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Stocksbridge Works

Foreword

The Stocksbridge & District History Society would like to thank the management of Tata Steel for allowing the use of their photographs and other material which are to be found on this page and within other section of the Website.

Much has been written about Samuel Fox and his endeavours, some aspects are based on fact and others more on sentiment.

Much of the prosperity which the district of Stocksbridge now enjoys is down to the efforts and foresight of many early industrialists, none more so than Samuel Fox.

It has to be said that without these Works, Stocksbridge would be a much less prosperous place than it is today.

In this account of the birth and development of “Sammy’s”, we concentrate not on the man but more on his achievements which saw the development of a very modern Steelworks, from very humble beginnings.

At the time of producing this Website at the beginning of 2011, the Works and the people of the Stocksbridge district are experiencing hard economic times, as of course is much of the rest of the country.

We are convinced that this area and these Works will come through these difficult times, stronger and just as determined as the people were who created the history, of which you are about to learn.

 

A History of Sammy’s

Throughout the 17th and into the18th century the manufacturing of glass and pottery were two of the main local industries.

A Cotton Mill was built in 1794 and by 1830 wire and other products were being produced there.

Around 1842 Samuel Fox is reputed to have arrived on foot from Bradwell, seeking a suitable location to set up wiredrawing operations.

Here he found the basis for his requirements, waterpower, coal deposits, and rudimentary manufacturing equipment already installed and working.

He rented the Cotton Mill, and shortly afterwards, in 1851 he bought it, on a mortgage, by the year 1856 he had paid off the debt.

He began with one employee, initially producing needle wire for hackle, and gill-pins for the textile industry.

Here we have a sketch from 1845 giving an impression of what the works must have looked like around that time.

In 1848 the firm started to make ribs for Umbrella frames, providing work for hundreds, particularly women and children, the children were allowed to work half of the hours of the adult workers, Joseph Hayward produced a flattened, U-shaped rib design and in 1852 it was patented as the “Paragon” frame.

Samuel Fox also used the cold rolled strip he had developed, to produce the Crinoline hoops which were in great demand from around 1854 to 1866.

It was the umbrella frame that proved to be the mainstay of those early years, and production of frames continued until closure of the Umbrella Department in 1970.

The following photographs are of Umbrella production and show some of the workers at various times throughout the working life of the department.

In 1856 The Fox household moved to take up residence in Townend House at Deepcar.

A Parochial valuation of the Township of Hunshelf described the extent and value of his property as being in Stocksbridge.

Around 1860 he realised that to expand the business, he needed to look for overseas markets, as export duties were proving prohibitive, he established a factory in Amiens in France, and transported his wire there to be made into umbrella frames circumventing the payment of tariffs.

The enterprise came to an end due to the start of the First World War in 1914 coupled with a slump in the market for Umbrellas.

Here we have a view of the works in 1860 when actual steel making commenced, with the installation of 48 Huntsman-type crucible furnaces.

Later in 1862 Samuel Fox began to produce crucible steel, the company installed two 5-ton Bessemer converters, the process being the invention of Sir Henry Bessemer.

In 1863 a Rail and Billet mill was established, followed by a Rod mill in 1864.

Here we have photographs of the Rail and Billet mill and a photograph of the works from around this time.

In 1871 the works became a Limited Company, with Samuel Fox acting as the Managing Director and Chairman of the newly formed Board of Directors, which consisted of Fredrick Bardwell, Henry Unwin, James Halliday and William Hoyland.

The opening of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire railway in 1845, enabled Fox’s products to reach wider markets, but there was a major problem in transporting products to the railway station at Deepcar, due to the poor state of the roads at the time and the toll charges to be paid at Deepcar.

A rail link from the main line at Deepcar to the Works was planned, which eventually opened in 1877, allowing easier delivery of products such as rails, springs, steel tyres and axles to nearly every railway company around the world.

In 1887 Samuel Fox died and was buried at his home at North Cliff in Market Weighton.

He left a considerable personal fortune, having already established a Benefit Fund for employees, and had built houses for his workforce on Gentleman’s Row, Hunshelf Bank, Derbyshire Row, Goit Terrace Ford Lane, Horner House, and Bessemer Terrace, Spring Mill Terrace, Pearson Street, Langsett Terrace and Haywood Park.

