Freedom of the City – Sheffield’s highest honour

Richard Caborn is the latest person to be given Freedom of the City. Born in 1943, he became MEP for Sheffield, MP for Sheffield Central, and held three Ministerial portfolios. He is currently chair of Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park. Image/Sheffield City Council

It’s three years since the City of Sheffield last conferred the title of Freedom of the City. That was John Burkhill BEM, the man with the pram, for his tireless fundraising efforts, and probably the most popular choice.

But the city’s highest honour has now been awarded to Richard Caborn, former MP, and Minister, who joins his father, George, on a list of over seventy names.

He joins a selective group who have been given Freedom of the City, and includes the Duke of Norfolk, Viscount Kitchener, Field Marshall Douglas Haig, David Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald, Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, and Nelson Mandella.

Lord Kitchener visited Sheffield and received the freedom of the city in September 1902. The drawing of the scene in the Town Hall was published in the Sheffield Telegraph. Image/PictureSheffield

And there have been Freedom of the City awards to local dignitaries such as Sir Frederick Mappin, Sir William Clegg, John George Graves, Harry Brearley, and Sir Stuart Goodwin.

More recently, the likes of Derek Dooley, Michael Vaughan, Lord Coe of Ranmore, and Jessica Ennis have also been granted the honour.

Freedom of the City isn’t confined to individuals and the armed services have received the title as well. These include HMS Sheffield; The Chestnut Troop, 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery; 38th Signal Regiment (Volunteers); 212 (Yorkshire) Field Hospital (Volunteers) and The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) – subsequently conferred to the Yorkshire Regiment.

But the Freedom of the City can be taken away as well, as was the case with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of National League for Democracy in Burma) who had it removed in 2017.

Harry Brearley being presented the Freedom of the City. While working in the Brown Firth Research Laboratories in 1913, Harry Brearley was testing low-carbon steels for gun barrels that contained only 12% chromium and found these steels had the abiliy to resist corrosion. He recognised the implication and suggested it could be used for cutlery. Image/PictureSheffield

The procedures for admitting Honorary Freemen originated in the Honorary Freedom of the Borough’s Act 1885 and were included in the Local Government Act 1972.  Certain Local Authorities are empowered to admit as Honorary Freemen persons of distinction and persons who have, in the opinion of the Council, rendered eminent services to the Authority.

Honorary Freemen do not enjoy any constitutional privileges but admission as an Honorary Freeman has the deeper significance of receiving the highest honour the city can bestow, and it is conferred sparingly.

The Freedom of Entry accorded to Armed Services gives a right on all ceremonial occasions of exercising the privilege of marching through the City “with colours flying, drums beating, and bayonets fixed.”

The Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Churchill receiving the Freedom of the City of Sheffield. Image/PictureSheffield
John Burkhill, Sheffield’s most famous fundraiser broke down in tears at being awarded the Freedom of the City in 2019. Image/Sheffield City Council

