Last week we were still at old Whiteleys – I should really be calling it old, old Whiteleys, as we occupied other premises from 1975 to 2006, which are, strictly speaking, old Whiteleys.
Old, old Whiteleys was: The Phoenix works, 29 Rockingham Street, Sheffield. Rockingham Street was full of cutlers, tool manfacturers and drop forgers, back then. My maternal grandfather, William Seago, was a cutlery engineer and large-kitchen-knife designer at a factory across the road, called Bernards (emphasis on the last syllable). When Sheffield started to develop, in the 1960’s (see opening scenes of the Full Monty, “ City on the Move”…. Er ..), a lot of these old metal works closed down and the old factories demolished, new ones built.
A big factory called Gordon Tools was built next door and as close as they could get, to old, old Whiteleys . They had their own drop hammer for forging their (excellent) tools. Unfortunately, they built it too close to us, and the banging of the hammer began to shake old, old Whiteleys building to bits, so we had to move. We moved all of 150 yards to 31 Garden St. This was an old Victorian School, St Lukes which had had a shop-floor built on the back in the 1930s. It abutted onto a cobbled area and had a very handy pub opposite, across the road. In 2000, a very, very, old gentleman staggered to the door and asked if he could have a look round, as he had been a pupil there!
Wives would turn up to the factory door to relieve their husbands of their pay-packets before they made it to the pub or the betting shop, on Friday lunchtimes as we finished at 12-00 noon on Fridays; still do. Luckily for me, we now pay by BACS, so they can sort it out between them and no bickering outside the factory.
Whilst this was positively modern compared to old, old WWs and much bigger, it was still had a collection of cellars, cellars under cellars, attics and back-stairs, nooks and crannies and so on and so on. But for the first time, it had a shop-floor where everyone worked together in the same space, apart from the hardening shop and the paint (japanning) shop. The company was bigger with more employees, a collection of inimitable characters, men and women. Assemblers were at one end, grinders in the middle and finishers at the other end. Everyone had a radio blaring, custom and practice in most factories then. 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; “spares”, “ just in case”….
When we left there, we managed to fill five 10-ton skips with all this stuff.
Just as my Grandfather handed Whiteleys over to my father in Rockingham Street, so he handed over to me in Garden St. So I will see you there next time.