Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Geroge Barnsley & Sons Ltd, Cornish Works, Sheffield


George Barnsley had three children, they were baptised at St. Peters Sheffield in 1801, 1802 and 1810 the youngest born 1810. George started his apprenticeship with Thomas Wing as a file forger, lasting seven years. George died in the year of 1824.

George Junior established George Barnsley's 1836/7 and is listed in the 1837 Sheffield directory as a file manufacturer in Wheeldon Street with the help of his brother Charles who was a cutler, selling files and cutting tools. Also in this year George had a son, also called George,  and in 1850 he became an apprentice in the firm and a year later he was following in his father’s footsteps as a travelling salesman opening up markets in Scotland and Ireland as well as London and other large cities in England.

In 1858 he was made a partner in the firm and it became George Barnsley and Sons. George believed that success was dependent on quality and travelled up and down the country, also he also travelled aboard to show case his products and gain new customers.

The 1849 listing records a move to Cornhill and then in 1852 to the Cornish Works on Cornish Street. Barnsley's went on to become a leading manufacturer of tools for the shoe making and leather workers trade with an expansion into butcher’s knives.

As the demand for cutting tools made at George Barnsley & Sons grew, it became impractical to make them by hand. In 1860 new machinery was bought into the factory replacing skilled men, much to the dismay of the workers. At first it was thought that these machines could not produce files at a high enough quality but this was soon proven to be un-founded. George continued to update with modern machinery as it appeared. He is quoted in 1883 at the Cutlers Feast saying 'the need to adapt ourselves to the requirements of the world.....and we shall keep our ancient prestige'.

George Barnsley became a local council man representing St. Philips Ward and in 1884 and 1885 he was on the Watch Committee, responsible for law and order, lighting of streets and the markets. He died in 1895 aged 58.

In World War II the chimney of the Cornish Works was destroyed in November 1940 killing three men when a steel cable from a barrage balloon became entangled. Efforts to free the cable caused the chimney to collapse, killing the men. After the war steel was in short supply but it wasn't until the late 50's that steel became plentiful.

George Barnsley died at his home at No 30 Collegiate Crescent on 30th March 1958, he lived there with his wife Mabel and mother-in-law Elizabeth. He was a partner in the firm which were steel and file manufacturers and the business was converted into a limited company about 10 years before his death.

The 1960's brought stiff competition from Japan and India, the machinery in the factory was in desperate need of modernising as they were still using the Victorian machinery installed by George Barnsley Junior. The foreign tools could be imported and bought for less money than George Barnsley's could buy the raw materials to make the same tool. George Barnsley's took over James Oxley knife manufacturers in 1968.

In 1973 the company ceased making files as they were no longer profitable with the loss of 60 jobs. It was a hard decision to make as George Barnsley had started the company by making files. Files were bought in at first and sold on but this was soon stopped. The decline of George Barnsley and Sons was beginning. The next 30 years were hard for the company with more imports and the competition becoming fiercer. Sadly the company closed in 2003 and the buildings sold.


There is a book written by local historians documenting this amazing history during the companies lifetime available here:

All photographs available as prints or canvas with or without the border. Message for sizes/ prices.

Esoteric Eric

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