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Sheffield Freemen and Benefactors


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In comparatively recent years - that is, since Sheffield became an up-to-date City and Corporation - three citizens have received the honour of a special presentation of the freedom of the city in a golden casket. The Duke of Norfolk, Sir Frederick Thorpe Mappin, and Sir Henry Stephenson were singled out by unanimous assent for this honour because of their conspicuous services to the city.

Henry Fitzalan-Howard, fifteenth Duke of Norfolk, was born in London on December 27, 1847, and in his thirteenth year succeeded his father, the fourteenth Duke. Not only is he the Lord of the Manor in Sheffield, but he is the direct descendant, without any break in blood relationship, from the ancient lords of Hallamshire - the Talbots, the Furnivals, and the Lovetots.

His possessions, in Sheffield and elsewhere, are almost princely. He owns, in round figures, 50,000 acres of land, not a little being town property. His principal seat is Arundel Castle in Sussex, near Littlehampton. He also owns Derwent Hall in Derbyshire, and he has a house in Sheffield.

The Duke is the first nobleman of England - the premier Duke and also the premier Earl. Besides he is Earl Marshal and Chief Butler of England. The dukedom dates from 1483, and the earldom (of Arundel) from 1139. As Earl Marshal he has the arranging of all the great national ceremonies in which the monarch takes part, such as the coronation, and is the authority on precedence in rank.

It is not, however, for his historic dignity that the present Duke of Norfolk has been popular in Sheffield, but because of his generosity, public spirit, and attractive character. It may be questioned whether any previous Lord of the Manor, unless it be the third Lord Furnival, has been as helpful to the mass of the people as he. He has fairly taken his share of public work in Sheffield by serving a year as Mayor, a year as the first Lord Mayor, and a term as Alderman, and by doing well the work of his offices. He has served the city also through the House of Lords, as when he assisted Sheffield, in 1896, towards being the first Corporation to have full Parliamentary powers for all tramway purposes.

His generosity has been great and well-applied. After maintaining Norfolk Park for many years as a public park, the Duke, in 1909, gave it to the Corporation - a fine site of over 57 acres. He has also given eight other recreation grounds, woods, or open spaces to the city; so that altogether his gifts of land to the city make a total area of about 152 acres out of the 787 acres held by the Council for recreative purposes.

The Duke is Chancellor of the Sheffield University. In religion he is the leader of the Roman Catholic laity of England. In national affairs he has served as Postmaster-General in a Conservative Administration (1895-1900), and he saw active service in the South African war as a volunteer officer.

His unaffected manner, his thorough grasp of business, his delightful humour, and his readiness of speech would make him, in private or in public, a man of mark without assistance from his social position.

sir frederick thorpe mappin was born in Sheffield in 1821, and as a young man was a partner in the firm that is now Mappin & Webb's, but in 1859 he became the ruling spirit in the steel-making and engineering firm of Thomas Turton & Sons. He was engaged in other important industrial undertakings, as, for example, as chairman for many years of the brilliantly successful Sheffield Gas Company, and a director, for more than thirty years, of the Midland Railway. When he died in 1910, in his eighty-ninth year, Sir Frederick was almost a millionaire.

In early middle-life he took a very active share in local public work; was Master Cutler in 1855-6, Mayor in 1877-8, a member of the Town Trust for many years, and as its senior member became Town Collector.

In 1880 he entered Parliament as Liberal member for the Bassetlaw Division of Nottinghamshire, and in 1885, and till his retirement in 1905, was member for Hallamshire, the division around Sheffield in which its property-owners were voters. In 1886 he was created a baronet.

A generous supporter of religious and philanthropic causes, Sir Frederick was perhaps even more intimately associated with educational movements. He was the most active founder of the Sheffield Technical School, which later became the Technical Department of the University, and he supported generously Firth College and its later development into a University College. When the University was formed he contributed 15,000 to its funds, and was made its senior pro-chancellor. He was also a generous donor to the Mappin Art Gallery, the pictures he added numbering eighty.

A man of inflexible principle, Sir Frederick retained till the last the views he held as a young man. He was fond of telling how he remembered the Chartist movement when ii was at its height, and how he had watched all its demands conceded, except universal suffrage, and that, he foretold, would soon come. His observation of past progress made him ready to accommodate himself to the necessary advance of ideas, even when they did not immediately win his strong personal sympathy. Portraits of Sir Frederick, publicly subscribed for, are hung in the Council Chamber of the University, and in the Mappin Art Gallery.

Sir Henry Stephenson was the Sheffield public man who best preserved in the city, through the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the urbanity, courtesies, and polish of the refined generation who had their training for public affairs in days when Sheffield was a literary centre, and when public oratory, local and general - as in the case of Mr. Gladstone - had a touch of stately formality and well-considered form. He was born in Sheffield in 1826, and became the head of the great firm of type-founders, Stephenson & Blake. In 1887 he was Mayor of Sheffield and was knighted. He remained on the City Council till his death in August, 1904.

