Leeds is – justly – famous for a great many things, not least its heritage of industry, manufacturing and trade: Benjamin Gott, John Marshall, Joshua Tetley and Michael Marks being just a handful of the major figures associated with the city and its commerce. But, alongside those names still recognisable today, were a mass of half-remembered, or largely-forgotten, companies and individuals that played a smaller, but just as significant, role in making Leeds the ‘industrial capital of the North’. Using the resources available in the Local and Family History library, we bring you a small part of the story of one such company: Job Day & Sons Ltd.
Job Day & Sons were a firm of engineers that began life in 1901 after its founder invented a machine to pack soap; other innovations included an Automatic Bacon Slicer and the intriguing “Day-Leeds Light Cars”, a unique development in Edwardian transport – a car fit for use in the busy streets of an emerging industrial powerhouse.
Another intriguing advancement made by the firm was in the area of bag-making, packing and labelling. Patented in 1908 by Job, Charles Herbert and Albert Day, this machine was described in 1924 as being “apparently complicated” but actually “simple and almost human” in the way it was able to create a finished product in around 90-minutes. Using the expertise of staff in our Business and Intellectual Property Centre we were able to identify the actual patent for this device, which can be seen here – and includes detailed drawings outlining exactly how the device worked. The success of this machine can be drawn from the knowledge that the firm were able to sell a similar device to a Japanese company in 1966.
As can be seen in those adverts, the company was primarily based at Ellarby Lane, immediately east of the River Aire and just below Fearn’s Island. This was the area known to contemporaries as ‘The Bank’: a thriving and dense mass of industry, manufacturing and traditional back-to-back housing; a primordial soup for the kind of innovative small-companies that made Britain the “workshop of the world” – and the type of environment that simply does not exist any-more at least not in the West. The Bank was notorious for its unsanitary conditions, but renowned – at least by the people who lived there – for the strong community spirit circulating in its narrow streets. The reproduction below from a 1909 Ordnance Survey map gives an idea of the area’s make-up at the time Job Day & Sons were operating.
And this photograph gives an idea of how Ellerby Lane and the surrounding area would have looked around the same time.
Not much else is known about the firm. It was purchased in 1961 by the Rose Brothers (Gainsborough) Ltd, who were in turn purchased by the Baker Perkins Group just a year later. In 1967 the company became one of three divisions within Rose Forgrove Ltd; and the names of Job Day and his sons became slowly-forgotten to all but the elder residents of East Leeds.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because stories like these – snapshots, really – of a city’s life remind us that, in the words of Walter Benjamin, “nothing which has ever happened is to be regarded as lost to history”; that is, ‘History’ is made by everyone, on any given day, in every action they take, whether big or small, grand or humble. The ‘story’ of a place, a locale, is only ever the sum of every thing that has ever occurred there. That is why local history, especially, matters: we see its affects all around us each and everyday, in the traces that History leaves: even, when physical or memorial evidence has been long-since lost, in the very character of the city.
Stories like that of Job Day matter, then, because everything matters; because everything that has happened is connected to everything that is happening and everything that will happen in the places that we live; and we cannot help but feel those connections and hear those stories each ‘today’ that we live in a place: “nothing is safe from the attentions of History as present merges into past.” (Professor M.W. Beresford). So, why not take a trip to our Local and Family History library and uncover some of those stories for yourself?
- www.leodis.net. Our collection of historic photographs
- The City of Leeds and its Manufactures: with notes upon the advantages offered for new developments. Ed., J Burrow & co, 1924
- Chapter 7, ‘Trade and Industry’, in The Making of Leeds. David Goodman, 2004
- “The Ham Shank”. Mary Patterson, 1993. Lively and entertaining account of life in ‘The Bank’
- Leeds and its Regions. Ed., M.W. Beresford and G.R.J Jones, 1967
- Ordnance Survey maps. Available in the Local and Family History department, these range from 1850 to more recent years
- www.bphs.net/GroupFacilities/J/JobDayAndSons/index.htm. Short history of Job Day & Sons by the Baker Perkins Group