Full list of Honorary Freemen of Sheffield

1899His Grace The Duke of Norfolk, EM, KG1917
1899Sir Frederick Thorpe Mappin, Bart, MP1910
1899Sir Henry Stephenson, Kt1904
1902General Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum, GCB, GCMG, OM1916
1903The Rt. Hon. Sir Marcus Samuel (Lord Mayor of the City of London)1927
1916The Rt. Hon. William Morris Hughes, MP, LLD (Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia )1952
1917Lt-Gen. The Rt. Hon. Jan Christian Smuts, KC (Prime Minister of South Africa)1950
1917Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO1935
1919The Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George, OM, MP, DCL, PC (Prime Minister)1945
1919Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, KT, GCB, KCB, KCIE, GCVO, KCVO, CB, ADC1928
1919Admiral Sir David Beatty, GCB, GCVO, KCB, KCVO, DSO, MVO (Admiral of the Fleet)1936
1921The Rt. Hon. W F Massey, LLD (Prime Minister of New Zealand)1925
1922Alderman Sir William E Clegg, CBE, LLD1932
1923The Rt. Hon. W L MacKenzie King, CMG, MA, LLD (Prime Minister of Canada)1950
1923The Rt. Hon. S M Bruce, MC (Prime Minister of Australia)1967
1924The Rt. Hon. Sir Samuel Roberts, Bart, MA, JP, DL1926
1924Alderman Robert Styring, LLD, JP1944
1924Alderman William Farewell Wardley, JP1941
1926Doctor Henry Coward, Mus.Doc (Oxon), MA1944
1926The Hon. J G Coates, MC (Prime Minister of New Zealand)1943
1929The Rt. Hon. James Ramsay MacDonald, MP, LLD, JP (Prime Minister)1937
1929Alderman John George Graves, JP1945
1929Alderman Henry Kenyon Stephenson, DSO, VD, DL, JP, LLD1947
1929Mr Cecil Henry Wilson, MP, JP1945
1930The Rt. Hon. Richard Bedford Bennett, KC, MP, LLD, (Prime Minister of Canada)1947
1930The Rt. Hon. James Henry Scullin, MP (Prime Minister of Australia)1952
1939The Rt. Revd. Leonard Hedley Burrows, DD, D.Litt (First Bishop of the Diocese of Sheffield)1940
1939Sir Robert Abbott Hadfield, Bart, FRS, DSc, D.Met, JP1940
1939Mr Harry Brearley (the inventor of Stainless Steel)1948
1943The Rt. Hon. Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, CH, FRS, MP (Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister of Defence)1965
1945Alderman Frank Thraves, JP1952
1945Alderman Harold Warters Jackson, LLB1972
1945Alderman Alfred James Bailey, JP1948
1945Alderman Arthur James Blanchard, JP1957
1947The Rt. Hon. Albert Victor Alexander, PC, CH, LLD, MP (Minister of Defence1965
1949Mr Charles William Beardsley, OBE, JP1952
1949Mrs Ann Eliza Longden, JP1952
1959Alderman Charles William Gascoigne, CBE, BEM1967
1959Alderman Mrs Grace Tebbutt, JP1983
1959Alderman Percival John Mann Turner, CBE, JP1969
1962The Rt. Revd. Leslie Stannard Hunter, MA, DD, DCL, LLD (Lord Bishop of Sheffield)1983
1962Alderman Albert Smith1968
1965The Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, OBE, MP (Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury)1995
1965Alderman Herbert Keeble Hawson1984
1965Alderman Samuel Hartley Marshall, JP1981
1965Alderman James Wilfred Sterland, OBE, JP1992
1965Dr. John Macnaghten Whittaker, FRS, (Vice-Chancellor, University of Sheffield)1984
1968Dr. Albert Ballard, CBE, LLD1968
1968Sir Stuart Goodwin, DL, LLD, JP1969
1970Mr John Burns Hynd, MP (MP for Attercliffe Division of City from 1944 to 1970)1971
1970Sir Peter Geoffrey Roberts, Bart, MA, MP (MP for Ecclesall Division of City from 1945 to 1950 and for Heeley Division of City from 1950 to 1966)1985
1978The Rt. Hon. James Callaghan, MP (Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury)2005
1978County Councillor Sir Charles Ronald Ironmonger1984
1978Councillor Isidore Lewis, LLD, JP1983
1978Mr Stanley Lester Speight, OBE, MIEx(Grad), FIM1998
1981Mr George Caborn1982
1981Prof. Ronald Stanley Illingworth, MD (Leeds) Hon. MD (Sheffield) Hon.D.Sc (Baghdad) FRCP, DPH, DCH, FRPS1990
1991Ms Helen Sharman BSc C.Chem (the first Briton to journey into space) 
1991Councillor William Owen, JP1992
1993Mr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (President of the African National Congress)2013
1993Mr Derek Dooley (footballer)2008
1998The Rt. Hon. Dr. Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, MP (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)2005
1998Dr. Peter Horton, Hon.LittD. BSc2005
2001The Chestnut Troop, 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery 
200138th Signal Regiment (Volunteers) 
2001212 (Yorkshire) Field Hospital (Volunteers) 
2001The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) – subsequently conferred to the Yorkshire Regiment 
2002106 (West Riding) Field Squadron (Air Support) (Volunteers) 
2005Michael Paul Vaughan (Captain of England Cricket Team) 
2005Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of National League for Democracy in Burma) – The Freedom of the City was removed on 1 November 2017 
2005Sebastian Newbold Coe OBE, The Right Honourable The Lord Coe of Ranmore 
2006The Yorkshire Regiment (formed by an amalgamation of three historic County Regiments including the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) 
2009The Lindsays (Ronald Birks, Peter Cropper, Bernard Gregor-Smith and Robin Ireland) 
2012Mrs. Tawakel Karman (Yemeni Human Rights Activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner) 
2012Ms. Jessica Ennis MBE (Olympic, World and European Heptathlon Champion) 
201464 Signal Squadron (transferring the Freedom from the 38 Signal Regiment owing to the 38 Regiment’s withdrawal from the Army’s Order of Battle.) 
2019John Burkhill BEM – fundraising 
2022Mr Richard Caborn 

