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British Industrial History

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Mark Firth

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Mark Firth (1819-1880) of Thomas Firth and Sons

1819 April 25th. Born in Sheffield the son of Thomas Firth and his wife Mary Loxley

1833 Mark joined the crucible steel works of Sanderson Brothers and Co where his father, Thomas Firth, Senior, worked as head smelter

1841 Living in Sheffield: Thomas Firth (age c52), steel refiner, with Mary (age c48), Mark (age c220 a clerk, Thomas (age c19) a steel refiner, John (age c17) a clerk, Edward (age c11), Mary (age c9), Elizabeth (age c6), and Charles (age c4)[1]

1841 Married(1) Sarah Bingham Taylor

1842 He left Sandersons to set up his own business with his brother, Thomas Jr, smelting steel at Portobello works, Charlotte Street, Sheffield. Their father joined them shortly afterwards, together with head smelter Joseph Bridden, and the business became Thomas Firth and Sons. Mark took the lead on sales.

1850 On the death of his father, Mark took over as the head of the business

1852 the business had expanded into larger premises at the Norfolk Works in Savile Street, which had the largest rolling mill in Sheffield.

1855 His first wife Sarah died

1857 Married(2) Caroline Bradley

1861 Living at Oak Bank House, Ran Moor, Upper Hallam, Sheffield: Mark Firth (age 41 born Sheffield), Manufacturer of Steel and Hardware. With his wife Caroline G. Firth (age 28 born Nottingham) and their two children John B. Firth (age 1 born Sheffield) and Mark Firth (age 3 months born Sheffield). Four servants.[2]

1867 Mark Firth was elected to the office of Master Cutler - he held this office for the following two years.

1874 He was elected Mayor of Sheffield.

1875 He presented a thirty six acre estate to the town of Sheffield as Firth Park. He also built a mansion for himself on the outskirts of Sheffield at Oakbrook, Ranmoor, now part of Notre Dame High School.

1879 He opened Firth College to teach arts and science subjects, which later became part of the University of Sheffield. Firth lends his name to the Firth Wing of the Northern General Hospital, and Firth Court of the University.

He was a Methodist and a Liberal.

1880 November 28th. Died. Probate to his brother Charles Henry Firth, Merchant and manufacturer, and his son John Bradley Firth.

He is buried in Sheffield General Cemetery on Cemetery Road, where his monument is Grade II listed.


1880 Obituary [3]

Mr. MARK FIRTH, who died on the 28th November, was head of the firm of Messrs. Thomas Firth & Sons, of the Norfolk Works, Sheffield. The deceased was born in Sheffield in 1819. His father, Thomas Firth, was for several years the chief melter of steel to the firm of Sanderson, Brothers, & Co.

In 1833, when Mark left school, his father got him a place in Messrs. Sandersons' office, where he remained nine years. After a time, his brother Thomas joined their father at the melting furnace, and became so proficient as to be able to do all the "teeming" and heavy work, and thus enabled his father to confine himself to superintending. Their joint labour was devoted to the finest qualities of steel. At this time, it is said, Mr. Firth's father had £3, 10s. a week and the two sons £1 each. The father solicited an advance of wages, which was refused, and the refusal offended Mark more, than the father. Mark made up his mind to leave, and urged his father and brother to adopt the same course. The father was very reluctant, but Mark had even then a masterful way about him, and he carried his point. All the three left, and commenced business on their own account with a six-hole furnace in Charlotte Street.

At first they manufactured steel exclusively for home consumption, but then gradually extended their business to Birmingham and other towns. They ultimately leased from the Duke of Norfolk fifteen acres of land in Savile Street, where they erected the Norfolk Works, which have since become so famous. This was in 1849. The firm have other works at Whittington in Derbyshire, which extend to twenty-two acres, and several forges at Clay Wheels near Wadsley.

A leading speciality of their business is the casting of steel blocks for ordnance and shot, both spherical and elongated. They also provide all kinds of heavy forgings for engineering purposes. From gun-blocks of 7-in. diameter they have gone up to 16-in., the latter being for the 81-ton gun. The latter were the heaviest made in single castings. Most of the steel employed in the manufacture of guns for the British Government, where steel is used, has been Firth's steel, and is so marked in the muzzle of the guns. The visitor to Woolwich Arsenal will find hundreds of guns, from the light 9-pounder, used for mountain warfare, to the 35-ton gun, and still more formidable 81-ton Thunderer gun, all stamped with the name of "Firth."

When the Government first found it necessary to have a steel core for their great guns, Messrs. Firth laid down machinery which is said to have cost them £100,000, it being understood that they should be compensated for their great outlay by receiving the Government work. The firm also manufacture steel shot and shell, steel for rifle barrels - the small-arms trade being now at Birmingham - large castings for marine and other engines, files, and edge tools.

It is, however, as gun-makers that the firm are best known to the world. After the Italians got their 100-ton guns, it was thought that a rage for heavy ordnance would set in, and about a dozen of similar ingots were cast for similarly massive ordnance. Our Government got four of the 100-ton guns, though they have never been used in the armament of any Government war-ships. Messrs. Firth can claim that they have supplied nearly all the steel gun-tubes afloat in the British navy, and a large portion of those of France.

It is said that during the last twenty years Mr. Firth has contributed no less than £200,000 towards public and philanthropic purposes. Of this amount £25,000 was quite recently given for the erection and endowment of the Firth College. He has been Mayor of Sheffield, and was three times Master Cutler of Hallamshire.

Deceased was twice married. He is survived by Mrs. Firth and nine children - five sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Mr. John Bradley Firth, obtained his majority only a few weeks ago. Mr. Firth's funeral took place at the Sheffield General Cemetery on Thursday, 1st December, and was the largest ever seen in Sheffield. All the public bodies of Sheffield, with representatives from other associations with which he had been connected, were present. Places of business were closed, the streets were lined with people, and among the mourners were 700 workmen, who represented the great establishment of which he was the head.

Mr. Firth was one of the original members of the Iron and Steel Institute, with which he was connected until his death.


1880 Obituary.[4]

Long and detailed article


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1841 census
  2. 1861 Census
  3. 1880 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  4. Sheffield Independent - Monday 29 November 1880