George Herbert Lawrence died 13th December 1940 Sheffield

I came across this piece of Sheffield History purely by chance. In fact I have had reasons to be grateful to George on many, many occasions in the past with realising it. George started out as a newspaper seller but went on to become one of Sheffield's most successful razor blade manufacturers'. The company's main works were known as the Laurel Works and were situated on Nursery Street in Sheffield (see below)

As far as I can ascertain this used to be the site for the Sheffield Children's Hospital (East End). The hospital started off in The Wicker in 1893 before moving to Nursery Street (between Johnson Lane and Johnson Street) in 1913. It moved again when the building was sold in 1931

As a result of his success in business and his deep religious convictions George became a generous benefactor to many local causes and charities.  The list is really endless but here are just a few of his many contributions and donations

1.The open air swimming pool in Longley Park Sheffield. This was almost identical in design to the Hathersage pool (see below) and was  opened in September 1938.

2.The open air swimming pool and bowling green in Hathersage, Derbyshire.(1936). In The Guardian dated 16th July 1936 there is a small report of George's gift.

"VILLAGE'S KING GEORGE V MEMORIAL FIELD

The Derbyshire village of Hathersage is one of the first in the country to have a  KING GEORGE V MEMORIAL FIELD. This is the gift of Mr.G.H. Lawrence of Belmont, Hathersage to the village of hiws adoption. In addition to the purchasing of the firld he has laid it out at a cost of £6,000. It is to be handed over to the Parish Council a week on Saturday. The ground has been equipped witha swimming pool, bandstand and 236 chairs,  two all weather tennis courts, large paddling pool, sand pit, gymnasium, refreshment room, sun bathing parlour of Vita glass and gardens.

Last year Mr Lawrence a well-known Sheffield business man and a director of Sheffield United Football Club presented the village with a bowling green and grounds which cost £3,000"

Eleven days later the same newspaper reported

"£6,000 PLAY-CENTRE

HATHERSAGE'S MEMORIAL TO KING GEORGE

Sir Charles Clegg (Sheffield) president of the Football Associaton, declaring open the King George Memorial Field at Hathersage on Saturday sais "I have had opportunities to talk to the late King and I am sure what we are doing today would have had his support". The field has been purchased and laid out at a cost of £6,000 by Mr.G.H. Lawrence of Belmont, Hathersage who started work as a newspaper seller in Sheffield and is now a leading industrialist of that city. The scheme includes a swimming pool, a sun bathing parlour, gymnasium, tennis courts, bandstand, paddling pool, sand pit and gardens."

3. George paid to put the first roof on the kop at Sheffield United's Shoreham Street end - George was a director of Sheffield United Football Club. And that is where I'm grateful to George!   

4. Following the 1914- 1918 war Sheffield not only financed the building of twelve houses in Bapaume, (The Somme) for those in need but also the Lawrence School - l'école Lawrence. The school was named after George who had helped finance its construction. One small plaque on the wall commemorates the opening of the school on 9 July 1939 and a second plaque near the door gratefully recognizes the generosity of Mr. Lawrence and the citizens of Sheffield. The building is no longer used as a primary school but a small museum on the first floor contains the Sheffield Roll of Honour and boxed cutlery presented by the Lawrence's to each of the schoolchildren in 1939

Belmont - George and Elsie's house in Hathersage - taken 7th April 2008

5. In her excellent book - Hathersage In The Peak - A History, Barbara A Buxton notes that Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence as residents of the village, had become local benefactors, planning and funding leisure areas near the Memorial Hall. Apart from the open air swimming pool mentioned above, George was responsible for the bowling green that opened in 1934 and replaced an earlier one at the George Inn. Tennis courts were also added. (see above) When a Methodist Chapel was planned Mr Lawrence offered £5,000 to assist the building fund and his wife funded the purchase of a church organ. This was reported in The Guardian dated 9th November 1937 as was a planned gift of £7,500 towards the provision of a hospital in the Hope Valley The Methodist Chapel opened on 30th December 1939 and there is marve1lous photo of the occasion. George and his wife are on the front left

 

George also played a major role in Sheffield Newspapers War Relief Fund as well as being heavily involved in Millhouses Cricket Week. Soon after the outbreak of the war, he and his wife Elsie made a contribution of half a million francs to pay for canteen facilities for French troops.

