Hi - thought this extract from the early life stories of my great grandfathers (William Ashforth Drabble & Albert Arthur Lloyd) might be of interest as William worked at the La Plata Works. (Sorry wasn't sure how else to post it other than by copy & paste) Chapter 2
Sixty miles away - just over the county boundary in south-west Yorkshire - was another major industrial town, Sheffield, which had developed into a centre for the production of iron and steel and the crafting of metal products. It, too, had a historical association with its particular industry. Sheffield was noted for the production of knives as early as the 14th century and by the 17th century had become the main centre of cutlery manufacture in England outside of London. Once again, it was innovation which triggered the town's growth as an industrial centre - in particular, the invention (by Thomas Boulsover in the 1740s) of an improved form of silver plate known as "Sheffield plate", the development of the crucible steel process (by Benjamin Huntsman also in the 1740s) to produce a higher quality steel, and the perfection (by Henry Bessemer in the 1850s) of a process which radically reduced the cost of steel production.
We saw that in 1881 Henry Lloyd junior and his family were living in a quality terraced house in St Helen's Road, Bolton. Ten years earlier William Ashforth Drabble, aged just 1, was living at 12, Fir Street in Sheffield. He was born just a few streets away at High Street, Upper Hallam - a district on the western outskirts of the town - in the house of his grandparents, William and Ann Drabble. His parents, Charles and Louisa Drabble, set up home shortly afterwards in Fir Street, which was then a pleasant, suburban road including a number of detached houses and small terraces. Subsequent infilling required the renumbering of properties, but we can be fairly sure that 12, Fir Street was one of the mid-terrace houses in a 4-house terrace. Though smaller than Henry Lloyd's professional home, it is clear that 12, Fir Street was of a similar quality suggesting that William's father, Charles, was a skilled craftsman. The 1861 census (and its predecessors) confirms that he was a file forger, which was, indeed, a skilled and relatively well-paid profession.
The production of files consisted of several stages, each of which was performed by a different specialist craftsman. Initially, the steel would have been produced in the foundries and rolled in a rolling mill to produce bars. The first stage in creating a file was to forge the file from a steel bar, hammering it into shape over a fire, drawing it out and creating the "tang" to house the handle or "haft". The second stage was to cut the parallel grooves in the file with a hammer and chisel. Then the file would be hardened and, finally, the haft would be fitted.
Files would be produced in workshops which could be of varying size. Each stage of the process might be carried out in a separate workshop operated privately by individual craftsmen or by groups of craftsmen working for a master craftsman under whom they may have trained as apprentices. The craftsman or master craftsman would produce the files on piece rate under contract to a factory owner or dealer, who would co-ordinate the assembly of the files and manage their sale and distribution. Alternatively, as became more common as the century progressed, the craftsmen would be employed to work in factories, comprising a series of workshops where the stages of the production process were carried out side by side, with the files being assembled and packaged for sale or distribution on site.
By 1881 Charles and Louisa had moved to Woodland View, which though part of the district of Stannington to the north-west of Sheffield, was closer to Malin Bridge than to the village of Stannington. An 1893 map of the area shows that there was a forge and a small colliery in Woodland View, and that there were steel works along the River Loxley and at Malin Bridge. William, aged 11, was recorded as a scholar in the 1881 census, as were his younger brothers, Harry (9) and Fred (5). Presumably, the reason for moving house was to be closer to these sources of employment - not just for Charles, but also for his sons. We know that in 1882, at the age of 13, William had already found work as a grinder at Burgon and Ball's La Plata Works in Malin Bridge, but had to leave when his employer discovered his age. Education up to the age of 13 was made compulsory by the 1880 Education Act, although exemptions were possible between the ages of 10 and 13. It must have been the earlier Factory Act of 1878, by which children aged 10 to 14 could only work half days, which caused Burgon & Ball to dismiss William. Anyway, by 1887 he had returned to the La Plata Works forging sheep shears and in 1888 was earning £4 a week which was a very good wage, reflecting the complexity of the product and the degree of precision required.
The wages steel craftsmen could expect to earn varied according to their particular trade and the implement they produced. Generally, it was the forgers who were best paid, followed (in order) by the grinders, hardeners, cutters and hafters. At the top of the pay scale for forgers were those producing sheep shears. A comparison of Sheffield forgers' pay scales in 1850 indicated 18-35 shillings per week for spring knives, 24-33 for razors, 24-41 for files, 25-44 for scythes, 27-40 for table knives, 40 for butchers' knives, but 54 shillings a week for sheep shears.
