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History of Cutlery and Tools with Geoffrey Tweedale

  Ibbotson Brothers and Globe Works by Geoffrey Tweedale

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In the 1980s, I photographed many of Sheffield’s old steel, tool, and cutlery works.  Among them was Globe Works.  It is not easily overlooked.  It is set in the heart of one of Sheffield’s oldest manufacturing districts, which includes Kelham Island, Neepsend, and Philadelphia. 

These areas have something in common – the River Don, which winds its way past some of the most famous names in steel and tools: Samuel Osborn, James Dixon, John Bedford, and George Barnsley.  Some of these firms had factories that were bigger than Globe Works, but none had such a distinctive frontage.  Its classical stone facades and arched windows even today strike an incongruous note of grandeur amongst the grimy factories in the district.

Globe Works was not only a factory; it was also a home, with a stylish entrance and well-appointed residential wing for the owners.  It looked towards St Philip’s Church – long since demolished – but the gravestones can be seen in the foreground of the photograph.

Who were the Ibbotsons?

The early history of Globe Works was intertwined with the Ibbotson family.  This was a relatively common name in Sheffield, so untangling the history of the factory is difficult – especially so, since few business records have survived from the firm’s early years.

According to an advertisement, Ibbotson Bros was established in 1809. The family came from Hathersage in Derbyshire – a village about ten miles from Sheffield that was known for its pins and needles and its Methodism.

The Ibbotson genealogy is complex. A pedigree was compiled and published in 1915, but it is incomplete.

The early Ibbotsons were farmers and landowners at Carr Head, Hathersage. One of them – William Ibbotson (c.1766-1818) – moved to Sheffield and became a partner in Eyre, Ibbotson & Henzell. This was listed in Green Lane after 1814 as a factor, and fender and edge tool manufacturer.

William’s partners, besides Edward Eyre and Isaac Henzell, included his son Henry Ibbotson (1797-1849). William died on 1 December 1818, aged 52, and was buried in Hathersage churchyard.

William also had a daughter, Mary (1794-1867), who in 1813 had married her cousin, William Ibbotson (1789-1852). The latter was the son of Samuel (1753-1816), who was a brother of the father of William of Carr Head. This complicated family link has been explained as follows:

On the opposite side of Broad Lane, in the first house above St Thomas’s Street, lived Mr [William] Ibbotson, the late father of Mr Henry Ibbotson, and uncle to the late Mr William Ibbotson, who married his cousin Miss Mary, the daughter. Mr William was consequently brother-in-law as well as cousin to Mr Henry; and they took to the old gentleman’s business, which I believe was the saw trade, and entered into partnership as ‘Messrs Ibbotson Brothers’ (Sheffield Independent, 18 October 1872; Leader, 1876).

After the dissolution of Eyre, Ibbotson & Henzell in 1819, Ibbotsons & Roebuck (the immediate forerunner of Ibbotson Bros) was listed in 1821 as a merchant and manufacturer of saws, stove grates, fenders, scythes, and steel. It was sited at Bower Spring, near Kelham Island. Jonathan Roebuck (1789-1848) was one partner; the others were the ‘brothers’ William and Henry Ibbotson.

Complicating this picture is William & George Ibbotson & Co, which made a similar range of products and had forging capacity at Wisewood Forge. It was listed in nearby Bridge Street between 1797 and the late 1820s.

This firm was probably run by the descendants of another William Ibbotson (1738-1825?) from Hathersage. George Ibbotson, of Coulston Croft, who died on 5 January 1830, aged 52, was apparently one partner and presumably the son. George was buried at St Paul’s churchyard in Sheffield; possibly his father was, too, in 1825. After 1830, the Bridge Street business seems to have passed to William Ibbotson Horn, who was the son of Mary (the daughter of the William Ibbotson, born in 1738).

Trading with America

In the 1820s, Ibbotsons began feeding America’s almost insatiable demand for crucible steel, saws, files, edge tools, and knives.

The trade and profits were so good that in 1825 – when much of the district was still fields and gardens – Ibbotsons and Roebuck built Globe Works. In 1827, Roebuck left to start his own business and William and Henry continued as Ibbotson Bros. In the Sheffield directory (1828), both William & George Ibbotson and Ibbotson Bros were listed. The latter’s trade mark was ‘GLOBE’ (word and picture).

Like Sheaf Works of William Greaves & Sons (on the other side of the town), Globe Works was an integrated steel and tool making complex (though it also had tilting and rolling capacity at Middlewood, in one of the valleys near Sheffield).


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