Friday, February 3, 2017

Exploring the archives: Arthur Hayball, a Sheffield craftsman

Arthur Hayball next to one of his carved pieces, 19th cent.
(Picture Sheffield: y00538)
An extraordinary collection of papers and glass negatives survives at Sheffield City Archives relating to the Hayball family of Sheffield.  Arthur Hayball was a Sheffield craftsman of great skill - a talented wood carver and photography pioneer, described by J.H. Stainton in The Making of Sheffield as ‘unsurpassed in wood carving and absolutely an artist in expression’.  The Hayball papers give a rare view into the world of the Victorian family in Sheffield, not least through an astonishing array of photographs which date back to the early 1850s…

Hayball family on the back steps of 50
(later 112) Hanover Street, 1852
(Picture Sheffield: y00523)

Arthur Hayball was born in Tudor Street, Little Sheffield (now Thomas Street) in September 1822, the second son of Thomas and Mary Hayball.  His father was a joiner and builder who helped construct a number of buildings including Banner Cross Hall and St Philip's Church.  Arthur Hayball spent much time as a child in the joiner's shop.  Following an accident he broke his leg and during his convalescence, his father gave him some pieces of waste wood to carve.  From then on, much of his spare time was spent learning wood carving.  At the age of 16 he left school and joined his father in the woodworking shop at 60 Rockingham Street.

The chemistry of the toning bath
'The Apparition - a trick photo'

He started attending classes at the Sheffield School of Design (later known as the School of Art).  He was so successful the School elected him a 'Free Student for Life'.  He remained connected to the School until his death in 1887 and he was Master of the Wood Carving Class from 1875 to 1887, being succeeded by Frank Tory.  He entered a specimen of his own design in the Great Exhibition of 1851, a cabinet of English walnut, 8 feet high and 4 feet wide for which he was awarded first prize and a medal from the Exhibition Committee.

In 1845, Arthur married his cousin, Hannah Lenton of London and they moved to 29 Clarence Street, opposite to where Godfrey Sykes lived.  By 1851 they had three daughters (Edith, Miriam and Laura - a fourth daughter, Clara, was born in 1852); in order to support his family he suggested to his father he might do better independently.  This caused father and son to fall out and they were estranged for ten years.  Two houses were designed and built in Hanover Street and in the back garden a workshop was built.  The upper level of the workshop was used for photographic work in which he had become interested in c.1853, with the intention of supplementing his income through portraiture work.  Many of his early photographic endeavours survive in the archives, from mammoth glass plate negatives to early printing experiments.  A small scrap of paper survives recording the chemistry of a toning bath (chloride of gold, water, chalk, chloride of lime etc.) while an early account book describes his regular photographic purchases: collodion, photo sulphate, gutta percha, cyanide etc.

Clara Hayball on a velocipede at Arthur's wood carving works,
Cavendish Street, 1875 (Picture Sheffield: y00516)
In 1862 he moved to nos. 9-13 Cavendish Street built by his father with whom he later became reconciled.  Here his work focused on fine wood-carving and he was helped by his daughters, especially Clara.  As Stainton notes, ‘how greatly his genius was appreciated may be estimated from commissions which he executed. For the Duke of Norfolk he provided the fittings of Arundel Chapel, and also supplied many reredos, stalls and altars in Spain and Ireland; Dr. Gatty entrusted him with much restoration work in Ecclesfield Church, and for Mr. Henry Wilson he carved the handsome screen in St. Silas’ Church.’  In fact he was able to put to good use his photographic skills, ensuring all of his major works were recorded. Having received an order, he would complete the piece in his workshop, photograph the item when assembled and then when the work was sent off (in pieces) the photograph would be used to reassemble the parts.  As a result, a near complete record of his work exists. These negatives are now very fragile and sadly the emulsion is degrading on some plates; it is fortuitous that Mr C.H. Lea, a family friend, saw fit to reprint the entire set in 1951-52 which, until this point, had been stored by the family in the ‘old stable loft'. The photographs showcase the breadth and intricacy of work undertaken by Hayball - he even appears in some of his own photographs next to carved pieces. 

Photograph of designer and painter, Godfrey
Sykes, by Arthur Hayball, 19th cent.
Cyanotype of Clara
by Arthur Hayball

Arthur Hayball died in 1887.  His archive, and that of his family - especially Clara, his youngest daughter (who married Sheffield artist, William Keeling), provides fascinating detail about family life in Sheffield during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Arthur’s papers and photographs later passed to Clara who was something of a collector; she kept all manner of family papers, from her mother’s childhood embroidery dating back to c.1825 to greetings cards and other ephemera sent to her during her lifetime. Indeed her own archive of papers includes previously unseen watercolours by her husband William Keeling (an exhibitor at the Royal Academy, London) including a small painting of the Atlas Mountains placed in a prayer book which he gifted to his wife in 1913.  The collection numbers over 450 items and a list can be browsed via our online catalogue: 
Original items from the collection can be viewed at Sheffield City Archives upon request (


'Arthur Hayball - A Dreamer in Wood', a short biography published by Arthur Beet in Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society (vol.VII, part 5, 1956) (Sheffield Archives: HAYBALL/6/6)
‘The Making of Sheffield 1865-1914’ by J.H. Stainton (Publisher: E.Weston and Sons, Change Alley, Sheffield, 1924) (Sheffield Local Studies Library: 942.74 S)

Images © Sheffield City Archives/Picture Sheffield