Sheffield ‘coach trimmers’ put feet up after 111 years

A Sheffield ‘coach trimmers’ set up when horse-drawn charabancs ruled the road is closing after 111 years.

By David Walsh
Friday, 29 March, 2019, 12:38

Brothers Geoff, aged 72, and Albert, 76, have called time on the family business established by their grandfather in 1908.

Albert has put in 61 years after joining from Frecheville Secondary School aged 15 in 1957.

And as they empty out their premises on Rutland Road they reflect on a long and eventful history.

Claytons (1908) Ltd specialises in car upholstery and interior fittings. It has seen carriages give way to cars, war work for the army, a near miss from an unexploded bomb, several moves - including a residency at what is now the Leadmill nightclub - a devastating fire, celebrity customers and fads including vinyl roofs, twice: after the war and again in the 1970s.

Albert said: “It’s quite sad in a way, but you can’t dwell on that. The business has kept a roof over our heads for three generations. But the time has come when unfortunately we must close. We’ve got to accept that and move on, although it will be strange I’m sure.”

None of Albert’s four sons, or Geoff’s son and daughter, fancied taking over and the brothers didn’t want to sell.

Albert Clayton. Picture Scott Merrylees.

Back in 1957, Albert, the eldest son, had no choice but to join the family firm. The same does not apply today.

He said: “You can’t force it on someone who is not interested. I got used to the idea that it would close over a period of time. It wasn’t a sudden realisation. Happily the children are all right. I have worked to an age. You can’t go on forever.”

Claytons is believed to the oldest family-run coach trimming firm in Sheffield. Charles ‘Albert’ Clayton was in his twenties when he set up on his own on Bellfield Street, Netherthorpe, in 1908.

Horse-drawn hansom cabs and charabancs were common and work involved repairing and replacing upholstery and thick patent leather hoods.

Claytons 1908 coach trimmers closes after 111 years. Albert and Geoff Clayton. Picture Scott Merrylees

He died of pneumonia in 1936 aged 56, but by then had three sons working in the business: Sam, Albert and George.

In the Second World War the firm was commandeered by the army, based at the Somme barracks on Glossop Road, to repair canvas sided lorries. During the Sheffield Blitz of 1940 staff came in to work to find an unexploded bomb in the doorway.

Albert said: “My father was told to leave it alone and carry on.”

The firm moved to Rutland Road but by the early 60s had so much work treating cars against rust it needed bigger premises and moved into what is the Leadmill today. But they always wanted to buy, and eventually got a place on Mowbray Street, Neepsend in 1976.

Albert Clayton in the 1970s with a horse-drawn carriage from 1846.

“It was everything we wanted,” Albert said. Until 1982 when it burned to the ground. Luckily they had still Rutland Road, so they moved back and have been there ever since.

A few celebrities have been among the thousands of customers. Albert senior had his photo taken with pop star David Whitfield’s Plymouth when he brought it in for a new hood in the early 1960s.

Albert junior recalls Sheffield Wednesday players John Fantham, (1960s) and Andy McCulloch (1980s) and both brothers recall Sheffield comedians Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss and snooker player Joe Davis.

As well as vinyl roofs, a law making seat belts compulsory in the 1980s brought in extra repair work. But long gone are the days of replacing wood in cars says Geoff.

THE TRIALS OF DECADES OF SELF-EMPLOYMENT

Geoff Clayton was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and has just had 37 consecutive days of treatment.

Albert Clayton senior with pop star David Whitfield's Plymouth in the early 1960s.

He still came to work every day.

He said: “You work long hours because it’s good for the business. It’s been hard, finding work, doing work, losing customers. Customers who want it tomorrow…

“Customers of 45 years have have rung up saying ‘you can’t go’. But sometimes you have to go.”

Albert added: “We’d not thought about selling up. Working for yourself… that’s the way you want it.”

The Rutland Road workshop is being sold, ending an era.

 

The tools of the trade. Picture Scott Merrylees