Sheffield’s forgotten furniture industry

Most people will be aware of the city's steel, cutlery and engineering production but from the 1940s to the 1970s Sheffield also had a thriving three-piece suite manufacturing industry.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 10:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 10:58 am
Waldo Upholstery workers in Shalesmoor, Sheffield after the Second World War

The largest companies were Waldenburg's, trading as Waldo's, in Moorfields with a smaller department in Allen Street, Scott Duride Ltd, Green Lane Works on Green Lane in Shalesmoor, Atkin and Ansell, Proctor Place in Hillsborough, Bond Upholstery in Attercliffe and Shortalls in Birley Vale, Birley.

Waldo's was a non-unionised firm owned by a Jewish family, their business premises had previously been occupied by at least one other business. In the early 1900s the machine knife manufacturers Barker and England made their products there.

The historic Green Lane Works in Kelham Island

Waldo's employed piecework upholsterers and sewing machinists, it also had an apprentice upholsterer's training department where boys of 15 or 16 years of age who had been doing labouring duties and making tea would be told to buy themselves an apron, hammer and scissors as they were soon to be transferred to the upholstery training department.  

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The factory also housed the company's own furniture trade showroom. Their frames were made in a factory down a side street in the Kelvin area.

After many years the company relocated to Chesterfield and used coaches to ferry the workforce to and from Sheffield. The site is now occupied by a car showroom.

The building from where Atkin and Ansell's traded in Proctor Place was originally built as a Victorian steam laundry. It was a unionised factory employing around 20 piecework upholsterers, it had its own frame-making department and sewing machinists.

A redundancy notice from furniture maker A Scott Duride

It also had a polishing shop, wood mill and furniture trade showroom.

There wasn't a system in place where apprentices were routinely invited on to the bench to learn the trade but had to ask the foreman to teach them the rudimentals of the job.

Besides three-piece suites the company produced bed-settees and fireside chairs.

The company's trade name was Restful Upholstery and their delivery vans had a design picture of a gentleman looking worn out slumped in an armchair.

The firm's products were good quality coming with a two-year guarantee against faulty workmanship and materials. The design of new models of suites was the responsibility of foreman, Eric Holt.

The company had a contract to supply club chairs to the Ministry of Works - Mows for short. Once a year a period was dedicated to the production of Mows using only the very best quality timber, springs, webbing, hessian, black fibre,white cotton felt and calico.

In the mid-sixties the firm had a new purpose-built frame workshop and wood mill constructed by the builders Henry Boot & Son of Chesterfield at a cost of £30,000.

Eventually the company was bought out by the Silentnight and Buoyant companies but even after the takeover the firm's angling club still insisted on calling itself the Atkin and Ansell Fishing Club.

Atkin and Ansells ceased trading in the 1970s and the site is now occupied by the B&M store building.