On the night of December 13th 1940, George set off from his home in Hathersage, Derbyshire and drove to the works in Nursery Street, Sheffield. He brought with him food hampers and drink for the employees at the factory that night. The air-raid meant that the staff had to make for the shelters in the works. It was whilst in one of the shelters that George and some of his employees died. It received a direct hit from a German bomb. I have been told that such was the force of the explosion, the carbon steel strips that were used in the manufacture of razor blades, were blown across the road and draped the tower of the Holy Trinity Church (nowadays called the New Testament Church of God). It looked as though the church was covered in tinsel.

The following information of the casualties that night is taken from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

Name:

LAWRENCE, GEORGE HERBERT

Nationality:

United Kingdom

Rank:

Civilian

Regiment/Service:

Civilian War Dead

Age:

52

Date of Death:

13/12/1940

Additional information:

Husband of Elsie Lawrence, of Belmont, Hathersage, Derbyshire.

Died at Laurel Works, Nursery Street.

Initially, I was able to trace four other civilians who died alongside George at the Laurel works that night. They were married couples John and Elsie Beresford, and Arthur and Edith Hussey.

Name:

BERRISFORD, JOHN REDFERN

Regiment/Service:

Civilian War Dead

Age:

33

Date of Death:

13/12/1940

Additional information:

of 83 Southgrove Road, Ecclesall. Son of Mrs. C. Berrisford, of 38 Bradfield Road; husband of Elsie Winifred Berrisford. Died at Laurel Works, Nursery Street.

 

Name:

BERRISFORD, ELSIE WINIFRED

Regiment/Service:

Civilian War Dead

Age:

33

Date of Death:

13/12/1940

Additional information:

of 83 Southgrove Road, Ecclesall. Daughter of Mrs. Neil, of 6 Findon Street; wife of John Redfern Berrisford. Died at Laurel Works, Nursery Street.

 

Name:

HESSEY, ARTHUR

Regiment/Service:

Civilian War Dead

Age:

39

Date of Death:

13/12/1940

Additional information:

of Laurel Works, Nursery Street. Son of Arthur Ellis Hessey, and Fanny Hessey, of 25 Horner Road, Abbeydale; husband of Edith Hessey. Died at Laurel Works, Nursery Street.

 Also EDITH, wife of ARTHUR HESSEY, dies 13th December 1940 age 38.

In April 2007, a local historian kindly supplied me with the FULL list of those who died alongside George at the Laurel Works that night

Berrisford

Elsie Winnifred - 33 yrs - 13 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 83 Southgrove Rd

Berrisford

John Redfern - 33 yrs - 13 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 83 Southgrove Rd

Davies

Frederick William - 47 yrs - 12 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 34 Springhouse Rd, Crookesmoor Injured 12th died 13th Royal Inf y

Green

Madge - 24 yrs - 13 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 10 Grimesthorpe Rd - Dau of Joseph Henry & Ellen Elizabeth Green,

Hessey

Arthur - 39 yrs - 13 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 25 Horner Rd

Hessey

Edith - 38 yrs - 13 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 25 Horner Rd

Kendell

Nora - 23 yrs - 13 Dec 1940 - Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived 20 Belper Rd - Wife of Dennis Kendell

Lawrence

George Herbert - 52yrs - 13 Dec 1940 Laurel Works Nursery St

Lived at "Belmont"  Hathersage owned Laurel Works

In May 2009, I received some more information that stated that there was another fatality that night at the Laurel Works.

"Name: COVERLEY, FLORENCE
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Civilian
Regiment/Service: Civilian War Dead
Age: 30
Date of Death: 13/12/1940
Additional information: Wife of G. R. Coverley, of 53 Upwell Street. Died at Laurel Works, Nursery Street.
Reporting Authority: SHEFFIELD, COUNTY BOROUGH."

Including George, that makes a total of nine fatalities.

Later that year in September I received an e-mail that was even more significant

"I was interested to find your web page about the air raids on Sheffield. My Grandmother lived in Sheffield during that time and i have a letter sent to my father Dec 1940, his cousin and her husband were killed with George Lawrence in the Laurel Factory. John and his wife Elsie Berrisford.
Extract from letter--
There was a a young lady at the funeral that was in the shelter when it was struck, she was lucky to be alive .
She told us as best she could as follows, when the sirens sounded they all put their coats on and made for the shelters, some went into a new shelter and several in the caretakers shelter. Elsie and John the caretakers wife electrician and many more were in the caretakers shelter, when the bombs were dropping the electrician suggested them all going in the new shelter, they joined hands made a chain and rushed for it.
Mt Lawrence had gone home before the raid he tried to phone the firm but found he was cut off, so he got his wife to pack up sandwiches and he took them in his car, on the way he picked up a soldier and two civilians that were wounded and took them to hospital. He went into the new shelter with the sandwiches and shortly after Elsie suggested they should kneel down and she offered a prayer, and told the others to which many did. And it was then the bomb made a direct hit; this girl got a knock on her head and she lost her glasses but apart from the shock she had a lucky escape. Thirteen were in the shelter and four escaped.
I hope you find this interesting."

