George Barnsley and Sons lLd. Factory Images

Many, if not most, English trained bookbinders of a certain age cut their teeth using Geo. Barnsley leather paring knives. Barnsley made numerous tools for butchers, saddle makers, shoemakers and others, from the early 19th century until the 1990’s.  Below are great images of how one factory looks now, from the UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums.  There are many more photos on this site from several members. Admittedly, propagating images like these raises some concerns and issues, including trespassing, vandalism, safety, ethics, preservation, conservation, and more.  But these images are already ‘out’, and in this case, I felt the informational value for the people who use and research the history of leather-working tools outweighs these other concerns.  These aren’t just neat photos of a cool old rundown factory, these are valuable documentation.


A wonderfully intact painted sign on a gate. Graffiti seems to have been removed or covered over in the grey areas. The piece of unpainted wood, either covering or replacing a hinge, seems to indicate at least someone is repairing or maintaining the premises? Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums


Very rusty cobbler’s hammer with a broken neck. To me this photograph looks staged, although of course all photographs, in a fundamental sense, are staged. The cleaned off area on and around the handle seems inconsistent with the regular deposits of debris on most surfaces. The very rusty and broken hammer head seems incongruous with the essentially intact handle. But it is a nice image of nature overcoming technology. Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums


Storage shelves for knives. Lace knives are used to cut leather laces, and  could be stuck into the bench, and the leather spun around in a circle to cut long lengths from a relatively small piece of leather.  A butt knife is similar to a linoleum knife. Some butt knives have a mysterious nib, or hump,  on the back of the blade, and its purpose is unknown. There are similar nibs on some 19th and 20th century  handsaws for wood and 18th century french saws for sawing in book spines. Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums

Indenture for an apprentice knife or toolmaker. Date: June 4, 1823. Seven years, two hundred seventy one days in length and signed by George Barnsley.   It is hard to believe this is still lying around the factory. Traditionally indentures were cut in irregular patterns on the top edge so that the master and apprentice copies would fit together.  It is a fairly small image and hard to read, but several lines jump out: “Fornication he shall not commit”  and “his [master’s] lawful secrets he shall keep.”  Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums


Price list for various pattern Butcher’s knifes.  Note that beech handles were cheaper than redwood and the large variety of sizes availiable. I’m unclear what the bottom style knife with “one brass screw” is. Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums


Large grinding wheel.  Ashley Iles reports that in 1950’s Sheffield, most workers only respiratory protection was a pint of ale to wash down the dust. [1]   The hinged wood cover hinges down to protect the stone. Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums


Various knives from a catalog plate?  Small and large wooden body spokeshaves on the right, “Saddlers Spokeshaves”  In the middle is a plough gauge (aka. Strap cutting gauge), which is used to cut long strips of leather to an even width. [2] On the bottom, in the middle is a saddler’s head knife; it is easy to image grasping it with your thumb on the slight curve and forefinger fitting into the severe curve on the left side. Image: The UK UE Urbex Urban Exploration Forums



1. Ashley Iles, Memories of a Sheffield Tool Maker. Mendham, N.J.: Astragal Press, 1993. (p. 64)

2.  R. A. Salaman, Dictionary of Leather-Working Tools c. 1700-1950. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1986. (p. 263) Contains a good illustration of how they are used.

7 Replies to “George Barnsley and Sons lLd. Factory Images”

  1. I am a historian and would appreciate hearing from anybody who can give me information about a process used by clogmakers (makers of shoes with a wooden sole and a leather upper) whereby an iron bar is heated and then used to smooth and shape a leather upper that has been stretched over a last. What names might you know for the process and for the tool? Please try to situate the names in space and time as far as possible ( “This term was used in such and such a place at least between the years… and…”) and indicate the source of your knowledge (a specific publication, your experience as a clogmaker, etc.). I would be happy to thank you by name, if you wish, in my publications on clogmaking (full name? just initials? — as you wish). Your help is appreciated, especially since clogmaking terminology is disappearing and must therefore be recorded as soon as possible. Alos, if you know of any illustrations of the tool, say in books or catalogs, a reference would be much appreciated too. Thank you for your help.

  2. Hi, I am a postgraduate student of the uni of Sheffield. Just wondering how can you enter the abandoned factory cauze I need to do some research about the abandoned factories in Sheffield, thanks a lot!

  3. Post graduate? Really? How do you spell because?
    I suspect you might do better asking on the 28dayslater forum linked above, especially as Jeff is based in New York.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: