We recently undertook a small but significant and quite scary local repair project, steeped in local Sheffield history. Significant because it was the supports for a two tonne porch on the front of a grade II listed Victorian Gothic mansion. Scary because the original ones where being held up by compost and it was all starting to twist, and we would have the whole weight of this [and history] bearing down on us.
The history – the house was built by Charles Henry Firth (1837-1892) of the Firth family, the eminent Sheffield Steel makers, who gave their name to much in the City. The house was full of gothic flamboyance and incredible craftsmanship, stone, timber, glass, with the ballroom and four story stained glass window being the richest of pickings. The house was then purchased and lived in until he died there by J G Graves. John George Graves (1866–1945) set up one of Britain’s first mail order businesses, selling first watches and then a wide range of goods. The company employed, at its peak, 3,000 people in Sheffield and had an annual turnover of £1m. He became Sheffield’s Lord Mayor and an Alderman in 1926 and he was given Freedom of the City in 1929.
Graves donated Graves donated over £1 million to Sheffield, including the establishment of Sheffield Central Library, the Graves Art Gallery the Mappin Art Gallery, and Sheffield University’s Student Union. He also made gifts of land to the city, including Graves Park, Ecclesall Woods, Tinsley playing fields, Concord Park and Blacka Moor. The J. G. Graves Trust, a charitable trust set up in his name, exists to the present day, and the Woodland Discovery Centre at the sawmill (Ecclesall woods), where we are based is funded by that legacy.
No wonder we where scared. So what did we do? First got scaffold put up to support the porch, then worked out a plan with the help of our engineer. We then made six new blanks to turn the 300x300mm column bottoms. We built these Jenga style out of smaller Douglas Fir ‘bricks’ but with a hollow in the middle then glued and clamped them and put them in a press with 4 tonne of pressure. These were then turned by local turner John White. Meanwhile we made the plinths. It was then a relatively straightforward but neverless nerve racking job of removing the ‘compost’ column supports and sliding in the new ones and pinning them in place