His son, William Henry, became Managing Director, with his cousins, Joshua, John and Henry Jeffery and Francis Hill becoming Heads of Departments, ensuring that the family interest was maintained.

Henry Sharp, an original member of the Iron & Steel Institute, became General Manager in 1889 and moved into Townend House.

In 1892 a Rail and Billet Mill was built.

The streets were lit by gas from the Works supply and the first telephone was installed in 1894.

Three years later in 1897 a cottage was built at Old Haywoods, which was leased to the Telephone Company for use as an exchange and houses were built to accommodate the ever growing workforce.

An Axle Forge was installed in 1898, followed by an extension to the Spring Works in 1898-1899.

The installation of a Siemen’s open-hearth furnace came in 1899 followed by the opening of a coal and ganister mine in 1900, then by the installation of a Hydraulic Forging Press in 1904 and an Axle Straightening Press in 1905.

Henry Sharp retired in 1905 and was replaced by Francis Scott-Smith who had been Assistant General Manager since 1894.

The Little Don River had been diverted and dammed many times during alterations to the Works, but Samuel Fox and the Board of Directors had always resisted proposals to build a dam further up the valley towards Midhopestones.

Part of the reason for the reluctance of the construction of a dam were the memories of the Holmfirth and Dale Dyke reservoir disasters, the later leading to the Sheffield Floods of 1864.

Their objections were eventually overruled and the Langsett and Underbank reservoirs were built with Underbank being filled in 1907.

Agreement was reached over compensation water for the Company, resulting in a subsidy towards the building of a water storage tank; an indemnity was also given against the bursting of the dams.

Rapid expansion of the Works followed with the establishment of a Metallurgy Department, a new gasholder, an axle forge and a tyre annealing furnace, followed by the electrification of the Works in 1907.

These photographs show an early Power House used for the generation of electricity used on the Works, (the date of the photographs are unknown to us).

In 1907 housing at Wood Willows was built by the Samuel Fox & Company Limited for its workers; George Thickett, a foreman at the time, took up residence in the villa opposite.

Also in 1907 the Number 3 Billet Mill was built and was later overhauled in 1947.

A miners’ strike in 1911 delayed the opening of a new drift mine intended for the provision of raw materials to produce coking coal.

In 1910 the Iron, Steel & Allied Trades produced a Souvenir of a meeting held at Buxton. The souvenir featured the Stocksbridge Works as part of the publication.

In 1912 The Works canteen was built, which would later become the Victory Club and in 1913 the Workers Educational Association established classes for Adult learning.

A major development in 1913 was the Bar Mill, and in 1914 the first Works car was purchased.

With the outbreak of the first World War, the first move was to transfer an order placed with a German firm to a British one, and then to insure the Company against damage by enemy aircraft.

The Company requested a period of cover for six months, reflecting the view of the time that the war would be over very quickly. In the end they had to accept a minimum term of twelve months.

In 1916 William Henry Fox relinquished his place as Managing Director to Francis Scott-Smith.

During the war the Siemens Department was built which initially consisted of five fixed 80 ton Open Hearth furnaces.

Also in 1916 the building of the Coke Ovens commenced, near the Hawthorn Brook end of the works, on land leased from De Wend Fenton of Underbank Hall.

The Contractor Simon Carves took the by-products while the company used the coke.

The Ovens were eventually closed in 1949..

In April of 1918 Samuel Fox & Company Ltd. amalgamated with five other companies to form the United Steel Company Ltd., the other Companies being, Steel Peach & Tozer Limited, Frodingham Iron & Steel Company, Appleby Iron Company, Workington Iron & Steel Company and Rother Vale Collieries.

By 1922 the company was employing up to 3,000 people.

In 1923 there must have been what has been described as the “Great Fire” the result of which was that a new building was erected housing modern equipment for the manufacturing of Cold Rolled Strip.

Here we can see a number of photographs of the Old Tyre Mill Taken around 1925.

In 1930 Electric Steel Making started at the Works with the installation of a 500lb High Frequency Furnace.

In 1935 the Jubilee Cottages were built with contributions from Samuel Fox & Company Limited on land off the Manchester road at Deepcar which had also been donated by the company.

