SK3386 : Former Cottage Industry, Broomhill, Sheffield

taken 11 years ago, 3 km from Fulwood, Sheffield, Great Britain

Former Cottage Industry, Broomhill, Sheffield
Former Cottage Industry, Broomhill, Sheffield
Just here, at the bottom left of Spooner Road, there once stood a thriving Cottage Industry. It was a small industry that hand-made sports equipment. The main items were Cricket bats and Hockey sticks. A Jim Wade and Ronald Ellis ran the business in the two-storey building, which survived the gales in Sheffield, with very little damage, but the upper floor had to be replaced after a fire. Six or seven people including Wade & Ellis and me worked at any one time in conditions which would not be allowed these days. Wood dust and wood shavings were everywhere. At the age of 15, I started working there on Saturday mornings. When I left school I started full–time and served my apprenticeship from 1957-1963.

The building stood to the north end of a court yard. Attached to it was a long row of wooden buildings that were probably stables when first built. Just here, where the blue–brick building stands, was a garage space for a car, where indeed one stood for years. To the rear was an off–shot and to the left the main building.

Main Building – Ground Floor

The rectangular two–storey brick building was normally approached from the sloping courtyard and the doorway in the south wall was reached by climbing two concrete steps. Inside and almost immediately to the left, was a flight of wooden steps. Beneath the steps, was a built–in wooden rack holding many hockey sticks heads. Beyond the steps and rack was a doorway down to the turning and sanding room. Then you reached the west wall, which had a floor to ceiling rack full of hockey stick heads and such.

To the right of the outer door was a box–shaped wood burning stove sunk in a pit in the thick concrete floor. All the wood shavings and saw dust were burnt in this stove, much to the annoyance of a nearby elderly resident. In times of heavy usage this stove turned cherry red with the heat. A stovepipe chimney protruded from the back into the room, rather than the wall and I got very burned when tripping over some wood on the floor and grabbing the chimney for support.

Beyond the stove was a window and then a long workbench on the inner east wall, to the right of which stood a double gas ring for the glue pots. The gas rings once set fire to some discarded wood shavings and then set the place alight. To the left of the bench was a doorway into the finishing room and then the north wall.

To the right of the north wall was the press (see below). It was positioned next to the finishing room doorway and when using it, it meant stopping for people coming through, which was very irritating.

To the left of the press was a long workbench, a cupboard, with first aid kit and sandpaper inside and wireless on top and further along, another workbench, where I worked. In this far corner, there were no windows or dust extraction at my bench at all. At first, there was no heating save which reached from the stove, but eventually after two or three years overhead infra–red heaters were installed. These were absolutely useless, in as much they burned your scalp, but didn’t warm the rest of you.

Circular Saw and Disc Sanding Room

Further along and at the end of my bench, was a flight of concrete steps up into an off–shot building where all the cane and willow was stored. In the centre was a large circular saw bench and sanding disc. The saw had a riving knife, but the guard was fixed so far above the blade as to render it useless. Thick dust and cobwebs coated the walls, which were brushed down about every six months, if that. All the ‘old’ cane was so covered in dust as to be unrecognisable as cane. This room had no heating at all and no residual heat ever reached it, as the door was always kept closed because of noise from the saw. Double garage doors in the east wall of the off–shot were where the ‘goods’ came in.

Main Building – Ground Floor

Back in the main building. Down the centre of the building were two long workbenches, which ran from the west wall to the east wall, but stopping short at the east to allow access around the end. There was a break, almost in the middle of the benches, for the large bandsaw. The saw was positioned next to a pillar, which supported the middle of the upper–floor. These benches had four work stations in total and the other three had one each. Under each bench was stored more hockey stick heads, and handles and stuff that never saw the light of day.

Main Building – Upper Floor

On the upper floor were more benches, but the room was just a waste of space with bits and pieces littering the place and it was rarely used, but for access to the office above the finishing room. Mostly, there was just stacks of brown paper scattered about. At the west end of the south wall was access to space above the turning and sanding room. It just contained junk.

Turning and Sanding Room

This room was part of a row of what I think were stables and it butted up to the main building. There was a purpose built lathe and belt sander and sink with Ascot boiler and a stove. The lathe was very long and could have been used to turn a substantial piece of timber. It was let down by the fact that it didn’t have a live centre and so burned the wood at the turning end and forever needed tightening up. All the adjustable bits had a coarse thread and so adjustment was very crude and tough to use. This machine had no dust extraction whatsoever. Whatever you turned, you got covered in, as did the floor, and bench. There was a platform to stand on, which had been constructed to allow dust to fall through, but before the end of a session on the lathe, this had filled over and above the platform.

The belt sander had two very heavy rollers, which over–ran for ages when the machine was switched off or when the belt broke. There were no means of braking this. A dust extractor, in the shape of a bin, collected dust from a hood at the driven roller end. A huge amount of dust came off the cricket bats and the extractor was unable to cope and so you and everything else in the room quickly got covered in it. At times, it was necessary to go out of the room when you couldn’t see anymore, for the dust. It makes me cough now, just thinking about it.

Cups of tea were made in this room. Laughable isn’t it.

Finishing Room

This room, in the east end of the building, was the place where transfers, and coloured tape were applied to the hockey stick heads and hand and spray painting was done. A lady worked in here, shut off from the noise and dust, but subjected to breathing in cellulose paint and thinners. The only means of extraction from the spray paint and fumes was via a small extractor fan to the outside. Because it smelled of pear drops, it was deemed to be OK and “Smells nice”, was the message I got.