In education he felt a special interest and was a generous supporter of the University College, and, later, of the University. When the Education Act of 1902 came into operation, Sir Henry, who occupied a middle position in politics, was chosen as the Chairman of the new Education Committee, and assisted greatly in the smooth working of the Act for the general advantage of the city. He remained in the full tide of his public duties right up to the end of his life. Not only did he command in a remarkable degree the confidence and admiration of the whole community as a public-minded citizen of a refined type, but he was regarded with affection by those who watched his work and character at close quarters.

The name of mark firth will always be remembered in Sheffield as that of one of the greatest of the city's benefactors, and one of the most unassuming of men. The story of the founding of the great firm of T. Firth & Sons, of the Norfolk Works, reads like a romance. The father of Mark Firth, Thomas Firth the elder, was a working man, the chief steel-melter for the old firm of Sanderson; and when Mark and his brother Thomas were youths they joined their father in his work. Each of them received 1 a week and the father received 3 10s. They all asked for an increase of wages, but were refused, whereupon they started in business for themselves as steel-makers, and soon were so enormously successful that they built the Norfolk Works, and with other brothers - John, Edward, and Henry - in partnership, became steel-makers for the British Government. They it was who made the steel for the first huge guns for the British and other navies. They had a great trade in steel in America, and were also famous for their enormous castings. They further held command of a considerable part of the Swedish iron trade. Mark Firth became the head of the firm, and made a great fortune, which he spent with rare public spirit.

He built and endowed thirty-six almshouses at Hangingwater; gave to the city Firth Park, a noble recreation ground of 36 acres; spent 2,500 in building and starting Firth College, which became the nucleus of the Sheffield University; founded a chair of chemistry; and was besides very generous to the Methodist New Connexion. The assembly hall of the University is named Firth Hall in his memory. Mark Firth was born in 1819, and died in Sheffield in 1880. A funeral procession two miles in length expressed the public appreciation of his fine character.

It may be mentioned here that Charles Harding Firth, son of John Firth, held for a short time the chair of History at Firth College, and is now Regius Professor of Modern History of Oxford University, a doctor of many universities, and one of the most authoritative writers on the Commonwealth period.

A time will come when Sheffield will take a far higher rank than it seems to take to-day in the story of industrial progress through science, though its record is already a fine one as the place where the discoveries of Huntsman, Bolsover, Bessemer, and Mushet were brought into practical use. The city is now strewn with laboratories for scientific research bearing on the steel industry. In this book the individual work of living men is omitted, but the story of science used for practical purposes will yet be extraordinarily fascinating. Meanwhile, the City has reason to be proud that a Sheffielder of long descent, Dr Henry Clifton Sorby, did some of the best work of the last fifty years in departments of science not directly connected with trade.

The first Master Cutler of Sheffield was a Sorby. In the same family line came Henry Clifton Sorby in 1826. His interest was turned in early life towards natural science, and, being sufficiently well off to live a life of leisure, he gave himself up to many forms of study till his death in 1908. Though he travelled much for purposes of study, Dr. Sorby always made Sheffield his home.

Because he was an exceedingly modest man, cheerful to the point of merriment, overflowing with kindness, never self-assertive, it only dawned slowly on the scientific men of his generation - and was never fully realised by his Sheffield neighbours - how truly great a scientist this gentle, lovable inquirer was. He, however, lived to see the day when, from its Centenary celebration, the Geological Society of Great Britain sent him an address hailing him as "The Father of Microscopic Petrology." Microscopic Petrology is the study of the composition of all kinds of rock through the microscope. At last, nearly every learned society in Europe had conferred its honours upon him.

His subjects of study, as mentioned in the article on him by Dr. Bonney in the Dictionary of National Biography, included the use of the spectroscope in connection with the microscope; the nature of colouring matter in hair, flowers, birds' eggs, and minerals; meteorological problems of all kinds; improvements in blow-pipe analysis and in the methods of detecting poisons; the collecting, cataloguing, and preserving of marine plants and animals; ancient architecture and its mythical animal forms; the materials employed in Roman, Saxon, and Norman structures; the discussion of slaty cleavage in geology; the microscopic structure of iron and steel; and the composition of meteorites.

Sorby became a Fellow of the Geological Society in his twenty-fourth year, and of the Royal Society in his thirty-first year. His portrait, presented to him by his fellow-townsmen, is now in the Council Chamber of Sheffield University. It is placed there because he had been an ardent worker through all the stages that led to the founding of the University. By his will he left his collections to the University, with a sufficient sum to endow a chair in geology. No man has ever loved knowledge more for its own sake; no man has ever received the honours he deserved in a more modest spirit.


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Pictures for Sheffield Freemen and Benefactors

Mark Firth
Mark Firth >>>>

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