Wednesday, 25 May 2011

George Barnsley & Sons Cornish Works Sheffield

History first pictures after....get a cuppa as its a long un !...

George Barnsley & Sons Sheffield May 2011-05-24

 The history on this place is as excellent to read as the photography you can achieve, I just hope I have at least one part of the equation correct!.

 George (Senior) Barnsley married to Ann had three children, they were baptised at St. Peters Sheffield in 1801, 1802 and 1810 the youngest born 1810 George (Junior at this time don’t get confused there is another George coming soon) started his apprenticeship with Thomas Wing as a file forger, lasting seven years. George (Senior) died in the year of 1824. The Barnsley roots seem to go back generations in the Sheffield area so I would expect him to have met Ann locally c.1800. Going further back to 1650 a George Barnsley was the Master Cutler of the Hallamshire Cutlers Company. (At this moment I am trying to get into records and I’m left wondering if this is the same family) !.

 George (Junior now Senior ) established George Barnsley's 1836/7 and is listed in the 1837 Sheffield directory as a as a file manufacture in Wheeldon Street with the help of his brother Charles who was a cutler, selling files and cutting tools. Also in this year George (now Senior) had a son also called George (junior) and in 1850 he became an apprentice in the firm and a year later he was following in his father’s footsteps as a travelling salesman opening up markets in Scotland and Ireland as well as London and other large cities in England. In 1858 he was made a partner in the firm and it became George Barnsley and Sons.George believed that success was dependent on quality and travelled up and down the country, also he also travelled aboard to show case his products and gain new customers.

  The 1849 listing records a move to Cornhill and then in 1852 they bought the Cornish Works on Cornish Street. And went on to become a leading manufacturer of tools for the shoe making and leather workers trade with an expansion into butcher’s knives. As the demand for cutting tools made at George Barnsley & sons grew, it became impractical to make them by hand. In 1860 new machinery was bought into the factory replacing skilled men, much to the dismay of the workers. At first it was thought that these machines could not produce files at a high enough quality but this was soon proven to be un-founded. George continued to update with modern machinery as it appeared. He is quoted in 1883 at the Cutlers Feast saying 'the need to adapt ourselves to the requirements of the world.....and we shall keep our ancient prestige'.

 George Barnsley became a local council man representing St. Philips Ward and in 1884 and 1885 he was on the Watch Committee, responsible for law and order, lighting of streets and the markets. He died in 1895 aged 58.

 In World War II the chimney of the Cornish Works was destroyed in November 1940 killing three men when a steel cable from a barrage balloon became entangled. Efforts to free the cable caused the chimney to collapse, killing the men. After the war steel was in short supply but it wasn't until the late 50's that steel became plentiful.

 George Barnsley died at his home at No 30 Collegiate Crescent on 30th March 1958, he lived there with his wife Mabel and mother-in-law Elizabeth. He was a partner in the firm which were steel and file manufacturers and the business was converted into a limited company about 10 years before his death.

 The 1960's brought stiff competition from Japan and India, the machinery in the factory was in desperate need of modernising as they were still using the Victorian machinery installed by George Barnsley (Junior). The foreign tools could be imported and bought for less money than George Barnsley's could buy the raw materials to make the same tool. George Barnsley's took over James Oxley knife manufacturers in 1968.

 In 1973 the company ceased making files as they were no longer profitable with the loss of 60 jobs. It was a hard decision to make as George Barnsley had started the company by making files. Files were bought in at first and sold on but this was soon stopped. The decline of George Barnsley and Sons was beginning. The next 30 years were hard for the company with more imports and the competition becoming fiercer. Sadly the company closed in 2003 and the buildings sold. These now sit empty and almost forgotten with an uncertain future.

  In the mid 1970’s Colin Barnsley of  George Barnsley & Sons Ltd took over Woodware Repetitions Lts when it’s 80 year old owner finally decided to retire, located at  47 Mowbray Street  Sheffield and sadly to say Woodware Repetitions sold off most of the George Barnsley stock to Hale & Co in the USA.

 Repetitions was a relatively new company having itself been going only since the Second World War when its priority was to make components for tools to help the war effort!

 Woodware Repetitions have started making a limited range of the old Barnsley products.

Hale & Co USA cover:-

Leatherworking, leather goods, shoemaking, Boot making, Saddlery, woodworking, forestry, woodland trades, Carpentry,  Joinery, Cabinet making, wood carving, Veneer, Marquetry, Parquetry work, Pattern making, stone working, Building, Fixings, Carvings, Sculpture, Book Binding, Upholstery, Abrasives, Adhesives, Fasteners, Gums, Resins and Waxes.

Ever heard the phrase square peg in a round hole!...this phrase is derived from the traditional method of attaching soles to hand made boots and shoes by hammering dozens of small square pegs into round holes punched into the leather !.

 The Current Directors Colin Barnsley and Roger Barnsley of Woodware Repetitions Lts have traced there lineage back to 1624 with the help of a local historian, Pauline Bell a writer and also a Descendent has written a book about the family’s history called ‘Forging History’ . Research has revealed that two Barnsley ancestors were members of The
Cutlers’ Company back in 1624 and over the years at least two more have been Master Cutlers.