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Ella Fitzgerald – loneliness and a Sheffield hotel room

“Coming through the years, and finding that I not only have just the fans of my day, but the young ones of today — that’s what it means, it means it was worth all of it.” – Ella Fitzgerald (1917 – 1996)

“If you really wanna know what lonely is, ask an expert, I know!”

This line appeared in ‘Lonely is,’ sung by Ella Fitzgerald in 1968.

These expressive words came to mind after receiving the following story from Ian Bright, whose family lineage goes back to Sir John Bright (1619-1688), a Parliamentarian of Carbrook and Badsworth.

“I spent nearly fifty years in the now nearly defunct cutlery and silverware industry.

“During the 1970s, our then company secretary asked me to take a telephone call from a foreign lady he couldn’t understand.

“I said hello, to which the response came, ‘Hi, this is Ella Fitzgerald. I’m staying at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and have seen some cutlery in your showcase, and could someone come and see me.’

“It was one of the quickest responses to a sales request ever, and minutes later I was knocking on the door of her suite.

“She made me very welcome, and explained she’d spotted some imitation bone white handle cutlery that she thought would be ideal for breakfast use. Business was concluded very quickly, but it was only the start.

“Ella was tired and lonely and obviously wanted company. In the centre of the room was a table full of pills, potions, and fruit. She wore glasses with thick lenses and explained that singing in smoke-filled clubs with glaring lights had taken its toll on her, and the constant travelling made her want to be back home with her family.

“I asked her why she still did it, and she replied with conviction. ‘FOR THE FANS.’

“We chatted about families and life for ages, and I left feeling humbled and lucky to have spent quality time with the best lady jazz singer the world has ever seen.”

Ian believes that this was Ella Fitzgerald’s last UK tour, and at this time, she began to experience serious health problems, but continued to perform periodically, even after heart surgery in 1986.

In 1993, however, her career was curtailed following complications stemming from diabetes, which resulted in the amputation of both her legs below the knees. She died three years later.

I can trace this story to 1974, when she headlined at the Fiesta on Arundel Gate (now Odeon Luxe).

The Grosvenor House Hotel, once Sheffield’s finest, fell on hard times, and was demolished in 2017, replaced with the office block called Grosvenor House, occupied by HSBC, as part of the Heart of the City redevelopment.

Ella Fitzgerald at the Fiesta in 1974. Image: Stuart Penney/Twitter
Opened in 1966 the Grosvenor House Hotel was a familiar landmark of the Sheffield city skyline. Image: Sheffield Star

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

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.


The Chinese in Sheffield

New Era Square. Sheffield’s Chinatown. Image: DJP/2022

According to the South China Morning Post there are at least 8,000 Chinese students in Sheffield, as well as other sizeable groups from Hong Kong. The University of Sheffield is said to earn £85m from them, and is one of nine UK universities that rely on Chinese income for a fifth of their revenue.

It hasn’t always been this way. When did the Chinese come to Sheffield?

It seems that Chinese people have been settling in Britain for over 200 years, coming via trading routes such as between Liverpool and Shanghai. Outside of London, the largest Chinese communities are in Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool.

With a rise in demand for Chinese cuisine from the late 1950s, and the collapse of the agriculture sector in rural Hong Kong, many more Chinese came to the UK.

The earliest reference to Chinese settlers in Sheffield can be found in the burial register for St Paul’s churchyard (now the Peace Gardens) for 1855, when A. Chow, son of Too Ki (a magician), was buried.

The next reference isn’t until 1910 – a laundry proprietor named Yun Wong with a business on Abbeydale Road is listed in a trade directory for that year. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that many more Chinese came to settle in the city.

The 2001 census recorded 2,200 Chinese people in Sheffield, with an additional 1,000 students of Chinese origin. By 2011, this figure had increased to 7,400. The highest concentrations of Chinese are found in Highfield, Sharrow, Broomhill, and Broomhall. They have come from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, as well as other parts of Britain.

