rival property guide.

In 1989, the Sheffield Telegraph was relaunched as a weekly and continues to this day, although now under ownership of JPI Media, formerly the ill-fated Johnston Press.


“Does exactly what it says on the tin.”

This story doesn’t start in Sheffield, but 230 miles away at Brighton in East Sussex, when in the late 1800s, a gentleman by the name of Fowler formulated a special polish called Fowler’s Wax Composition, although legend suggests it might have been Mrs Fowler who came up with the putty-coloured substance.

Production was taken over by his son, Thomas Horace Fowler, who registered the name of the polish as Ronuk in 1896, an anglicised form of a word suggested by an ex-Indian Army officer signifying brilliance.

Photograph by Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Photograph by Brighton & Hove City Libraries

Manufacturing switched to Portslade, a suburb of Brighton, and in 1927, Ronuk launched Colron Wood Dyes that helped establish the company as a leading UK DIY brand, followed by Ronseal wood varnish in 1956.

Our story switches to Chapeltown in 1960, when Newton Chambers, one of England’s largest industrial companies, founded in 1789 by George Newton and Thomas Chambers, bought Ronuk.

The brands were absorbed into the company’s Izal division in 1963, and the following year manufacturing was switched to Sheffield. With significant investment, the Ronuk, Ronseal and Colron brands soon became dominant, but by 1968, Roncraft had been adopted as the name for Ronseal.

Newton Chambers was bought by Central and Sheerwood in 1972, and the following year Izal was sold to the Sterling Winthrop Group, renaming the Roncraft business as Sterling Roncraft.

In 1989, Sterling Winthrop was bought by Eastman Kodak, until the multinational photographic company sold all its DIY business to New York-based investment bank Forstmann Little & Co, which included the Roncraft brand (reverting back to its Ronseal name) within its Thompson Minwax Holding Corporation.

The brands were sold again in 1997 to Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams, involved in the manufacture of paint coatings across North and South America and Europe. Far from diluting the integrity of the brand it renamed the Roncraft business as Ronseal Ltd, advancing the name with a new slogan – “Does exactly what it says on the tin” – devised by advertising agency HHCL.

With production now taking place at a new facility in Thorncliffe Park, Chapeltown, a new warehouse was opened in 2007. Two years later, Sherwin-Williams acquired Altax, a woodcare company in Poland, and added to its Ronseal Coatings division.

Still owned by Sherwin-Williams and considered to be the UK brand leader in varnish and woodstain products, Ronseal achieved acclaim in 2013 when Prime Minister David Cameron told a mid-term press conference that the coalition between the Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats was a “Ronseal deal.”

Photograph by Google
Photograph by Google

Izal: “The invisible guardian against risks to health.”

Here’s a topical post because it involves disinfectant and toilet paper… and a brand that was once a brand leader. I’m talking about Izal, made here in Sheffield, famous for that waxy disinfectant toilet paper that many of us grew up with.

The origins go back to 1793 when George Newton and Thomas Chambers became partners in the Phoenix Foundry and, along with financier Henry Longden, they signed a 21-year-lease with Earl Fitzwilliam, the landowner, to extract coal and ironstone from the Thorncliffe Valley near Chapeltown.

A hundred years after coal production began it turned to Jason Hall Worrall, a chemist, to analyse the oil produced by coke and subsequently develop a germicide oil which, when mixed with an emulsifying agent, dispersed through any liquid.

The resulting product was trialled in hospitals and became known as Thorncliffe Patent Disinfectant before being called Izal – reputed to be an anagram of Liza, Worrall’s sister.

“Izal – the new non-poisonous disinfectant and prevention of infection. Izal prevents infection in Cholera, Smallpox, Diphtheria, Influenza, Scarlet Fever, Swine Fever, Malaria, Worms, Typhus, and Typhoid Fever, and practically covers the whole field of infectious diseases.”

The claims seem unbelievably wild today, but Izal attracted favourable reports from bacteriologists.

One of its products was a ‘scratchy’ toilet paper, impregnated with Izal disinfectant, and given away free to local authorities which bought bulk supplies of hygiene products.

Izal Toilet paper appeared in hospitals, schools and public buildings (‘Government Property’) around the country and wasn’t sold to the public until 1922.

In 1924, William Heath Robinson, a cartoonist and illustrator, was employed by Newton Chambers to provide amusing illustrations on the toilet rolls, and in the 1930s there were rhymes printed on each sheet. During World War 2, the sheets were printed with a cartoon of Adolph Hitler, very popular with the public but less so with officials.

Shiny on one side, rough on the other, experience showed that the paper was better at smearing rather than cleaning, and children of a certain age remember it better as being a useful musical instrument (comb and paper), as well as an excellent tracing paper.

Alongside the toilet Rolls, the Izal brand extended to San Izal Disinfectant, San Pine Disinfectant, soaps, shampoos, shaving foams, Polly kitchen rolls and even Izal lozenges and mints, in all about 137 products.

In 1968, Newton Chambers unsuccessfully tried to buy rival manufacturer Jeyes (makers of Jeyes Fluid and Parazone), and in 1973 the whole Newton Chambers business was acquired by Sterling-Winthrop (Sterling Industrial) which continued Izal production at Thorncliffe until 1981.

Restrictions of the use of poisons, and increased competition, lessened Izal’s market dominance, although it was still going strong in the 1970s. With a certain irony, the Izal brand was sold to Jeyes in 1986 and production stopped completely in 2010.

