Incredible pictures perfectly capture Sheffield's industrial landscape of the 1960s
A retired Sheffield photographer who worked in the steel industry for many years has shared some fantastic pictures taken in the city.
Ted Parker, who is from Birley but now lives in Yarm in Stockton-on-Tees, originally got in touch to express his frustration with the city centre road system when he returned to do a photography talk and ended up with a fine after accidentally going through a bus gate.
That eventually led to the 72-year-old writing some reminiscences about his early years and sharing these pictures. Here’s what he wrote.
Isn’t it strange how things turn out? You write to the editor of The Star about an unpleasant experience at the hands of the council and end up writing and illustrating a feature article!
Allow me to introduce myself, I am a Sheffield ex-pat, now living in North Yorkshire. I think it’s the only place in the UK where you can drive for over 100 miles and still remain in the same county.
I left Sheffield in the mid-70s along with several other colleagues to Teesside, as part of the consolidation of British Steel Technical Laboratory sites, formally known as BISRA.
It was a job that in today’s environment I could only aspire to in my dreams – let me explain. In the mid-1960s there were no shortage of jobs for school leavers, in fact companies were crying out for good conscientious, reliable youngsters to fill any number of jobs available.
As a 15-year-old average schoolboy from Birley Secondary School, no qualifications, finally left the school gates in 1964, after my art teacher had tried unsuccessfully to get me into the Chesterfield College of Art. I had hoped to join the railways as a trainee signalman, and indeed had a job offer, but I failed the very stringent eyesight test. This was not in my plan!
After considerable soul searching, a neighbour of mine suggested I get in touch with a local bakery he had heard were wanting school leavers. I decided to apply to see what they were offering as a stopgap whilst I decided what to do with the rest of my life. I got a job as a ‘van lad’ for Gunstones Bakery, no flowery names for dead-end jobs in those days! The other major difference was, you didn’t need qualifications to do these, what you would call menial jobs, other than having a willingness to work and being reliable and trustworthy, and fortunately I had these qualifications in spades. If you didn’t, then you were out!
Photography was something I hadn’t really considered as a career but as soon as I left school, I began to develop (pardon the pun) an interest in it. My dad was a keen photographer and paid a small fortune in those days for a Voigtlander Vito B camera, from Hodgson’s Cameras just down The Moor, which I wasn’t allowed anywhere near, I hasten to add.
I think what sparked it off was being a very keen railway enthusiast (in those days, read, serious train spotter) and seeing the steam age disappearing fast and I had no means of recording its demise and all the infrastructure that was associated with it.
Now a working lad with a weekly wage, I saved every penny towards buying a decent camera, and purchased a good secondhand Voigtlander from my old friend Ron Harrisons Camera Shop’in Woodseats. I think it cost me £35,
which was a considerable sum in those days.
I quickly Joined the Manor Photographic Society, my nearest decent camera club to watch and learn, as many of its members were pretty well top of their game.
I think we were second only to Sheffield Photographic Society and remember putting on a major exhibition in one of the new subways in and around the quickly-developing Sheffield city centre.
Very soon, I built my own darkroom and began to process my own films and learned to print black and white photographs, again saved hard for an enlarger and started to enter the club competitions.
You can imagine the looks on the faces of the more senior members when this 16-year-old upstart began to win the monthly competitions on a regular basis. We always hired Independent judges in order to cut the bias nature out of the judging.
One of these judges was an amazing photographer from the Sheffield society called Ray Brightman, he went on to become a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, some of you of a certain age will remember him, and he gave me some very warm words of encouragement.
Back to the job or, as I called it, the great university of life, I soon reached the tender age of 17 and was encouraged to start learning to drive by my boss. I can only presume he saw some potential, as most van lads came and went within six months and I was approaching my second year!
It was very hard work physically and mentally, as more and more responsibilities were cropping up. It was six days a week and most mornings started at about 4.30am in order for me to get to Dronfield for 7am! In summer I used to cycle there.
The van lads ( or should I say trainee bread and confectionery salesman, no women allowed in those days!) job was to find the van in the yard, officially find a spare driver to bring it in to the loading bay, unofficially, wait until no-one was looking and drive it in yourself, check off all your bread and cake orders, reorganise all your orders on to trays, load them in the order in which you did your round, so all the driver did was turn up and double check (although most didn’t!) as we had a good teamwork ethic and hit the road - all for £15 a week.
Most days I would be lucky to get home before 4pm.
I finally passed my driving test in a 1954 Bedford three-ton van with no synchro mesh gear box or powered steering. I think I put the fear of god into the examiner. It did have exceptionally good brakes, and no seat belts, and when I did the emergency stop he ended up in the foot well, fortunately not the windscreen. I did warn him the brakes were keen!
I tried desperately to keep a straight face helping him up and dusting him down, poor guy.
As time went by, the photography was calling me more and more, until one day an advert appeared in the Morning Telegraph, that wonderful Sheffield institution. BISRA - British Iron & Steel Research Association - was wanting a
qualified industrial scientific photographer.
I paused for all of a second or two, wrote a letter of application and it was in the post within hours of reading the advert.
Although, it was now beginning to dawn on me to appreciate the advantage of qualifications, I really thought I didn’t stand a chance, but somehow was given an interview.
Fortunately I was the last candidate, the interview lasted nearly three hours, whereas all the other candidates only got 45 minutes, as I was captivated in what they were doing and constantly asking them more and more technical
questions, and they were more than happy to oblige with the answers.
We got on extremely well, but there was eventually a ‘but’ – they had already offered the job to a qualified guy that very morning but they liked the sound of me and were considering taking on a trainee in the new year (1969).
I duly thanked them but left rather crestfallen, feeling they were just letting me down gently.
I resigned myself to be a ‘bread man’ until whenever… there was an autumnal nip in the air, steam trains were no longer running, my favourite band The Beatles were coming apart at the seams and future prospects were not good. It was a bit of a low point in my life.
It was now three months later in mid-December 1968 - picture the scene – and I had been doing the rural Derbyshire run, as the regular driver was off sick. Not only had it been brutally cold and wet all day, but the van had broken down somewhere near Matlock, the customers were giving me hell as I was very late with their deliveries.
It was well after 6pm when I finally got home, I was in a filthy temper and slammed the door behind me. My mom and dad were already finishing their dinner (mine was between two plates, keeping warm in the oven) and I threw off my cold, wet jacket only to find on the hall table a letter with a British Steel Corporation franking stamp.
My heart stopped as I hurriedly opened the envelope with trembling hands: ‘We would like to offer you the job of trainee ind photographer, please call, etc etc’.
The rest is, as they say, history.
Ted has very kindly agreed to share more photographs, when we will continue his story.