Now we have New Era Square, dubbed Sheffield’s Chinatown, conceived by UK-Chinese Sheffield businessman Jerry Cheung, and designed by architects Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson.


Johnny Moran – The first voice on Radio Hallam

The death is being reported of Johnny Moran, one of the original BBC Radio One DJs, and the first voice heard on Radio Hallam in October 1974.

His mother was born in Sheffield, and the family emigrated to Australia where he was born.

Johnny Moran began his career on Australian radio before joining Radio Luxembourg in 1964. He worked there for two years until moving to the UK in 1966. At the BBC, he presented Radio One Club, Housewives’ Choice, What’s New, and the pop magazine programme Scene and Heard, which ran for almost six years.

In 1974, while working for British Forces and recording a series of shows syndicated in North America, he met Keith Skues at a party given for singer Barry White, and first heard about the plans for Radio Hallam, the commercial station based at Hartshead in Sheffield.

He came ‘home’ to Sheffield and became a voice of a generation, presenting the breakfast show until the late-1980s.


Sheffield’s forgotten man of history

Henry Tatton. Image: Picture Sheffield

A few weeks ago, I was in a bit of a quagmire. I had pages and pages of research notes and needed something to piece them together. I spent hours cross-checking facts, but a vital link was missing. And then I found a letter in an old newspaper that proved to be my eureka moment.

The letter was written in 1933 by Henry Tatton, who solved my mystery in five short paragraphs. I was ecstatic and thought it only right to thank him on my Facebook page.

Sadly, Henry will not have seen my appreciation because he is long-dead. But I could imagine an elderly gentleman, writing at his kitchen table, not knowing how important his words would prove to be almost ninety years later.

And then, I decided to find out a bit more about him. What I found was quite significant.

Sheffield has had fine historians – Robert Eadon Leader, Rev. William Odom, Edward Vickers, Peter Harvey, the list goes on – and the name of Henry Tatton should also be included. He turned out to be a prolific letter writer, each one providing insight into our history.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph. June 1927. A typical letter from Henry Tatton

Henry was born in Sheffield in 1864, the son of Adam and Mary Tatton, and lived at Sheaf Gardens. He was educated at Brunswick Wesleyan Day School and in 1878 was working as a pattern maker to Thomas Steade, iron founder, in Cemetery Road.

He married Susan in 1889 at Townhead Street Baptist Chapel and lived at Lancing Road, off Shoreham Street. In 1898, they had a shop in Matilda Street and, along with his father, an ironmonger’s stall in the Norfolk Market Hall.

Advertisement from 1929. Henry Tatton, Norfolk Market Hall

It is said that, after moving to 69 Ranby Road in 1919, Henry learnt to draw, and began recording his memories in a series of notebooks. However, I suspect that his talents went back much further when, as a young man,  he appears to have studied drawing at the Sheffield Mechanics’ Institute.

His drawings were copied from old newspapers, but many were originals. The reason he gave for his work was his ‘love of his native Sheffield.’ He retired in 1929 and, despite failing eyesight, completed his third notebook in 1931. Six years later, in 1937,  the three thick foolscap notebooks were presented to Sheffield City Libraries, where they remain.

One of the factors that makes the books even more interesting were the dated notes of the state of each building when he wrote. He paid particular attention to any prospect of demolition, and this was often the reason for choosing a building to sketch.

A sample of Henry Tatton’s work.

In 1939, Henry added to his reminiscences with thirty-six closely-written manuscript pages.

He recalled the time that he saw the last stagecoach come into Sheffield. It was from Chesterfield and stopped at the Travellers’ Rest on The Moor. Shops under the names of Roberts, Atkinsons, and Binns, were just being opened.

After giving close details of shops and other buildings in High Street, Church Street, Fargate, Angel Street – which were then only wide enough to allow the passage of two wagonettes – he told of the suburbs as they were in those days.

The outskirts of town were surrounded by natural beauty, and bounded by Sharrow Lane, Collegiate Crescent, Rock Street, Hyde Park, and Shrewsbury Road.

Ironically, Henry recalls that a fine row of trees was cut down at Highfield, and the resulting public outcry in newspapers against what was considered ‘destruction.’ Yes, history does repeat itself.

He also remembered the days when there was neither ‘telephones nor telegraph’ and ‘hot’ news was collected by hansom cab. Handicap races were run in Hyde Park, and he recalled thrilling races between cabs going to the newspaper offices with the results.