For some implements, such as carpentry tools, grinders could earn more than forgers. One reason that grinders were paid well was to compensate them for their high mortality from bronchial diseases. The worst affected were seen to be those who started in the trade at a young age.
It was most fortunate for William, then, that his career as a grinder was terminated so soon, but there would have been other trades he could have learned at La Plata Works after his 14th birthday. The skill he must have possessed to forge sheep shears in 1888 would surely have taken some years to acquire, and it seems reasonable to assume that his training or apprenticeship would have started well before 1887.
In 1888 William married Ada Womack, a razor grinder's daughter from Stannington, and it seems likely that, on his wage of £4 a week, they would have rented their own home in or around Woodland View.
In the early 1880s Burgon and Ball's production of patented sheep shears rocketed with sales in one year topping 300,000 pairs. There were substantial exports to South America (possibly explaining the name "La Plata"), North America, Australia, the West Indies and New Zealand. The company was also exploring the development of mechanical shearing devices and their "Daisy Shearing Machine" took the shearing world by storm later in the decade. The shearing machine worked in the same way as modern electrical cutters, but with the motive force being transmitted through a series of rotating rods connected by flexible ("knuckle") joints.
The early versions were driven by rotating a large hand wheel. Whilst this required a driver and a shearer to operate the machine, the shearer could shear four times more quickly than by using hand shears. Later versions were powered by steam engines and ultimately by electricity.
Burgon and Ball's profit was William's loss, because the demand for hand shears plummeted and William found himself without a job.
Throughout the industrial revolution the introduction of innovations caused craftspeople to lose their incomes virtually overnight. In the textile industry, the handweavers and spinners suffered when mechanised spinning and powerlooms were introduced. In the building industry, the stonemasons had been at the top of the pile (so to speak), but the advent of bricks and concrete severely reduced the need for their services. The specialist craftsmen had learned their trade over many years and retraining was not a practical option.
William had no option but to cast his net wide. He found work at Damflask which was a small village five miles from home further up the Loxley valley.
Damflask had actually been washed away by the Great Sheffield Flood in 1864. The industries of Sheffield (as in other industrial towns) consumed a huge amount of water. Water wheels needed a regulated supply to keep the industries they powered operating, and the huge steam engines which powered the more modern industries also needed copious amounts. Water was used by the industries for cooling, washing, bleaching and other forms of processing. Not least, the increasing populations needed a water supply. In order to provide for all of these needs, water companies were created to construct vast reservoirs in the valleys around the industrial towns.
In 1864 the Bradfield Reservoir, higher up the Loxley River valley, had just been completed. The construction of reservoirs in those days was in simple terms to build two enormous embankments of shale, rubble and stone, each hundreds of feet thick at the base tapering to 10 feet at the top with a slope of 2½:1. To make the dam impervious, a wall of clay 12-16 feet thick was constructed between the embankments. On the night of 11th March 1864 the Bradfield Reservoir embankment gave way releasing millions of gallons of water which cascaded down the Loxley valley to the River Don, through central Sheffield and on to Rotherham, killing 270 people and leaving devastation in its wake. The village of Damflask was not rebuilt because it had already been decided to build another reservoir there.
The employment William Drabble found in Damflask was to help in the construction of the new Damflask Reservoir.
The clay wall between the embankments of a reservoir was known as a "puddle wall" and a puddle cutter was a labourer who dug or cut clay from the fields in the vicinity of the construction site, which would be processed by being trodden or "puddled" with water to make it malleable so that it could be shaped and moulded into the all important puddle wall. The cause of the Great Sheffield Flood was not correctly identified by the inquest held at the time. Subsequent analysis suggests that it was most likely the failure of the puddle wall which had not been properly constructed.
Puddle cutting was backbreaking work and was not well paid. For William it also involved a five mile walk to and from work. The home of their own, which we suspect William and Ada rented when William was earning £4 a week, would not have been affordable on a labourer's wage. It is possible that the couple may have had to move in with William's parents and his siblings - now four in number since Charles and Charlotte (Lottie) were born in 1879 and 1881 respectively.
Not surprisingly, William would have been looking elsewhere for employment. Initially he found work as sexton and gravedigger at Stannington Church, a 1½ mile walk from home, and later as gravedigger at Burngreave Cemetry, 3½ miles from home just to the north of Sheffield.
At this time William's prospects did not seem at all promising - certainly not as he and his wife would have foreseen when they married. Towards the end of 1889 Ada found that she was pregnant and she and William would then have had serious concerns about their situation.