In 1936 a new plant for the manufacturing of springs for road vehicles was built.

These photographs, taken around 1952, display some of the manufacturing processes within the Spring Works.

In 1939 a facility for the rolling of stainless steel sheets was installed in the Low Yard.

Between 1939 and 1947 the Cold Rolled Strip Department underwent major changes, as this article from a Fox Magazine of 1947 records.

In 1943 the Day Continuation scheme was inaugurated for all boys employed by the works between the ages of 14 and 16, who were allowed to attend one full day a week in education and training paid for by the company.

In 1948 a new Gasholder was constructed at Henholmes.

On November the 11th 1950 this Memorial was erected to honour the employees of the company who had lost their lives as part of World War 2.

The Memorial can still be seen today fixed to the north wall of the Main office Block building, why not take a look at it some time?

In November of 1954 “A” Furnace came on stream in the Number 2 Melting Shop, followed by “B” Furnace in the October of 1957.

The following photograph show Melting Operations across the Works and include some photographs of Numbers 3 and 4 and the Siemens Melting Shops.

The dates when the photographs were taken is unknown but we suspect that they were taken sometime in the 1960's.

 

In 1955 the Billet Mill was updated with the installation of the 40-inch Blooming Mill. The following photographs show the Re-heating Furnaces and their Control Room, the Blooming Mill in the process of rolling ingots prior to final rolling in other parts of the mill. There is also a photograph of the Schloemann shear which was used to remove the nose and tail end of the billet prior to second-stage rolling.

The Mill is in operation to this day, but since these photographs were taken it has been updated with the addition of modern electrical and electronic control systems.

Again we are unsure as to when the photographs were taken, but we suspect that they were also taken sometime in the 1960s.

This Photograph shows an ingot being processed at the 42 inch Intermediate Mill.

Here we have two miscellaneous photographs relating to the Billet Mill operations, one of the Maintenance Fitters thinking about doing some work, and a second showing steam being discharged in to the atmosphere from the engines which were used to drive the mills in earlier years.

Between 1956 and 1957 there was a further expansion of the Cold Rolled Strip Department.

In 1958 the Bar & Rod Mill came on stream and here are a number of photographs of operations of the plant, with which, as a newly qualified Electrician in 1964, the writer became very familiar.

Also in 1958 the Billet Mill was revamped by the addition of two 32 inch Finishing Mills and the following photographs are of one of the two Mills and its control pulpits.

In 1959 the Training Workshops opened at Belmont on the south side of the valley, just up the hill from the main Works entrance.

For a short while the town of Stocksbridge and the Works were highlighted in the world of cinema, when a short film of some twenty five minutes, named Steel Town featured a number of employees, their jobs, their families and pastimes.

The film was shot on locations within the Works, around the Town and the surrounding area.

This film won the 1st Award in the International Industrial Film Festival in Italy and was commissioned by the United Steel Company which was the company name at this time.

The following photographs are stills taken as part of the making of the film.

On the 19th of May in 1961 the Old Rod Mill Closed.

This document describes the works as it was in 1961.

In 1963 the Wire Department at Sheephouse Wood came into full production.

In 1964 a Vacuum Degassing Plant was installed in Number 2 Melting Shop.

1965 also saw the commencement of the Sapphire Project which comprised of two135 Ton Electric Arc Furnaces, increasing the output capabilities of the number 2 Melting Shop.

A new department for the manufacture of Watch and Light Springs was formed to manufacture, what was a specially designed product of the Stocksbridge Works.

Additional manufacturing property was purchased on the Templeborough site at Rotherham, which became known as Samuel Fox & Company limited Rotherfield Works. It was used to produce the fine-drawn wire and strip used in the manufacturing of Watch and Clock springs.

In 1967 the Works were nationalised and became part of the British Steel Corporation and the name of Samuel Fox & Company Limited disappeared, but only as a company name, as people from the area continued to say “Sammy’s” or “ Fox’s” when referring to the Steelworks.

With the onset of Nationalisation came rationalisation. The Stainless Sheet and Narrow Strip departments came under the control of the newly formed Stainless Steel Division, based at the Shepcote Lane and Tinsley Park works in Sheffield, where major development projects were being planned.