Ten years’ later, Izal Medicated Toilet Tissue is back on the shelves (or not as recent experience shows) but is still tainted by bad memories.

“The Clint Eastwood of loo paper – it’s rough, it’s tough and takes no shit.”



Photograph by Maxons

“I have been with Maxons since the 1950s, when I was taken on to be the face of Maxons, and except for a brief kidnapping in the 1980s, I have been at the factory on Bradbury Street with my friends the Pitchforks, and all those who look after me at Maxons.”

These words taken from the Mint Rock King’s facebook page, a clever marketing ploy by Maxons, the Sheffield sweet firm, manufacturers of Dixons famous Mint Rock.

Photograph by Maxons

The story of Maxons is a steady if not low-key account.

We must go back to 1885  when Henry Dixon (1861-1949) started making sweets and toffees. His father was Fanshaw Dixon, a silversmith by trade and a mover in the cause for Liberalism in Sheffield. Henry started as a wholesale manufacturing confectioner, establishing the business at Britannia Confectionery Works on Love Street.

Photograph of Britannia Confectionery Works by Maxons

Henry was one of the founders and twice president of the Sheffield Confectioners’ Association, as well as being involved with the British Federation of Wholesale Confectioners, of which he was twice president also.

Like many Victorians, he was a man of religious means, being a member of Queen Street Congregational Church, a Sunday School worker, and lay preacher. He was also an ardent Band of Hope and temperance worker and became president of the Sheffield Congregational Association.

Photograph of Henry Dixon by Maxons

In 1896, Henry created Dixon’s Superior Mint Rock sold in tins, later adding Butter Scotch and Walnut Toffee. The business passed to his son, Henry Dixon Jr, who continued production at Love Street, and while their advertising was always low key, Dixon’s Mint Rock became a favourite with Sheffielders.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

In 1927, W.E. and L. MacDonald, also started in the confectionery business, calling themselves Maxons (Mac and Son). The manufacture of their products, predominantly toffee, gave way to boiled sweets including Yorkshire Mixture, Pear Drops and Winter Mixture.

Production took place in the high altitude of Bents Green, at  “Glengarry” (No. 52) on Muskoka Drive, the building standing in a garden, with products sold across the city as well as in its own shop, at 24 Ecclesall Road.

Photograph of Maxons ‘garden’ factory by The British Newspaper Archive

Ralph Pitchfork was born in 1913, the son of a Sheffield newsagent, who, on leaving school in 1931, when employment was scarce following the great depression, managed to gain employment with one of his father’s suppliers – Maxons.

He remained with them until 1950, when he purchased another local wholesale and manufacturing confectioner in Sheffield, trading as Ralph Pitchfork Ltd. with the manufacturing arm trading as Maxons Ltd.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

Following the end of sweet rationing in 1953, both the wholesale and manufacturing companies began to expand and, in 1958, Ralph Pitchfork merged his two companies with those of Henry Dixon Ltd, after Henry Dixon Jr chose to sell because he had no male heir to take over from him.

The merger created a substantial wholesale company that traded under the name of Dixon Pitchfork Ltd. The enlarged Maxons included not only the Maxons branded range, but also added the Dixon’s range to its portfolio of products – these included the regional favourites; Mint Rock, Cherry Balsams and Buttermints.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In the 1960s the registered name of Jesmona Black Bullets was acquired from John W. Welch of Whitley Bay, and production moved to Sheffield.

Jesmona Old Fashioned Black Bullets, its name coming from the Jesmond district of Newcastle, were reputed to have originally been made using moulds for musket-balls. This dark-brown peppermint-flavoured sweet (made with sugar, glucose and peppermint oil), was as popular in the north-east, well-liked by miners and shipyard workers, as Dixon’s Mint Rock was to the steelworkers in Sheffield.

Interestingly, John Welch’s grand-daughter is Denise Welch, the actress, who says she was nicknamed Truly Scrumptious at school because of her sweet-making family.

Photograph by Maxons

The wholesale company of Dixon Pitchfork Ltd. was sold in the late 1960s and eventually, like many privately owned wholesale confectioners lost its identity to one of the national groups.

Maxons continued as a privately owned, independent, manufacturing company under the direction of Ralph’s son – Roger Pitchfork, and now by his grandsons – Chris and Richard Pitchfork. 

Maxons is the main brand used to produce old fashioned sweet jars, retail bags, Sherpots, Headsplitters (responsible for a 20 per cent leap in turnover in 2018), Stupidly Sours and bulk products. All Dixons-branded sweets are traditionally made by hand using recipes handed down from 1885, its Mint Rock still made from cream of tartare rather than glucose.

The company has also re-introduced the Charles Butler brand, using recipes dating back to 1848, to create a hand crafted Victorian-style boiled sweet.

Photograph by Maxons

As well as Jesmona Black Bullets, the company is well-known for its traditional Yorkshire Mixture, consisting of fruit and mint flavoured sweets, thought to originate from the early 1800s in  industrial cities. Sweet vendors went from factory to factory selling a small mixture of the sweet factory’s production from the previous day, whatever was left.

In 2017, Yorkshire Mixture was the subject of a fascinating court case, when Maxons and West Yorkshire based Joseph Dobson went head to head for the rights to the Yorkshire Mixture name. In a case costing £15,000 over eighteen months, eventually going to the European Intellectual Property Office, Maxons was given the go-ahead to continue producing the sweets under the Yorkshire Mixture brand – after Dobson’s tried to claim exclusive rights to use the name. 

Photograph by Maxons