Henry died, almost blind, in 1947, aged eighty-six, and was buried at Norton Cemetery.

There is a rare book, ‘Fine Old Sheffield – An historical walk with Henry Tatton’, edited by Sylvia Anginotti, with meticulous research by Sylvia Jackson, which shaped this article, and the time is right for his notebooks to be reproduced in a book. 

All these years later, it seems strange that this post is cheaply imitating what Henry did best. He saw significant changes, but it might be one he could never have imagined – the internet – that reawakens our interest in one of Sheffield’s forgotten men.

©2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.


Mr High Test visits Sheffield in September 1930

Mr High Test and his Baby Austin. Image: Ken Martin Collection

September 1930. Mr High Test, a giant representative of the Anglo-American Oil Company, proprietors of Pratts High Test Petrol, visited Sheffield on an errand of “personal interest to all motorists in the district,” and make them aware of its new product.

Mr High Test was seven feet high and wore a uniform of orange and gold and had been covering the whole of the country in a 7 h.p. Austin Seven car. His height meant the seat was set a good way back, and he confessed that his biggest problem was finding a bed to sleep in.

He was really Mr R. Ormiston Noble, a Londoner, who at the age of 17 had joined the Army and went to France. Afterwards, he set up his own business before joining Pratts where he remained for several years.

He travelled in the car from Cardiff to Sheffield, and during his stay toured local garages and made appearances at the Hippodrome Theatre on Cambridge Street, where he became the butt of jokes from Frank E. Franks, a comedian, and at the Empire Theatre.

In 1935, a new range of petrol replaced Pratts at filling stations, a petrol so notably advanced that it was sold in all countries under a new name – ESSO – that Mr High Test promoted until being side-lined the following year.

© 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


Barbara Wreaks: Quite forgotten, even in the place of her birth

Barbara Hofland (née Wreaks), 1770 – 1844

Barbara Wreaks was the daughter of Robert Wreaks, a Sheffield manufacturer, brother of the better-known Marmaduke Wreaks, hairdresser, wigmaker, and toy merchant, of High Street.

Barbara was born in 1770, and first achieved local fame in 1795 by a series of contributions to the Sheffield Courant (1793-1797), entitled, ‘Characteristics of Some Leading Inhabitants of Sheffield at the Close of the 18th Century.

In 1796, she married Thomas Hoole, a Sheffield manufacturer, but quickly became a widow, and went to live with her mother-in-law in Attercliffe, where in 1805 she wrote a volume of poems, of which over 2,000 were printed, “By James Montgomery at the Iris office.” The list of subscribers occupied nearly fifty pages of the book, and most of them were Sheffield folk, but whether their large number is testimony to culture in Sheffield in those days, or simply to Barbara’s own assiduous canvassing, it is hard to tell.

With the profits from the book, she opened Grove House boarding school in Harrogate, a forerunner to what is now Harrogate College. Later she married Thomas Christopher Hofland, the landscape painter, and removed to London, where she became well-known as a prolific writer. She published nearly a hundred books, chiefly for young readers. One of her many popular books (as Mrs. Hofland) was The Blind Farmer and His Children (1816). Her most popular children’s book was The Son of a Genius, about an impulsive artist, which may contain autobiographical elements. She died in 1844.

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved


William Henry Babington: an eccentric photographer who captured Sheffield on camera

Occasionally, we stumble upon a Sheffield character who has been air-brushed by time. This can be said for William Henry Babington, a striking figure, who was easily identifiable as he moved about the city with his long grey hair, moustache, and an old-fashioned flowing cape. He was seldom seen out of doors without his camera.

William was a photographer, and it is quite sad that an article about someone who loved his craft cannot be supplied by a photograph of the person himself.

He was born in Leicester in 1856 and ran away to London at the age of 14, arriving penniless and with nowhere to sleep. His final choice of resting place was under a slab at Billingsgate Market, until he was ‘washed out’ the following morning.  Two days of this life in London were enough, and he found his way back home by the same means as before.

Afterwards his father always derived pleasure from recounting how “that mad son of his had ‘done’ London and back on his own.”

It was after experiences in Manchester, Derby, and Normanton, during which time he spent some years on the railway, that he came to Sheffield.

