Twin brothers’ timeless Sheffield legacy is carved in stone

Frank and Albert Tory (it remains unclear which is which)
Frank and Albert Tory (it remains unclear which is which)

In the busy streets of Sheffield city centre, pausing to stop and admire the buildings and their adornments isn’t always high on the agenda of hurried shoppers and workers.

And Alfred Tory, the architectural carver and civic sculptor who, together with his identical twin brother Frank, bestowed many of Sheffield’s most important places - from the City Hall to the Central Library and both cathedrals - with fitting majesty and grandeur, appeared to anticipate this fate decades ago.

“It is a little disappointing sometimes to realise that work which has taken months of creative effort to produce is hardly noticed,” Alfred once said.

But now a new walking trail and illustrated guide hopes to put their remarkable work firmly on the map.

Devised and written by retired careers advisor Bob Hodges, whose wife Gina is Alfred’s granddaughter, the book picks 16 spots graced by the Tory family’s talents.

“These men were fantastic at what they did and deserve to be recognised and remembered,” said Bob.

Sculpture on Central Library and Graves Art Gallery, by brothers, Alfred and W.F. Tory Photo Stewart Bale Ltd Image from the Picture Sheffield Collection at Sheffield Local Studies Library

Sculpture on Central Library and Graves Art Gallery, by brothers, Alfred and W.F. Tory Photo Stewart Bale Ltd Image from the Picture Sheffield Collection at Sheffield Local Studies Library

At the Central Library, built in art-deco style and opened in 1934, the twins’ work took inspiration from medieval sculptures and Egyptian imagery, while the White Building from 1908, in Fitzalan Square, was faced with soot-resistant faience and decorated with the Torys’ carvings of traditional Sheffield occupations.

Meanwhile, the City Hall, which opened in 1932, benefitted from column-top carvings influenced by the same Greek style that inspired the venue’s distinctive pillars.

“The work they did was not only beautiful but incredibly intricate,” said Bob.

The pair, born in Winter Street, Crookesmoor, in 1881, inherited their father’s artistic talent. Frank Snr was a stone carver who moved to Sheffield from London after accepting the carving contract on the now-demolished Corn Exchange, Sheaf Street.

The twins joined the family company - Frank Tory & Sons - in 1901, by which time Frank Snr had set up a workshop at 565 Ecclesall Road, now the Porter Brook pub.

“That was where I grew up,” said Gina, a former headteacher, who lives with Bob in Nether Green.

“I often wonder what my grandfather would have thought about it being a pub, because he was a staunch Methodist.

“I do remember the yard at the back that went through to Neill Road. There were always great slabs of stone.”

Bob paid tribute to their attention to detail. “On the White Building there are carvings of workmen; to be sure they got it right they went into factories.”

The brothers had a lively sense of humour, too - their identical appearance meant they could play tricks on people, and they were so alike that in the only surviving photo of the two, pictured left, it is not known who is who. The firm ended when the pair retired in the 1950s. Alfred died in 1971, three years after Frank.

“I met both of the twins when they were old men,” said Bob. “Can you imagine coming into a family with this history? I’m fascinated by the work they’ve done.”

Gina said a complete list of the Tory family’s works is some way off. Examples can be seen from Hull to Torquay, including Leeds Civic Hall and Chesterfield Town Hall.

“We don’t know where all of them are. There are a lot of photos of their work with nothing written on the back. People remember the architect, that’s the case often.”

Copies of the printed guide are on sale priced £3 at the Famous Sheffield Shop, Ecclesall Road; Rhyme and Reason, Rustlings Road and Sheffield Scene on Surrey Street.