THEY could be described, without fear of exaggeration, as the brothers who made Sheffield beautiful.
Walk past almost any of the city’s early 20th century buildings of note and you walk past their work – from City Hall to Central Library, from the White Building, in Fitzalan Square, to St Matthew’s Church in Carver Street.
The incredible stone carvings which adorn all these landmarks – and plenty more across the country – are down to the hands of identical twins from Sheffield.
And, while few people today have heard of Alfred Herbert and William Frank Tory, at the start of the 1900s the pair were considered among the finest civic sculptors and architectural carvers in the UK.
In Sheffield they were credited with giving the city its grandeur, while other examples of their work – including at Leeds Civic Hall and Chesterfield Town Hall – can be seen from Hull to Torquay.
Now a book being compiled to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Sheffield City Hall is to tell the story of these super-talented twins for the first time.
“It still thrills me to walk round looking up thinking my family are responsible for this or that,” says Gina Hodges, granddaughter of Alfred.
“They don’t get remembered because the credit tends to go to the architects but when I see how beautiful some of their carvings are, it makes me very proud.”
She has every reason to be.
For Alfred and William, known as Frank, were not only renowned for the intricacy of their carvings and the delicacy of their sculptures. The pair were also well known faces across the city, widely-loved for their talent for sure but also for their wicked sense of humour – which, being identical twins, could be put to devastating effect.
More of that later...
For now, it was perhaps inevitable the pair, born in Winter Street, Crookesmoor, in 1881, would end up in the career they did.
Their father before them, also called Frank, was a stone carver who moved to Sheffield from London after accepting the carving contract on the now demolished Corn Exchange, in Sheaf Street.
“As we understand it,” says Gina’s husband Bob, “his carvings were of such a standard that afterwards it was suggested to him that if he stayed in the city there would certainly be work available.”
Stay he did and among the buildings he sculpted over the years were the Mappin Art Gallery in Weston Park and Parade Chambers, in High Street.
Ironically, given his sons eventual flagship work on Sheffield City Hall, Frank senior’s first studio stood among the cluttered terrace houses which were eventually demolished to make way for the Barker’s Pool landmark.
He later moved to Ecclesall Road where he built both a family home and workshop on the site of what is now the Porter Brook pub. Much of the original building still stands.
As youngsters the two brothers attended the grandly titled Weston Academy for Sons of Gentlemen and the less grandly-titled Broomhill Council School before undertaking scholarships at Sheffield School of Art.
“My greatest urge,” noted Alfred in a speech given to Endcliffe Methodist Church shortly before his death around 1971 and since transcribed by Gina, “was always to follow in my father’s footsteps.”
It was something both he and Frank did, joining the family firm Frank Tory And Sons, and eventually taking it over.
“Stone carving was their passion,” says Gina, a 59-year-old retired head teacher who lives in Nether Green. “Both of the brothers were devout Methodists and teetotallers, and they liked playing cricket but it was sculpting which they loved.”
They didn’t just do the big jobs, either.
Thousands of examples of their work are dotted around the city such as memorials in cemeteries, the insides of churches and school signs.
“They probably carved the word ‘Infants’ more times than they could count,” laughs Bob, a 66-year-old retired careers advisor. “But it would have been the big jobs which really excited them. The level of detail on some of the sculptures on the City Hall, for example, is quite stunning.”
Indeed, they are described in the UK architectural bible Pevsner as showing “liveliness, delicacy and sometimes humour.”
It is a description which perhaps fits the brothers too.
In that talk to Endcliffe Methodist Church, Alfred recalled he and Frank regularly playing tricks on people.
“As you know,” he said, “my brother and I are rather alike which sometimes leads to amusement.
“For instance, on a job in Hull once, we would each work on alternate weeks.
“We changed places on Saturday, one taking a cheap half day return ticket to Sheffield.
“Although we met him constantly over six months, the architect never knew there were two of us.”
They caused confusion on the cricket pitch too.
“In one game against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane,” recalled Alfred, “I had stayed in until about the ninth wicket and my brother was coming out to take my place. The fielding side asked him why he had come out again. They said ‘You can’t bat twice’, and so the argument went on.”
Indeed, they were so alike that in the only surviving picture of the pair, top left, it is not known who is who.
The brothers had a serious side too, though.
“They were children of the Victorian era,” says Bob. “And had Victorian values. They believed in hard work – and that’s what they did.”
They continued working hard right up until the 1950s but, despite having three children and seven grandchildren between them, when the pair retired the family business was wound up.
Alfred, who kept his father’s house in Ecclesall Road, passed away around 1971, three years after Frank, who lived mainly in Banner Cross Road, Banner Cross.
“Architectural styles had changed by then,” says Bob. “The Sixties was known as the brutalist period. No-one was using sculptors, which seems a shame to me.
“But it’s just remarkable to think so much of what these two ordinary Sheffielders did is still right here.
“I don’t think everyone always notices but, when you do look up and see it, I don’t think you could think it’s anything other than beautiful.”
Alfred and Frank, of course, were too modest to say the same.
Alfred’s closing remarks to that Methodist meeting were simple enough.
“To sum up,” he said, “my life has passed from infancy to age with little to make a song about, brief shades and much sunshine.”
It is fitting perhaps that more than 40 years after his death, that up-coming book will finally see Sheffield making a deserved song and dance about him and his brother.
Author Neil Anderson is looking for more memories and pictures for his City Hall 80th anniversary book set to be released later this year. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t change a thing - it’s very nice now...
THE Tory twins worked on so many carvings on so many buildings over so many decades it was probably impossible to keep count, even for them.
Among the buildings, however, were hotels, hospitals, churches, libraries and town halls.
But one of Alfred’s favourite stories concerns the carving he (sort of) never finished.
Speaking at a meeting of Endcliffe Methodist Church shortly before his death, he said: “Once I was working about 30 feet up on a building when the architect called to me and asked me to make a small alteration which I promised to do before he came again, but as one of the builder’s men was in my way it prevented my attention to the matter at once.
“Then I forgot to do it.
“When the architect came again he said ‘Don’t touch it again, it’s very nice now.’
“It just shows.”
Moulded into works of art -the Sheffield buildings the twins carved and sculpted
Central Library, in Surrey Street: Built in an art-deco style and opened in 1934. The twins’ work, pictured above, took inspiration from both mediaeval sculptures and Egyptian imagery.
White Building, in Fitzalan Square: Built in 1908, this building is faced in faience, which was intended to resist the soot that blackened many of Sheffield’s buildings at the time. The carvings, pictured above, show traditional Sheffield occupations.
Sheffield City Hall, in Barker’s Pool: Opened in 1932, the column-top carvings are inspired by the same Greek style which inspired the building’s impressive columns, pictured above.
St Matthew’s Church, in Carver Street: Although the church, pictured right, was built in 1848, the twins carved an internal oak and pine memorial featuring the crucifix, St John and the Virgin Mary shortly after World War Two.