Tending the wheels of Sheffield steel industry

A Retro Club member has sent in a great group picture of his father and workmates at a Sheffield firm’s transport department.

By Julia Armstrong
Thursday, 28 February, 2019, 16:15
The transport garage of Thomas Firth & John Brown, Princess Street, Sheffield, probably 1931 or 32. Reader Robert Grant's father is on the extreme right, dressed in a boiler suit

Robert Grant wrote: “Attached is a photo taken at the transport garage of Thomas Firth & John Brown, Princess Street, Sheffield.

“The print in my possession is card mounted and does not have any writing on the front or back.

“My father, Cyril, is on the extreme right of the photo, dressed in the boiler suit.

“He was born in 1911 and after leaving school he served an apprenticeship as a pattern maker.

“Pattern makers in the steelworks make full-size models from drawings of castings in wood and then these full-size patterns are used to make an impression in moulding sand which is then filled with molten metal to produce the casting.

“On completion of his apprenticeship there was not a vacancy for him as a pattern maker so he went to work in the transport garage.

“He is obviously the lad in the photo who would get all the dirty jobs such as crawling around underneath, oiling and greasing and quite possibly  cleaning fireboxes, smoke boxes and boiler tubes on steam lorries.

“You will see that the garage has Foden diesel and steam lorries on display.

“The WE registration on the steam lorry ran from July 1927 to December 1930 so the steam lorry would probably be registered towards the end of 1929.

“Unfortunately we cannot see any registration numbers for the diesel lorries.

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“A guestimate for the date of the photo therefore, taking into consideration my father's date of birth, would be about 1931/32.

“Hope that this may create interest and I would be pleased to receive any feedback.”

As the steel giants formally merged to become Thomas Firth & John Brown in 1930, it’s possible that the picture was taken to show off the lorries’ new livery.

In any case, it shows that the photograph can’t be dated any earlier than 1930.

According to the invaluable Grace’s Guide, the neighbouring steel firms based at the Atlas and Norfolk Works had been linked since 1902 when they exchanged shareholdings, but continued under separate managements.

Often known as Firth-Brown, there were further moves when in 1934 the firm and the English Steel Corporation jointly formed Firth-Vickers Stainless Steels.

That company was based at Staybrite Works in Meadowhall, featuring the name of the company’s famous high-quality Staybrite stainless steel.

In 1946, Firth Brown Tools was established to take over the business that came out of the original firm’s versatile engineers’ tools department.

They used Firth’s Speedicut specialist steel.