“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.
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 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.
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 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
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