From Fields to Factories

Sketch of an engraving of the Cyclops Works

With the growth out of the centre of Sheffield into the suburbs, including into Page Hall and Grimesthorpe, new factories began to be opened in the areas where once fields had been. By 1863 the Cyclops Steel Works had been built in Grimesthorpe. These works made rails and railway materials and was described in the 1860’s as a:

vast establishment comprises almost a small town of factories, the premises occupying an area of upwards of fourteen acres of ground, and affording employment to over 1200 persons… After passing through an almost interminable succession of buildings occupied by swarthy workmen, engaged in their Titanic operations, we arrive at a series of very large buildings of more recent construction, consisting of rolling-mills, tilts, forges, and grinding wheels; and here the mighty power of machinery in its most gigantic proportions will astonish the beholder. The rolling-mills are so extensive as to require the agency of a pair of engines which together exert the power of nearly 500 horses; there is also an engine of immense capability for driving grindstones and other machinery required for the general purposes of the trade, and additional engines of proportionate power for hammering, tilting, forging, and drawing. The men engaged on these premises are models of herculean hardihood, so much does muscular exercise, even of the rudest and most severe character, develop the bodily frame. The hearing of these men is, however, frequently affected by their employment; nor can we wonder at this, for the clang of the machinery and tools is something prodigious.’’

G.S. Meason in The Official Illustrated Guide to the Great Northern Railway (1861)
Sketch of the Cyclops works based on a engraving made in 1853

The Cyclops Steel Works weren’t the only major works in the area.  There was also the Grimesthorpe Colliery which had been built on Owler Lane in the 1800’s and in the 1860’s Brightside Colliery was also established. Working in a colliery could be a very dangerous job. Accidents occurred every day. Frequent accidents were due to roofs collapsing in the mine workings or explosions from dangerous gases underground. Brightside Colliery is sadly famous for one such terrible accident which occurred on the 12th April, 1867.

The colliery was the property of Unwin and Shaw. The day shift left at 4 p.m. when the men of the night shift would arrive and work until 4 a.m the following morning, not realising that this would be their final shift. They were to be lowered down into the mine. The men got into the cage which was described as a large box or chest with a roof and massive iron bars on the sides to stop the men falling out. There were two cages and as one went down the other came up. The engineman lowered the cage and it had gone only a few yards when the rope suddenly snapped and the men fell 182 metres (taller than the Blackpool Tower) to their deaths.

The men on the pitbrow heard an agonising shriek from the shaft and the next moment the engine man found that the weight had gone off the engine. On arriving at the pit bottom a party found the cage which contained the men in “almost a thousand pieces” and the ascending cage had also fallen. The massive iron bars were twisted and buckled and the bodies horribly mutilated.

Brightside Colliery Memorial Wheel, Holywell Road, Photo © Terry Robinson (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Those who died were:

Thomas Bates aged 60 years, firetrier

George Fox aged 36 years, labourer

James Fox aged 42 years, labourer

John Goldstraw aged 26 years, collier

Joshua Burgin aged 18 years, filler

Photo © Terry Robinson (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Many of you may have walked past the memorial to this tragedy on Holywell Road.

Sheffield centre had burst its seams by the end of the 1800’s and in 1893 Sheffield finally became a City. While parts of Page Hall and Grimesthorpe had been developed into industrial areas with a little bit of housing near to it and places of social welfare, in the late 1890’s most of Page Hall and Grimesthorpe was still farmland, woodland and open green spaces. The only roads which ran through the area was Owler Lane, Grimesthorpe Road, Smelter Lane (now Herries Road), Barnsley Road, Hinde House Lane, Firth Park Road, Tipton Street, Rushby Street, Wincobank Lane, Earl Marshall Road and Jenkin Road. 

Imagine, many of the side roads which you may live on today hadn’t been built yet, and where your house is may have still been farmland only 100 years ago.