Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 1743-1993

By Geoffrey Tweedale | Go to book overview

9
Sheffield Steel in War and Peace to 1960

In retrospect, it has been work and war, war and work.

W. H. Hatfield, Sheffield Burns ( Sheffield, 1943), 13.

Sheffield [in the 1950s] is now a city crowded with works of all sizes, where the tradition of the small private company has largely been retained. Within its boundaries, some 130 separate companies are engaged in steel-making and processing and a great many of these have engineering departments . . . In addition, a host of purely engineering firms are engaged in converting forgings, castings, and rolled sections into a range of products which are bewildering in their complexity.

David Linton (ed.), Sheffield and Its Region ( Sheffield, 1956), 279-80.

The world steel industry had been hit particularly hard in the great depression because of its dependence on the capital goods sector. At the end of 1931 the Sheffield Daily Telegraph stated that: 'The year now at an end has been unquestionably the most disastrous in the history of Sheffield's staple industries. . . . The reports of the limited companies large and small, have been an almost unbroken record of operating at a loss and the passing of dividends.'1 As production fell, a large part of the industry's capital had to be written off. 'No industrial centre suffered more', it was said, as Sheffield firms, 'losing money week after week made desperate efforts to keep their heads above water, and just as the struggle appeared to have reached breaking point there came signs of a change for the better.'2 By 1933 a recovery was under way, assisted by the tariff of 1932 and the formation in 1934 of the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF), which was to co-ordinate the industry and promote rationalization. By 1934 the output of the Sheffield district had reached 1.25 million tons, surpassing the 1929 level, and the trend was firmly upward. By 1936 output was over 1.6 million tons, with Sheffield's share of United Kingdom production at about 13 per cent (though its proportion of value was, of course, much higher). Local newspapers noted approvingly that the city's skyline was once more becoming obscured by the haze from its smoky chimneys.

After the mid- 1930s, Sheffield's recovery not only reflected the general turnaround in British steel (the country's share of the world's output rose

____________________
1
SDT, 31 Dec. 1931.
2
Ibid. 29 Dec. 1933.

-297-

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