I’m very grateful to Stephen Johnson for providing me with a copy of his book The Other Mr Brown’s Business: a short history of the firm of Brown Bayley’s Steel Works Ltd, Sheffield (2021), which is a significant contribution to the history of the Sheffield steel industry.
My granddad was a furnace bricklayer at Brown Bayley’s until shortly after the end of the Second World War, but my memory of the works in the 1950s is the common sight of their steam wagons, forerunners of the modern lorry, chugging around the streets.
The steam wagon like its contemporary, the electric tramcar, occupies the window between the initial superseding of horse power with mechanical traction and the eventual dominance of the internal combustion engine.
They were powerful and relatively fast, capable of 20mph fully loaded, and in their heyday far superior for their purpose to early petrol lorries.
Brown Bayley’s wagons were Sentinel Standard flat-bed lorries, mostly dating from the time of the First World War, bought to transport heavy materials around the company’s extensive Attercliffe steelworks and on occasions used for delivering materials further afield.
A well-documented journey in 1925 transported five-ton lengths of chain in three trips to stabilise the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, taking just over two days each way, with a day to unload at the destination.
The Brown Bayley fleet consisted of at least a dozen vehicles at its maximum, almost all of them registered in Shrewsbury rather than Sheffield or Rotherham by the manufacturer, Sentinel Waggon [sic] Works Ltd.
Brown Bayley’s wagons survived because they were robust and dependable, but they required a two-man crew like a railway steam locomotive, and they took ninety minutes to prepare from cold and used 1½cwt (1,524kg) of coke per shift.
Nevertheless they continued to work until 1970, when the last three were taken out of use. The remaining wagons were snapped up for preservation by enthusiasts, apart from No 6 (AW 2964) which the Brown Bayley company exhibited at rallies. It remains on static display at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.
Others are still going strong, as these YouTube clips illustrate: What’s the Greatest Machine of the 1930s…the Sentinel Steam Waggon? – YouTube; Sentinel/ERF No.9370 ‘Typhoo’ Norwich to Ledbury – YouTube.