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William Whiteley

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the old factory

Whiteley’s on the Move

Sally's Blog: Whiteley's On The Move
Whiteley’s On The Move

The Whiteley factory that I grew up with was at 29 Rockingham Street, Sheffield, when my grandfather was in charge.

Back then, Rockingham Street was full of cutlers, tool manufacturers and drop forgers. My maternal grandfather, William Seago, was a cutlery engineer and large-kitchen-knife designer at ‘Bernards’, a factory just across the road from Whiteley’s. When Sheffield started to develop in the 1960’s (anyone remember the opening credits from the Full Monty?), a lot of these older metalworks closed down and their old factories demolished, to make way for new ones.

Whilst we were still there, a big factory called Gordon Tools was built next door – they had their own drop hammer for forging their tools. Unfortunately, they built it too close to us, and the constant banging of the drop hammer began to shake our factory to pieces…

29 Rockingham Street - Whiteley's
31 Garden Street, Sheffield
Inside Old Whiteley’s – Garden Street, Sheffield

We then moved all of 150 yards to 31 Garden St, which had been an old Victorian School called St Lukes. In 2000, an extremely old gentleman staggered to the door and asked if he could have a look round, as he had once been a pupil there!

Whilst this was much bigger than the Rockingham St factory, it was still a warren of cellars, cellars under cellars, attics and back-stairs, nooks and crannies and so on. But for the first time, it had a shop-floor where everyone could work together in the same space – with the exception of the hardening shop and the paint (japanning) shop.

The company had also grown, and now had a collection of inimitable characters, both men and women. Assemblers were at one end, grinders in the middle and finishers at the other end. Everyone had a radio blaring (as was custom in most factories then) but there was no radio in the hardening shop, so an enterprising wag just knocked a hole in the wall and moved a speaker up to the hole.

Nothing ever got thrown away and all manner of old tools, bits of machines, old blades, forgings, screws, old accounts and ledgers, skeletons etc. were squirrelled away as spares, or ‘just in case’. When we eventually moved to our current premises, we managed to fill five 10-ton skips with these hoardings!

Just as my grandfather handed Whiteley’s over to my father in Rockingham St, so he handed over to me in Garden St.

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