Retro: South Yorkshire factories helped make region’s name

A Metropolitan-Vickers monoblock hydraulic copying attachment fitted to a centre lathe on shaft production work - 12th April 1956''Factory workers
A Metropolitan-Vickers monoblock hydraulic copying attachment fitted to a centre lathe on shaft production work - 12th April 1956''Factory workers
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Cutlery, trains, clothing, even tennis balls and toilet paper - you name it, South Yorkshire factories have probably made it at one time, so Midweek Retro is celebrating factory workers this week.

There were so many factories in Sheffield in the 1930s that the author George Orwell said in his famous book The Road to Wigan Pier: “Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World: its inhabitants, who want it to be pre-eminent in everything, very likely do make that claim for it.”

A view of operators at the hosiery factory at Worsborough Bridge - May 1956''Factory workers

A view of operators at the hosiery factory at Worsborough Bridge - May 1956''Factory workers

He described one scene: “To the right an isolated row of gaunt four-roomed houses, dark red, blackened by smoke. To the left an interminable vista of factory chimneys, chimney beyond chimney, fading away into a dim blackish haze.”

Barnsley at one time had a whole host of clothing factories, including Corah’s at Worsbrough Bridge, also SR Gents, English Rose, Albert Martin, Ravens, Burberry’s…

Many of the companies supplied big chains like Mark’s And Spencer.

For more than a century from the 1880s the Slazenger factory in Barnsley made the tennis balls that were used at Wimbledon tournament.

Workers from the factory were invited as guests to see the balls in action. Only the most skilled were allowed to work on the Wimbledon balls but in 2002 that proud tradition ended when the company moved production to the Philippines and closed the factory.

Incidentally, what claims to be Europe’s only shuttlecock manufacturer, Echelon Sport, was set up in Barugh Green in 2001 by two former Slazengers workers.

One of the factories on the pictures here, Metropolitan-Vickers, was known colloquially as Metro-Vickers.

At the outbreak of World War Two the firm’s Attercliffe plant employed just over 1,000 people and specialised in the design and manufacture of electric traction equipment.

When war was declared the factory was switched over to war work, turning out small generators for aircraft.

A ‘shadow factory’ was set up in Bamford in the Hope Valley, to ensure continuity of supplies in the event of air raid damage to main factories, as happened in Attercliffe during the Blitz in December 1940.

The majority of workers in Bamford had no previous experience of engineering or factory work. Most were from the Hope Valley but they were joined by a butcher and a miner from Wales, a ship’s carpenter and a hotel proprietor from Portsmouth, a cabinet-maker and a milk roundsman from London and a Czech refugee, among others.

The Bamford factory overcame all doubts about the workforce, manufacturing more than 45,000 aircraft generators.