Sheffield history: John Brown – an  industrialist and philanthropist

Retired Sheffield school teacher Elizabeth Birkby was reminded of a 100-year-old celebration which took place at All Saints Nursery First School when she came across some clippings from The Star.

By errol edwards
Friday, 20th May 2022, 2:45 pm

Elizabeth found the clippings of the event commemorating the event, in her Grenoside home. Her first teaching role was at All Saints 50 years ago in 1972.

The school was built in 1872 with funding from Sir John Brown, but who was John Brown?

John Brown was a successful inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist, born in 1816 into modest means in Flavell’s Yard on Fargate in Sheffield.

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Elizabeth Birkby

He was the second son of Samuel Brown, who was a roof slater and went on to marrry Mary Scholefield who he had met at school.

Against his father's wishes, who wanted John to become a linen draper, he started life as an apprentice at Earl and Horton and Co who manufactured files and table cutlery in 1831.

In 1844 he started his own company John Brown and Co, manufacturing steel at a small foundry on a site where the Orchard Square shopping centre is now situated.

The business prospered so well that he sold his factoring firm and moved to larger premises on Furnival Street.

Demolition of All Saints Church, Ellesmere Road, Pitsmoor, Sheffield, September 21, 1977

In 1848 Brown developed and patented the Conical Spring Buffer for rail carriages.

This proved extremely successful, and enabled him to gain wealth and a strong industry reputation.

It allowed him to invest in ventures such as producing iron from iron ore for the steel industry, using another Sheffield invention, the Bessemer process, which he was also able to develop and improve.

Brown also was the first to roll 12-inch armour plate for the Royal Navy’s ships.

The lord Mayor,Alderman Harold and Mrs Hebblethwaite, visited the School, and two children dressed as Sir John Brown and lady Brown, who founded the school and the church.

His factory was based on Saville Street, occupying 30 acres. It was called Atlas works and employed 4,000 workers.

There they manufactured armour plate, ordnance forgings railway bar, spring buffers,wheel axles and tyres for the railway industry.

Brown’s factory also supplied many other Sheffield manufacturers with steel.

Away from industry John Brown had a strong altruistic side.

Endcliffe Hall home of Sir John Brown b1816 d 1896

In 1860 men working at his Atlas works began to meet in their meal breaks for prayer and bible study.

Brown initially provided them with a room in one of the factory offices to hold their meetings, this proved popular, leading to Sunday services being held there.

In a short space of time numbers grew from 300 to 1,000.

This inspired John to erect All Saints’ church on the Junction of Ellesmere Road and Lyons Road paid for out of his own pocket.

The cornerstone was laid by the Archbishop of York in May 1866.

Opening in 1869, the attached school opened in 1872 serving the community for many years.

Sir John Brown's Atlas Works with All Saints church and school in the distance.

The church, also known as Brown’s Church, was one of Sheffield's most visible landmarks.

It was said to have Sheffield’s highest – but not tallest – steeple due to its proximity.

The church was demolished in 1977 in line with major house clearance in the Pitsmoor area. Part of the school building attached to the church still remains today.

John Brown had numerous accolades attached to name.

He was Lord Mayor of Sheffield from 1862 to 1863 and was Master Cutler from 1865 to1866.

Then in 1867 he received a Knighthood.

In 1865 he built Endcliffe Hall as his private residence; it still holds the title of the largest private residence built in Sheffield.

In later life John Brown unsuccessfully tried to launch several new businesses, however these proved unsuccessful.

John died in impoverished circumstances in Bromley in Kent, in 1886 aged 80.

In 1902 the Sheffield steel makers formed by Brown which still carried his name exchanged shares and came to a working agreement with Thomas Firth and Sons.

This agreement continued until 1930 when the two companies merged forming Firth Brown Ltd, one of largest steel producers in Europe.

Smith, Richard; Sir John Brown (1816-1896), KT, DL, Mayor of Sheffield (1861-1862); Sheffield Town Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-john-brown-18161896-kt-dl-mayor-of-sheffield-18611862-70767