The last sentence is a bit of an understatement. It is also extremely poignant that several of those who died were kneeling and praying when the fatal explosion occurred 

As a side-note, there is a point that arises from this information. Two trade directories that were published during the inter-war years gave the following information on George

"George Herbert LAWRENCE Manufacturer 85 Southgrove Road White's 1919
George Herbert LAWRENCE Cutlery manufacturer 32 Eyre Street; h. 85 South Grove Road Kelly's 1925"

It seems as though John and Elsie Berrisford may well have been George and Elsie's next door neighbours at one time  - they are listed in the Roll of Honour as living at 83 Southgrove Rd. Sheffield

The same historian who supplied me with the information on Florence Coverley also gave me a more detailed account of what happened that night at the Laurel Works

"... It could be said he had no right to have been in Sheffield that night. He was out at his Hathersage home when the air raid started and he became concerned for his staff, who were working late that evening, so he decided he should go and be with them.
He called in at the Scotsman's Pack Inn on the way and the locals there tried to persuade him not to go. But he insisted that he must and he bought four bottles of whisky to take with him along with food he had brought from his home.
The Hathersage village policemen had already stopped him and advised him not to go. Then again the Sheffield police at Dore Moor Inn stopped him, but he still insisted on going down.
It was estimated that about 300 German aircraft were used. Incendiary Firebombs were dropped first (mainly to provide fires as beacons for later waves of bombers carrying high explosives). These had already set alight a wood-yard next door to his factory.
When he arrived he went to the work's air raid shelter, which was in the basement. Sometime much later he, Fred Davies, (the works electrician) and the caretaker, had come out of the air raid shelter, up the staircase looking out of the despatch doorway to see what was happening and they were on their way back down when the fateful bomb landed.
Fred Davies, the electrician, was half way up the staircase. He was got out alive on the Friday but died later in Sheffield Royal Infirmary. GHL was lower down and was not discovered and dug out until the Sunday, but the caretaker was not found until a fortnight later.
The Roll of Honour compiled by the Imperial War Graves Commission gives the names of all eight who died in his factory that night; GHL, Fred Davies, two men with both of their wives; Arthur & Edith Hessey and John & Elsie Berrisford and two girls ; Florence Coverley and Norah Kendal.
A visitor remembered seeing the completely ruined factory shortly afterwards, when it and the adjacent Church were festooned with shiny silver razor blade strip and commenting; "that with it being so near to Christmas it made a very macabre memorial to a man with a heart of gold".

After the tragedy, I have been told that George's wife Elsie immediately took over her husband's mantle and in spite of her devastating loss, she first made sure, as George had always done, that the poor people in Hathersage were not forgotten that Christmas. An old Hathersage inhabitant had remarked that up to that time, Christmas had always been a wonderful time due to Mr Lawrence's generosity.
She became Chairman of G H Lawrence Ltd., which she had owned jointly with her husband and in which she had taken a prominent part from the beginning. Elsie not only had the problems associated with her bereavement, but also of taking over responsibility for re-locating the works, its staff and equipment to Green Lane, near Kelham Island and resuming production, after which practically all the output was despatched to service personnel.
Some three years after his death, on 27th Dec 1943, Elsie added a beautiful stained glass window of 'The Good Shepherd' to Hathersage Methodist Church, in his memory. She also endowed a bed at each of Royal, Royal Infirmary and Children's Hospitals 'in perpetuity'.
In Jan 1945, she re-married to Percy Bradley, who had been a departmental manager at GHL Ltd and a good friend of George and who was also well known in Sheffield sports circles.
He was himself a widower and was originally Percy Bradley 'Johnson', but changed his name to 'Lawrence'. It is said on her insistence, before she would marry him. He became a director of the company and it was he who rebuilt Nursery Street works in 1948, still the "Laurel Works".

The business continued until the early 1970's. However the business may have been in a decline for a long time before it ceased trading. Cheaper imports from abroad and the increasing use of electric shavers would certainly have taken their toll. In 1972, the Laurel Works were occupied by not only Geo H Lawrence Ltd, but by I Grunwerg, cutlery manufacturers and Wm Nodder. and Co, cutlers. Two years later the only occupants were I Grunwerg, cutlery manufacturers.