 Colin simply referred to his precious copies of old George Barnsley & Sons catalogues with their meticulous engraved illustrations of hundreds of tools with their ferrules shimmering in the light thanks to the addition of gold dust glued to the pages of the old hard-backed books. No mass production even for the catalogues back in those days – which seems reassuringly appropriate for items made with such skill and dedication to this day.

 Over the last thirty five years Woodware Repetitions has turned its hand to making all sorts of tool handles as well as a wide variety of wooden items from polo mallets and golf club shafts, bar stools, etc. - even making intricately carved lemon juicers, thanks to Delia Smith. “She used one on her TV programme back in 1995 or thereabouts and we were suddenly asked to quote for an order to make 4,000 of them.” Says Colin’s brother, Roger. “We must have made well over 40,000 of them by now and they’ve gone to places like Germany and the USA as well as being sold here in the UK.”

 The company name, Woodware Repetitions, gives a strong clue to the one common factor in everything it makes. Top quality wood. As well as exporting their products all over the world the company imports wood from across the globe. Slow-grown Beech and Ash from Denmark and Germany are chosenfor their fine grain. Exotic red Paduak timber, especially for the distinctive handles of the ever-popular shoe repairers’ knives, comes all the way from Africa, and beautiful Rosewood arrives from Indonesia.

 The wood is then stored in huge piles ready to be used when it has sufficiently matured. Unfortunately the cost of these materials is increasing rapidly due to the current state of the world economy - with Rosewood for instance becoming 25% more expensive in just the last fifteen months. However, Colin and Roger insist on the best so that they can continue to supply the best to their loyal customer base. This dedication to quality means that they will even go to the length of ordering ingots from a local steel firm and having them rolled to their own specifications.

 They then press the blades at Woodware Repetitions works, subject them to heat treatment and then grind and finish them before fitting the handles which have been hand-crafted in another part of the warren of cluttered rooms in the building that gives the impression of not having changed since the time of great, great grandfather George.

 Nothing seems to go to waste at Woodware Repetitions. Roger even discovered an old sheet of steel with the silhouette pattern of hundreds of blades cut out of it hidden behind a door and gathering rust “That must have been there since we were flooded two and a half years ago” he exclaimed. Indeed the marks inside the doors to the store yard are evidence that ground floor was suddenly left under about two feet of water when the level of the River Don which normally flows directly past some fourteen feet under the windows at the back of the old building rose more than fifteen feet on one fateful day during the Sheffield floods in the summer of 2007. Still, despite this setback the company was soon back to business producing the specialist tools used by generations of shoe makers and repairers. Today they are sent as far afield as Italy, USA, Australia and New Zealand and Japan. “We get phone calls and faxes from craftsmen across the world asking if we can help them with replacements for tools that they thought were no longer produced.” says Colin. “In the unlikely event that we don’t have a particular item in stock we’ll often work out how to make it from scratch and add it to our list. Problems only arise when new forgings have to be made. Unfortunately some things are just not cost-effective, but I’m proud to say we rarely turn away an order.”

 The pride in the company is evident throughout the staff, like Judith who has been clocking-on at the museum piece Colin and Roger Barnsley in the store room on the wall for over 20 years. Then there Roger showing off the old silhouettes Clocking on for over 20 years, Joe who even makes the brass ferrules for the handles and Les in the dipping shop who applies the lacquers to add the finishing touch to the dedicated team’s work – even sometimes mixing colours to meet a customer’s particular requirement. I also spoke to Geoff, whose duties include looking after the racks of hundreds of components that go into the making of the specialist tools for shoe repairers. Who else knows where to find a fudge wheel these days... or come to that, what one is?.

 “These tools aren’t just my work,” explains Geoff “they’re my hobby as well. I think they’re fascinating.”

 Fascination for the business and the tools it makes seems to be the driving force behind the Barnsley brothers. So much so that Colin has amassed quite a collection of old George Barnsley & Sons ephemera. He has acquired these over the years from various sources including from relatives of ex-employees of the old company.

 Colin also confirmed that he had been able to re-register the name of George Barnsley & Sons Ltd. so that it could live on for years to come. Colin is particularly proud of the individually numbered catalogue from 1927 that is still referred to today when checking just how a particular tool should look. He was also pleased to be given not one but two busts of his great, great grandfather when the old business closed down. One of them is kept at the home he shares with his long-suffering wife, Janet, who is also a director and the company’s secretary. The other can usually be found gathering dust - “Just like the rest of us !” joked Judith as she passed by – in a corner of a store room at the Sheffield premises.

Rough cast Hammer Heads.

Over head line drive shaft and Pulleys.

Polishing wheels long since forgotten.


Grinding wheel constructed of fine grit finishing wheel !
Wooden wheel by the side would have be coated in leather
for final lapping of blades. (same as a strop but belt driven).

Kick plate.

Casting of one of there products.

Products supplied by the company.

Mould of a steel knife blade.

Rest easy old friend.....time will catch us all...

This part you feel like the workers should be coming
back for a brew...

Small furnace.

Hand written books....nice historical find.

Small furnace.

SWL 2 1/2 CWT....think this crane needs a good service.

Porcelain electric wire holders, no need for coated
wires 1 wire per pot.

Spinning frames with over head line drive shafts.

Indexing gears to independently engage drive on
each unit.

Small fine lapping wheels.

Within the Air Raid Shelter under the Works.