Retro: The brothers who profited from horrors of Civil War

Butcher Works, Arundel Street, Sheffield

Reveal picture - Stone trough just right of the chimney
Butcher Works, Arundel Street, Sheffield Reveal picture - Stone trough just right of the chimney

Hello campers!

Today’s clue picture can be found inside what was a thriving enclave of the Butcher Brothers, inside the yard of the Butcher Works on Arundel Street.

William Butcher


Butcher Works, Arundel Street, Sheffield

William Butcher Butcher Works, Arundel Street, Sheffield

Today it has been cleansed of the spirit that wafted in and out of every nook and cranny of the works. It is now the haunt of the wannabe artisans and upmarket abodes.

The works must hate what it has become but it has been saved and that’s the main thing.

The Butcher brothers were born just five years apart, William the eldest in 1791 and Samuel in 1796.

Their father James was a cutler working in Charles Street in the very beating heart of cutlery manufacturing industry in the town.

Butcher Brothers - The old Eyre Lane works entrance, Sheffield

Butcher Brothers - The old Eyre Lane works entrance, Sheffield

They lost their father in 1801 when they were aged 10 and five years old but cutlery must have been in their blood, as by 1818 they had secured a workshop on Eyre Lane on credit.

In 1822, William began melting his own crucible steel and close by at No 85 Arundel Street, Wade and Butcher began trading.

This business specialised in table knives and razors and I suspect the butcher in this partnership was Samuel.

In 1825, William Butcher was listed as merchants and manufacturers of edge tools, skates, saws, files, hoes, trowels, joiners tools and West Indian and Brazilian plantation tools – a really large and varied production.

There is no mention of Samuel though.

The following year, in 1826, we see the two brothers listed as Butcher, Brown and Butcher – but after just four years Brown left the partnership leaving the two brothers to carry on.

From the 1830s to the 1850s, the Butchers’ trade grew at a satisfactory rate and their quality goods gained a worldwide following, especially in the Americas.

In the meantime they had added extra workshops, grinding hulls and warehouses to their empire.

In the 1850s, the Butchers bought up the neighbouring steam-powered grinding wheel of JB Raworth, incorporating this into the works.

This marked a refocusing of activity on the site towards tool, blade and cutlery manufacture, with steel production moving to a new site at the Philadelphia Works in the Neepsend area of the town.

During the 1860s, some trade unions in Sheffield used violence against non-members, in what became known as the “Sheffield Outrages”.

These actions have been mentioned several times both in my articles and others, so I won’t go into them again.

At the time, Butchers’ Wheel was known as a safe workplace for those who had incurred the opposition of such unions, given that access was only through a single, guarded door.

During the 1860s and 1870s, two four-storey ranges were constructed, one facing Arundel Street, and the other abutting Sterling Works.

In similar style to the earlier work, with red brick walls and grey slate roofs, the new buildings created a courtyard at the centre of the site.

These buildings were unusually austere for their date, lacking the classical detailing of contemporary works elsewhere in the city.

Grinding workshops were on the upper levels, the machinery’s weight necessitating arched ceilings of fireproof brick up to three feet thick.

In the centre of the courtyard, a tall chimney was constructed, linked by a curving wall to the edge.

This removed fumes from the boiler house which supplied steam power to the entire works.

William and Samuel’s workers produced the best and finest Bowie knives in the town and they also manufactured the biggest volume of Bowie knives in the town too.

Their success continued and accolades followed, William became Master Cutler in 1845 and Town Trustee while Samuel attained the Mayorship of Sheffield in 1861. He was also an alderman and Justice of the Peace.

Though the American Civil War was a terrible event causing the loss of life of America’s young men, the brothers profited as they were a major supplier of knives and tools.

In the 1850s, the workforce totalled over 1,000 and after the American Civil War had ended, the American trade was on the wane and the workforce had shrunk to around 500.

The brothers were the driving force behind the business.

Unfortunately, on December 7, 1867, Samuel passed away at his home on Endcliffe Crescent.

Geoff Tweedale states he died at Banner Cross Hall in his book – it does list that he lived at Banner Cross but not the Hall.

The following year, on November 15, William died at home, the Five Oaks No. 428 Glossop Road. Both brothers were laid to rest in Ecclesall All Saints Churchyard.

The firm continued to be run by Samuel’s son Charles Fosbury Butcher but by the onset of the 20th century, the firm was bought into by the Americans.

Charles Leslie Butcher, Charles Fosbury’s son, was on the board along with American Sigmund Kastor.

After the death of Charles Fosbury in 1924, the Americans seem to have arrived to take it all, new working methods were introduced taking away the handmade quality and over the next few decades the production lessened and shops were let to independent Little Mester’s.

The last tenant left the works in 2004 and in 2007 the building was restored to what we see today.

One more insight, in all my directories of the years mentioned, there’s not one mention of the name Butcher Works, it’s just Arundel Street.

So it is logical to assume it was just a name used by word of mouth of workers in the cutlery trade and was never an official name of the works.

I’ve just returned from a holiday in San Francisco and my two lost friends Mr Dawson and Mr Sorsby were at a loose end.

Mr D resorted to having a conversation with his wife and Mr S spent three weeks at the airport waiting for me.

Who needs a faithful dog when you have two lads like these!