The  above photograph was taken early on 3rd June 2007 and shows the now derelict works. I believe that a planning application has been submitted that will no doubt involve the demolition of the works and with it, another piece of Sheffield's heritage. The second photograph was taken at the same time and shows Johnson Street. It looks as though the planners and politicians of Sheffield City Council are finishing off what the Luftwaffe started sixty five years ago!

 

On 23rd December 2007 I made an unplanned visit to the Parish Church at Hathersage, where I was amazed to find the following memorial grave in the churchyard. 

Elsie died at 'Belmont', less than two years into her second marriage, and is buried with George, in Hathersage Churchyard. After legacies to her second husband and to her extended family and favourite Charities, Elsie left the majority of her possessions in trust for good causes.
When her second husband Percy Bradley Lawrence died in 1977, he also left a legacy of £1,000 to Hathersage Methodist Church

If you can supply any further information on George and his family please contact me.   

NOTE:

1. The same person who gave me the additional information on the casualties also informed me that at some time in 2003 there was a small exhibition at Sheffield Town Hall devoted to George, which was arranged by Cllr Jackie Drayton (Sheffield's Lord Mayor 2006)

2. Hathersage Open Air Heated Swimming Pool, Oddfellows Road, Hathersage, Hope Valley, Derbyshire S30 1BU Tel: 01433 650843

A 33m x 10m heated open air swimming pool is situated next door to the car park and next to the Memorial Hall. Usually the water temperature is around 82-84 deg F. The pool surround has changed little since being built in 1936 and still has the original veranda and bandstand with a beautiful grass lawn to sunbathe on. Open April to September

3. George was the son of John and Martha Jane Lawrence nee Thompson They were married in the June quarter of 1888
Lawrence John Francis - Thompson Martha Jane Sheffield  Volume 9c Page 706

The 1891 Census shows the family

Civil Parish: Ecclesall Bierlow Ecclesiastical parish: Eldon Street County/Island: Yorkshire Country: England

Registration district: Ecclesall Bierlow Sub registration district: Ecclesall Bierlow ED, institution, or vessel: 7

Household Members:
Name Age
Beatrice E Lawrence 6/12
George H Lawrence 2 (Born 5th October 1888)
John F Lawrence 24
Martha J Lawrence 21

George's maternal grandparents can be found in the 1881 Census

Household:

Source Information: Dwelling 8 Cleveland Place Census Place Nether Hallam, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342116 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4622 / 106 Page Number 36

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
Robert THOMPSON Head M Male 43 Sheffield, York, England Stove Grate Grinder (Ironmgr) (Others 21.8)
Mary I. THOMPSON Wife M Female 43 Manchester, Lancashire, England
Herbert THOMPSON Son U Male 18 Sheffield, York, England Stove Grate Grinder (Others 21.8) (Ironmgr)
Lilly E. THOMPSON Daughter U Female 13 Sheffield, York, England Scholar
Martha J. THOMPSON Daughter U Female 10 Sheffield, York, England Scholar
Gertrude THOMPSON Daughter U Female 8 Sheffield, York, England Scholar
Rose A. THOMPSON Daughter U Female 3 Sheffield, York, England
Beatrice THOMPSON Daughter U Female 1 Sheffield, York, England

As forecast in the narrative the building was demolished in December 2008


 

4. George's obituary in The Sheffield Telegraph and Independent dated Monday 16th December 1940

5. From 1911 Census
Name George Herbert Lawrence
Relationship to Head of Household Cousin
Condition Single
Gender Male
Age 22 Estimated Year of Birth 1889
Occupation Razor Grinder Employed Yes
Working at Home N0
Place of Birth Sheffield Yorkshire
Enumerator Information
Address 63 Eyre St Sheffield Parish Sheffield Town Sheffield Type of Building Shop
Number of Rooms 3
Inhabited Yes
Reference RG14PN27859 RG78PN1594 RD510 SD1 ED11 SN50 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Sheffield
Registration Sub District South Sheffield Enumeration District 11

6. In May 2012, I received the following information from a reader who had come across this article

"I can add one small piece of information to your excellent article on George Lawrence; he had a Hammond organ in his house at Hathersage which his wife played. My mum Gladys Bell (nee Swift) remembers going to see them and she also visited Baupome and visited the school shortly before World War II broke out. Last week my sister and her husband were touring in France and they called in the town to take another look at the cabinet which my granddad Maurice Swift made which is still kept in the town hall. They came across a photograph of George and his wife at a presentation at the school."

