Sheffield Gang Wars and their link to a real war

Mark Foster's book on the Sheffield Gang  Wars, Up at the Sky Edge - 1917
Mark Foster's book on the Sheffield Gang Wars, Up at the Sky Edge - 1917

Author Mark Foster has written a new book on Sheffield’s notorious Gang Wars, called Up at the Sky Edge – 1917.

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.

Sam Garvin, Leader of the Park Brigade

Sam Garvin, Leader of the Park Brigade

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.

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 for the piecework upholsterers for a few months would be told to buy themselves an apron, hammer and scissors as they were soon to be transferred to the upholstery training department.  

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.

Police chief Sir Percy Sillitoe

Police chief Sir Percy Sillitoe

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 upohlsterers, it had its own frame-making department and sewing machinists.

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 - Mow's for short. Once a year a period was dedicated to the production of Mow's 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 work shop and wood mill constructed by the builders Henry Boot &Sson 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.

The Scott Duride company Green Lane works in Green Lane occupied the building that was originally built by Henry Hoole and Sons, the award-winning fire grate and fender manufacturer.

At some point during its life the building had also been occupied by the Tyzack manufacturing  company.  

Scott's traded with the name of Ascot Upholstery, their advertising motto being 'First To Get Home ' with the design of a racehorse passing the winning post painted on the sides of their delivery vans and letter heads.

This unionised firm was the largest employer of upholsterers in Sheffield with around 40 piecework tradesmen, plus an apprentice upholsterer's training department run by foreman Albert Merrill. It also had a furniture development department run by Sam Bronks.

One of the coverings for three-piece suites from the 50s through to the 70s was Nappatex, the forerunner of expanded vinyl.

It was a thin plastic type of material that became very stiff in cold weather, so the upholsterers at Scott's had to lay it on the hot cast iron pipes that ran round the walls supplying the heating system until it became pliable then rush to fit it on to the chair or settee they were working on before it cooled and became stiff and unworkable again.

The father of top 20 chart recording artist, TV and cabaret entertainer Frankie Vaughan, was upholsterer Frank Abelson. For a period he worked at Scott's as upholstery shop foreman.

He lived in Leeds, working at the firm Monday to Friday then going back home for the weekend. He would give out complimentary tickets to the upholsterers to see his son’s shows. Scott Duride Ltd ceased trading in 1976.

Following the closure of some of these factories, quite a few of their ex-upholsterers took to self-employment, some sub-contracting at small reupholstery firms, others establishing one- or two-man reupholstery businesses.  

Some of these businesses are still trading today.