In 1986 Stocksbridge Works was de-nationalised and became part of the United Engineering Steels Ltd, (not to be confused with the original United Steels Company Limited of earlier years), thus forming one of Europe’s leading specialist producer of Engineering Steels. Here we have a photograph of the works sometime after the Stocksbridge By-pass opened in 1988.

By 1999 the former Company had been split in to three separate concerns, Bridon Wire had taken over the Fox Wire facility at Sheephouse wood, Corus Special Steels operated to the west of the Main Entrance on Smithy Hill and Avesta-Polarit operated its Stainless producing facility to the east of Smithy Hill in the Low Yard.

In 1999 British Steel merged with the Dutch Company Hoogovens, creating an International Company and leading to the formation of Corus.

In 2003 further rationalisation followed with Melting and Billet Rolling facilities being closed at Stocksbridge and the manufacturing being moved to its Rotherham Works.

Re-opening of the Billet mill followed within a short time, the reason for this apparent “U” turn depends on whom you talk to, but the workers of Stocksbridge have their own answers to this question.

In 2006 Corus was bought by the Indian Company Tata and now trades as part of their TATA European Operations.

Before we come to the present day situation of the Works, here are a few miscellaneous photographs of some of its employees and events passed.

And these photographs of some of the activities of the Metallurgical Section, proving once and for all that they occasionally did do some work.

As at the beginning of 2011, the wire making facility at Sheephouse Wood is still in production as part of the Bridon Wire group.

The Avesta-Polarit facility, which had previously amalgamated with Outokumpu of Finland, moved its operations and the site has since been cleared.

The Corus facility was purchased by Tata Company, with the facility continuing to operate as part of their European operations.

There are plans in place for the land east of Smithy Hill to be turned into commercial outlets.

Having gained employment at “Sammy’s” many people tended to stay for a life time of employment, each one having their own reasons for doing so.

There is no doubt that this was considered to be a “family firm” not just for the Fox family but for lots of other families from the area.

The following photographs of five Long Service Awards of which the Society has the original plaques, bear testament to this fact, we can only guess at the number of these that must have been issued over the years.

We can’t end this history of Stocksbridge Works without mentioning the legacy of the Social benefits from which its employees and the people of the Stocksbridge area have benefited.

The employment opportunities that these Works have created have been there for all to see.

What is probably less obvious is some of the other ways in which the area has benefited from donations and support from the Works and its management, a few of which are listed below.

The donation of a plot of land at the top of Smithy Hill as the site for a Parish Church and £1,000 towards the cost of the building, with W.H. Fox contributed £1,000 from his own funds.

  • The building of approximately 100 homes at the New Haywoods site.

  • Donations made to many of the funds set up in the first World War to look after the wounded and their families.

  • A donation of £12,000 made to each of the Stocksbridge and Bradfield Charities, which Samuel Fox had set up in his life time and established to help the poor and sick of the area.

  • The establishment of the Stocksbridge Works Social Services Club providing sponsored sporting and other social activities for its workers

  • The building of the Jubilee Cottage Homes.

Should you wish to read more about Samuel Fox and the history of Stocksbridge Works these links to other material may prove of interest?

Two articles about the life of Samuel Fox and the development of Stocksbridge Works Part 1 and Part 2 and an article about his grave were published in the Fox Magazines.

The Handbook Number 9 written by Joseph Kenworthy in 1914 gives a summary of the last will and testament of Samuel Fox Esquire.

Check out also this other material relating to the Works and its past history.

Stocksbridge Umbrella Girls.

The “Paragon” Umbrella Frame and its Inventor.

Our New Logo : William Hoyland.

Samuel Fox & Company Limited 1842-1967.

Stocksbridge Steel.

 

The following links display material which came into the Society’s possession since the Website was launched, this material was added in January of 2012.

 A Fox Centenary - Umbrella Frames 1848 to 1948

 Founders & Builders of Stocksbridge Works 

 A brief History of Underbank Hall

 Ploughshares into Swords

 A Century in the Steel World

 A Handbook for Old and New Employees

 A brief description of the Steelworks

 

For more detail about the development of the Works, sporting, social and many other local events, don’t forget to check out the Fox Magazines.


It’s surprising what gems you might find hidden in their pages.

 

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