Retro: Sheffield woman's plea over buffer girls' lunch club

Buffer girls during World War One
Buffer girls during World War One

A Sheffield artist is hoping that Retro readers can help her to piece together details of a buffer girls’ lunch club.

The Howard Street Dinner Hour Club ran from 1914 to 1956 and was based in Howard Street Chapel, said Sue Taylor.

Artist Sue Taylor with napkins she has made as part of a project about a Sheffield buffer girls' lunch club

Artist Sue Taylor with napkins she has made as part of a project about a Sheffield buffer girls' lunch club

“I can’t find out any information about it,” said Sue, who hopes Retro readers can help.

“It was mainly for the buffer girls to have their lunch there. Everyone I’ve asked comes up with absolutely nothing. You begin to wonder if it’s a figment of your imagination!”

The club was set up by Mrs I Durnford, who realised that women workers needed somewhere to eat. She was the wife of the agent to Earl Fitzwilliam.

Sue, who is based in Exchange Place Studios, said: “They realised that if they fed the women better at lunchtime, production went up in the afternoons.

She added: “Was Mrs Durnford a well-to-do lady who decided to do this?”

One of the club’s benefactors was James Rossiter Hoyle, an ex-Master Cutler and director of steel firm Thomas Firth.

The chapel’s superintendent and secretary in the early 1900s was Miss EH Smith. Sue is hoping that her descendants might come forward.

Sue does have a plan of the city centre building, which once stood where Hallam University buildings stand.

She said: “I think the club was upstairs. Downstairs was let to various firms, including (tailors) Barney Goodman’s, for workshops.”

She is creating an art project and has printed menus for lavish formal dinners on napkins that she has bought second hand or made herself.

The idea is to highlight the type of exotic, luxury food that the expensive, ornate cutlery the women worked on was intended for. Sue said: “They were making items for a life they could never aspire to. The stains on the napkins I bought show a life of excess.“

Sue is also commissioning a silver napkin ring inscribed with details of the lunch club and the women who went there, if she can discover that.

She will be holding a picnic in the summer, using the napkins, where interested people can come along and talk about the women who went to the lunch club.

Sue is keen to pay tribute to the women workers: “They kept Sheffield going with small industries, worked hard with long hours and brought children up.

“It would be quite nice to be able to acknowledge them in some way.”

Another project she created looked at women like her own mother, Bessie, who made mother of pearl buttons.

She created a piece of work on the floor of Singleton’s button factory in Church Lane, Hackenthorpe.

Sue used mother of pearl dust left over from the process to create designs on the floor of an old part of the factory, based on Victorian button patterns.