Star Retro: Steel foundation of organ makers

Columbia Place in Suffolk Road, Sheffield
Columbia Place in Suffolk Road, Sheffield
Have your say

Columbia Place, Suffolk Road - I would think that most people know exactly where the magnificent coat of arms the picture is situated.

But for the benefit of my two (“where’s that, Vin”) friends Mr Dawson and Mr Sorsby it can be found on Suffolk Road.

Columbia Place when it was home Brindley and Foster organ makers in the late 1800s

Columbia Place when it was home Brindley and Foster organ makers in the late 1800s

I was a bit reticent to write about this but I’ve succumbed to pressure from inquisitive readers and here’s the result.

Although world-renowned organ builders Brindley & Foster get the credit for this building, it was built by Thomas Tillotson as a steel and file works in 1849.

In 1787 his grandfather was working as a cutler on Coalpit Lane. I can’t find any more info on his family.

When he built Columbia Place, large works such as this one were multi-occupied, so you would find a myriad of small businesses inside.

The Norfolk Arms, aka Dodges

The Norfolk Arms, aka Dodges

Thomas Tillotson’s enterprises, making different types of goods, was quite usual. They included files, steel, cutlery, Bowie knives and razors.

The blanks produced at Columbia Place were sent to his other works on Coalpit Lane and then processed to their finished saleable state.

Coalpit Lane was renamed in 1857 to Cambridge Street to mark the building of the Crimea Monument at Moorhead (time it was brought back) and to honour the Duke of Cambridge who was Commander in Chief of the Army. He passed to the officer’s mess in the sky in 1904 and the Crimean Monument was removed in 1959.

As well as the file and steel making and the tableware business, Thomas was also a coal merchant. His yard was on Suffolk Road at no 40.

Thomas remained at Columbia Place until 1860. It seems he decided to concentrate on his cutlery business.

Thomas’s father, who inherited the business from his father, must have done all right for himself as he was living in Broom Hall in 1833.

After Thomas had moved out we still see several makers of files and steel in the works and in 1868 William Wigfall & Sons, Brushmakers, occupied the works and it was he who had the coat of arms erected.

The Wigfalls stayed until 1871. Prior to their brief tenure at the works, they were working from 16 Paradise Square.

After they moved out of Columbia Place they had a works at 22 Eyre Lane.

By 1905 they were still cleaning up in the brush trade!

It’s not quite clear just who occupied Columbia Place after William Wigfall moved out but in 1876 organ builders Brindley & Foster moved in, and they stayed until 1936.

The business was established by Charles Brindley in 1854. He was joined by Albert Healey Foster in 1871 and the company acquired the name Brindley & Foster.

Charles Brindley began his career in Germany. It is thought that he worked under Edmund Schulze at Paulinselle.

After Schulze, Brindley set up his first workshop in Carver Street, Sheffield, and traded under the name Charles Brindley.

It is thought Brindley had already acquired Schulze’s scales for diapasons and stops of the Hohl Flute and Gedact families.

In the early years, Brindley employed a number of skilled German organ builders and at a later date took on a brother of Edmund Schulze.

Brindley constructed a number of good quality mechanical action instruments with conventional ‘slider soundboards’, a far cry from the design and action used in his later organs, which were built in partnership with Mr Foster.

In 1885, at the International Invention Exhibition, Brindley and Foster were awarded a silver medal for general excellence. Brindley died on October 6, 1893, having retired in 1887.

His son, Charles Frederick Brindley, continued the partnership with A H Foster.

Brindley and Foster never stopped evolving. They continued to develop and improve their soundboards, until the slider soundboard was replaced with a new sliderless chest, with an individual action to each pipe within the organ, always striving to gain mechanical efficiency and purer tone from organ pipes at all times.

Between 1909 and 1914 Brindley and Foster built, on average, one organ a month.

The one in Freemasons Hall was one of the last instruments to be built before World War I.

With the war came lean years and orders for organs became few and far between. Fortunately the firm had a very large tuning round and was able to carry on trading.

Unfortunately many skilled staff left to seek employment elsewhere and, after a long uphill struggle, the company finally went into the hands of the receiver on November 25, 1936.

The business was run by the receiver throughout 1937 and 1938. Finally it was dissolved by the registrar on March 10, 1939.

A few lines now about the inhabitants of Suffolk Road. In 1893 there was quite a number of what were called apartments.

There were 12 listed, all run by ladies apart from just one, at no 61 was the Registrar of Marriages & Deaths. At 75 lived George Ward, detective officer.

No pubs are listed by name but at nos 5/7/9 Henry Crapper is listed as a beer retailer.

Edward Ellis, greengrocer and beer retailer, was at no 45 and Alfred Tattersall, beer retailer, was at no 2. This address is where the Norfolk Arms stood from 1871 so I’m a bit perplexed as to why it isn’t named as that instead. It was a beer-only house when I visited in 1962 – I had to stand outside as I wasn’t old enough to enter.

This pub was affectionately known for years as ‘Dodges’ because of the workers from the nearby tram and bus garage, who “dodged” in for one before or after their shift.

Columbia Place is now apartments and flats.