(The Swifts, my mum's dad, granddad and uncles worked at Joseph Rodgers for three or four generations.)

7. A month later in June 2012 I received an e-mail which is thought provoking to say the least

" While out walking today we went through Hathersage churchyard and I saw Mr Lawrence's gravestone, I googled his name when I got back home and read your article. 
 
I'm afraid I haven't got any additional information about George Lawrence to give you, but just wanted to say thank you for the information you've given and all the research you must have done.  My mum was one of the four people who got out of the building alive on the night of 13th December, she was 21 years old and had worked for Mr Lawrence since leaving school at 14.  She always said what a wonderful man he was, very kind, thoughtful and generous, I remember her talking about the outings he organised, especially one to Lake Windermere, she went again shortly before she died, she had never forgotten it in almost fifty years.  
 
Her best friend was Nora, she'd been a bridesmaid for Nora just before the onset of the war, and Nora died at the side of her on the night of the blitz.  My mum was dug out by the soldiers the next morning, traumatised but not physically injured, she went on to marry and have two children, she died in 1991. 
 
She never really spoke about what happened that night, most of what I know I learned from other members of the family, so thank you for filling in quite a few gaps."

A further mail revealed the trauma she must have experienced in the months and years after the raid

"I spoke to my aunt, mum's sister, on Wednesday night and she said they closed the house up and went to stay with friends at Hoyland Common near Barnsley for three months after the air raid as mum couldn't return to Sheffield."

8. In August 2012 I received this fascinating e-mail from France (translated from French)

I do not have much to add, but I just discovered your site with great interest. A site that we learn a lot about the life of this industry and this man to charitable soul.
I live near the city of BAPAUME in France or just Mr Georges LAWRENCE built at this primary school, 8 houses that were meant for war widows and perhaps a hotel, since it has existed in this city, hotel under the name SHEFFIELD, subsequently converted into grain depot and now completely abandoned.

It is true that the floor of this former school, there is a museum of local life, or a portrait of Mr Lawrence, and the little box mentioned in your text.
I am part of a small group that maintains this small museum, and I ask you permission to use your publication to reframe the story of Mr. Lawrence, to the public.
As I live near BAPAUME, I can offer you my services may be supplemented by a few pictures on the charities of Mr LAWRENCE in our city, I will be very happy.
Regards and thank you again to you.
 

Needless to say permission was granted - in fact I felt honoured!
 

9. In December 2012 I received the following update

At the end of the first world war, Mr Lawrence has done much to rebuild the city BAPAUME, a small town in northern France. He has contributed to the construction of 8 houses for widows and disabled war veterans and a kindergarten with the floor, the house teachers. Today, this property hosts a small museum of local history and is honored Mr Lawrence and the City of SHEFFIELD. In the city, there are still (somewhat derelict) former hotel SHEFFIELD.

Sincerely, "Always united, Always Friends"

 

Brian Ward has written an excellent book on on the life and times of George Lawrence 

The Forgotten Philanthropist: The Story of George Lawrence

The book is for sale on Amazon and I can thoroughly recommend this excellent book.
 


10. On Friday 5 July 2013 a Blue Plaque was unveiled in the centre of Hathersage. It is hoped that people passing the plaque in years to come will remember George's life and deeds, and think about his legacy to both Hathersage and the world. A remarkable man indeed

 

11. In October 2013 I received this e-mail from Brian

"I was looking at the 1911 Sheffield census, I came across George Lawrence’s father living at 47 Petre Street (next door to the Meace’s) with Teresa Bradwell, single, same age (44), a dressmaker and two children shown as his:
Edie Alice Lawrence Bradwell (7) and William Lawrence Bradwell (4).
It also indicates that he had another child at some point who had died. Whether this was by Teresa or his wife, Mary Jane, I don’t know.
I have never found reference to these two children, except there was a Mrs A Bradwell at George’s funeral, listed among ‘brothers-in-law & sisters’.
I would be interested anyone knows any more about these three?"

Can anyone help?

Sources

Rededication of the Sheffield Pals Monument at Sierre

Hathersage In The Peak - A History - Barbara A Buxton

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

1881 - 1891 Census

Sheffield RecordsOnline.org.uk

The Guardian dated 16th July 1936 The Guardian dated 27th July 1936 The Guardian dated 9th November 1937

The Sheffield Telegraph and Independent dated Monday 16th December 1940

Return To Main Homepage

This page was last updated on 10/04/14 15:14