William worked at Pawson and Brailsford as an account collector, and in 1895 joined the Sheffield Telegraph, acting as manager of the Zincographic department and as a staff photographer. (Zincography was a printing process that used zinc plates) As such, he was one of the original members of the Sheffield branch of the National Union of Journalists. He eventually devoted his time taking photographs and left in 1917 to set up as a freelancer.

The ruins of Mary, Queen of Scots, window ‘rescued’ by Samuel Roberts and re-erected in grounds of Queen’s Tower, Norfolk Park. Samuel Roberts who built Queen’s Tower, was an admirer of Mary, Queen of Scots and believed she would have looked through this window. Photograph by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

He was an ardent collector of old Sheffield prints, and at the time of his death had accumulated a collection of about 300 valuable negatives. Historians often turned to him for old photographs to illustrate their work, and lantern slides from his archive were often used by lecturers.

This charismatic person liked to entertain people with reminiscences and wrote a series of articles for the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star in 1930 with memoirs drawing on more than half a century as a camera man.

“In the early Press days there were but few daily newspapers that either had their own photographer or zincograph staff and plant. It was my good fortune,” he stated, “to obtain a position on the staff of a leading provincial daily paper. The Sheffield Telegraph and the Leeds Mercury being the first newspapers to attach a photographer to their staff.”

As an example of the high speed at which the press photographer worked, William recalled a photograph he took of Mr J.F. Hope when he was standing for Parliament. He took only 25 minutes getting it to the Telegraph office, and within ninety minutes it was published in the paper and on sale.

“At races, photographs of the finish did not worry me. I preferred to hunt about the crowd for well-known personages, who sometimes objected to being photographed, as they were supposed to be at business.

“When only one goal was scored at a football match, the photographer was always at the other end. That was no excuse when I got back to the office. The editor wanted to know why. When a reporter was late for an event it did not matter much, he could always obtain the story, but the press photographer who arrived late was finished. He had no second chance.

“The Sheffield police have done all they can to help me, so long as I did not try to photograph things, they did not want photographing.”

The last Hansom Cab in Sheffield. Photograph from 1912 by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

One of the more interesting of his recollections was an incident which occurred at the conclusion of a visit of a female member of the Royal family.

“I was the only camera man near,” he wrote, “when she was seated in her carriage, and I was offered without words the opportunity of a close snap. I don’t know what most people would have done. All my plates had been exposed but I took the opportunity given me on a plate already exposed. I could never disappoint a lady.” After that, whenever Royalty was in evidence, he always kept one plate unexposed until the departure.

“In my early days I had to rely upon the hire of any vehicle for transit. Eyam, historic for its plague epidemic, was holding a Sunday commemorative service, and a reporter and I were booked to attend. We hired an early edition of a motor-car, and, through some defect, had the pleasure of pushing it up most of the hills and running down to catch it when it descended on the other side.”

Such was William’s unique appearance in Sheffield that on one occasion a popular cartoonist, a friend of Babington, sent him a letter, the envelope of which bore a sketch of ‘Babs’, together with one word. ‘Sheffield.’ The letter was promptly delivered.

Old Sheffield Telegraph Offices, High Street, No 13, Castle Chambers, left, No 21, Roberts Robert, Tailors, right. Photograph by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

In his spare time, William was fond of the game of chess, and was a member of several old clubs, but as old age approached resorted to watching the game instead.

Today, we should be grateful for his work. Old images survive on Picture Sheffield, and books and magazines still use his black and white photographs. Many of the photographs taken of the Sheffield City Battalion while they trained at Redmires prior to World War One are attributed to him.

Barkers’s Pool, looking up Division Street (long before the City Hall was built). The building being constructed on the right is the Grand Hotel. Photograph by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

William lived at 59 Thompson Road, near the Botanical Gardens, and died, aged 76, in 1932. He was buried at Sheffield General Cemetery.

Finally, we have a mystery that somebody might be able to solve. Whatever happened to his extensive collection of old Sheffield prints and the vast library of photographs taken by him? Are they stored in an archive somewhere, or were they lost forever?

An elevated view of Pinstone Street, from the top of the Town Hall Tower, St. Paul’s Church (now Peace Gardens), left, Prudential Buildings, centre. Reuben Thompson’s City Mews (soon to be incorporated into the Radisson Blu Hotel), right. St. Mary’s Church can be seen in the background. Photograph from 1912 by W.H. Babington. Image: Picture Sheffield

© 2022 David Poole. All Rights Reserved