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

By Geoffrey Tweedale | Go to book overview

PRIMARY SOURCES

When I first began work on the Sheffield steel industry towards the end of the 1970s, primary source material on the city's steel firms was relatively scarce. The nineteenth-century scene was reasonably well covered in Sheffield City Library Archives with the minute books, letters, and annual reports of some of the tool steel and cutlery firms, such as Allen, Balfour, Marsh Bros., and Spear & Jackson; but records for some of the city's biggest companies and its holdings for the twentieth century were patchy.1 The archives of firms such as Hadfields and Firth-Brown still lay locked away in obscure parts of their old steelworks. Elsewhere, the records of the big three--Vickers, Brown, and Cammell--were either not easily accessible or unknown to historians.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, this picture has changed dramatically. The decline of British industry has meant a windfall for the business historian, as the demise of the old smokestack industries has filled archives to bursting-point. Vickers deposited its company papers--mostly on microfilm, alas, but well catalogued--in Cambridge University Library. The nineteenth-century Charles Cammell records surfaced at the Cammell-Laird shipyard in Birkenhead (and were lodged at Birkenhead Town Hall); and the John Brown papers were released to historians, while being retained at the head office of the firm (now part of the Trafalgar Group) at Paddington, London. The Cammell and Brown papers consist mostly of detailed minute books and annual reports, surviving in a complete run from their registration as limited companies in 1864.

The rapid decline of Steel City has made Sheffield City Library Archives into the largest repository in Britain (and probably the world) for records on the steel industry and its related trades. The avalanche began in the mid-1980s with the timely rescue of the records of Hadfields Ltd., which contained not only what was left of Sir Robert Hadfield's personal papers, but also much of interest concerning the twentieth-century history of the company. This was soon supplemented by material from some of the failed mergers of the post-1970 period, such as the Aurora tool steel group. The collapse of Aurora also unearthed several interesting finds from the nineteenth and early twentieth century for firms such as Huntsman, Darwins, and J. H. Andrew. Material from some of the biggest steel firms followed. The closure of the English Steel Corporation resulted in a large run of records, perhaps the most interesting of which (for the writing of this study) was a complete set of over a hundred directors' reports covering the period between 1928 and the mid-1930s and charting the

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1
SCL, Catalogue of Business and Industrial Records ( 1977).

-409-

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