The Office

Upstairs was the smoke filled office, where much deliberation seemed to be done. Sometimes, the Bosses spent a great deal of time up there and this inevitably led to ‘larking about’ or ‘idling’ downstairs. Nothing serious, but it relieved the boredom of looking at four walls all day.

The place has long gone, but the memories of my first job remain. My weekly wage was £1/2s/6d for Mon–Fri and Saturday morning, at the start, for a 47½ hr week, and all the dust you could breathe in.

The Cricket Bat

The Handle

The handles were constructed of between one, or up to four pieces of Manila cane or sixteen pieces of Sarawak cane. For a description of the Manila cane handle, see LinkExternal link The Sarawak cane was about 20mm in thickness and about 3m long when delivered and the sixteen-piece handle was made up as follows. The cane was sawn to, just over the correct length, and then easily straightened in a Cooper’s vice. Four lengths were planed – two on one side and two on both sides. Obviously it would be impossible to clamp the cane in a vice to plane it, so an old wooden type spokeshave blade was hammered into the bench, blade facing the operator and the cane was tapped into the blade to hold it steady for planing. It didn’t split the cane as a thin piece of wood, beneath bench and blade, prevented this. The canes were then glued together. Hemp was bound around the canes and then they were left overnight to dry.

This action was repeated four times for one handle, forty times for ten, and so on. Next day, the hemp was removed and four of these pieces were planed two on one side and two on both sides. When the pieces were ready, three strips of rubber, about 25cm long were glued in between to act as the ‘springing’ and wedges were hammered between hemp and cane to clamp them together, making up 16 pieces. This didn’t always result in a firm bond, as sometimes a touch of the chisel during turning on the lathe resulted in the handle flying to pieces. You were lucky to get away with a hard lashing across the knuckles.

The Blade

The Cricket Bat Willow blades arrived roughly cut and oversize in thickness. I can best describe the end shape as being an oblong with an inverted triangle attached. The blade was parallel in shape in its length, most all of the cutting and shaping done after pressing. Willow is very soft in its natural state and cannot withstand the blow of a cricket ball. A serious dent would result and so it was necessary to compress the surface and harden it. You might say, “Why not use a harder wood?” Well the weight of it would make it too heavy to handle.

To begin with, just the top was shaped and it was planed to the shape of the roller on the press. The press consisted of two very rigid parallel lengths of steel trackwork bolted to a bench. The ‘bed’ on which the blade lay, was very heavily made. The long steel oblong ‘bed’ supported the blade for its length. It was ‘V’ notched to match the base of the blade and it ran on rollers. A toothed wheel mounted on a winding handle, drove a toothed rack, which was attached beneath the ’bed’. Turn the handle clockwise and the ‘bed’ moved from left to right, anti–clockwise and it returned from right to left. The handle was attached mid–way along the length of the trackwork, beneath the ‘bed’ and between two upright girders. A roller, mounted in the girders above the ‘bed’, was positioned in a casing, which slid up and down in the girders, but was controlled downwards and upwards with a thick screwed rod and handle.

The shaped blade was laid in the track and the roller was lowered with the handle to meet it. A few passes were made by winding the ‘bed’ back and forth, but with very little pressure applied. Too much pressure all at once resulted in wrinkled cracking at the blades edges. Gradually, pressure was increased until it got very hard to turn the winding handle. The blade was subject to a few blows with a Croquet ball mallet and inspected for dents. If the blade didn’t survive the blows it was given a few more ‘runs’ on the ‘bed’. At times, sheer bodyweight was required to rotate the winding handle and a bit of a shove against the nearest wall. It was strenuous work and quickly resulted in calluses to the hand and a six–pack.

The blade then had the ‘V’ shaped cut to accept the handle, which was done on a large bandsaw. The handle was ‘V’ shaped cut to splice into the blade and then glued and hammered in.

The Bat

Once the glue had dried, which was usually about 24hrs, the bat was cut and planed into shape with a Cooper’s knife, spokeshave and block plane and then sanded on a belt sander. Laborious sanding was then done by hand to remove the rough sanding of the belt sander. All that was necessary then was to brand the name of the manufacturer on the blade with a hot iron, attach cloth tape to the handle, followed by the rubber grip and give it a few coats of linseed oil. A hard shine could be given, by rubbing the blade with a piece of Manila cane oiled with a light coat of linseed oil. Occasionally, cloth tape was bound, in a broad patch, around the ‘sweet spot’ of the blade, for added protection. A light coating of watered down animal glue was applied to secure it.

I can’t remember how many bats I shaped a day, nor how many cricket bat handles I turned on the lathe, but when a piecework rate was worked out for planing the Sarawak cane I managed to earn almost three times my weekly wage, one week. It had taken my bosses a whole day to work the rate out and it was quickly announced that they must have got the piecework rate all wrong. It was obvious to me that I was, by far, the better grafter or they were lousy at maths.

The Hockey Stick - LinkExternal link
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Dave Hitchborne and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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SK3386, 323 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Wednesday, 6 August, 2008   (more nearby)
Sunday, 28 September, 2008
Industrial area   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SK 33232 86891 [1m precision]
WGS84: 53:22.6700N 1:30.1152W
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OSGB36: geotagged! SK 33232 86891
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WEST (about 270 degrees)
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Cricket Bats  Wood Shavings  Hockey Sticks  Wood Dust  Sports Equipment  Apprenticeship  Wooden Buildings 

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