DEATH IN THE BREWERY - Sheffield 1900

The 1881 Census records the family of ISAAC HORNSEY living at an address in Silver Street, Sheffield. From the information it looks as though the family originated in the Scarborough area of Yorkshire. There is a record in the GRO indexes for the September quarter of 1873 (Scarborough) for the marriage of Isaac Hornsey to Annie Rainton (Vol 9d Page 499). Soon after the birth of their daughter Mary in 1874 they must have moved to Sheffield where Isaac found work as an Engine Fitter. 

Dwelling  43 Silver Street Sheffield, York, England

Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4641/31 Page 21

Name Rel Status   Age Place of Birth Occupation
Isaac Harland HORNSEY   Head   M   Male   31   Hovingham, York, England   Engine Fitter At Works 
 Annie HORNSEY   Wife   M   Female   29   Cayton    
 Mary HORNSEY   Daur      Female   7   Scarborough   Scholar 
 Annie J. HORNSEY   Daur      Female   5   Sheffield, York, England   Scholar 
 Emma HORNSEY  Daur      Female   3   Sheffield, York, England    
 Sarah A. HORNSEY   Daur      Female   1   Sheffield, York, England     

However it is not Isaac's life that is particularly noticeable, but rather the unusual manner of his death. I came across the cutting in The News of The World dated 14th June 1900 Page 4.



Isaac Hornsey 51,was employed at the Don Brewery Sheffield where his duties included the care of the refrigerator, which is charged with ammonia. In the early hours of the morning he opened the valve of the refrigerator and immediately afterwards accidentally dropped the key which fell through an opening in the floor, and could not be recovered at once. Fumes of ammonia began to fill the room and though Hornsey did his best to close the valve with a spanner, his efforts were unsuccessful and in a few minutes he was overcome and fell back unconscious. He died a few days later.

Photo of the brewery on Penistone Road, Sheffield where Isaac worked 1890 

The local newspaper carried a far fuller report of the proceedings that took place at the inquest

The next report is from The Daily Independent dated 18th June 1900

There was a interesting sequel to the tragedy. His widow Annie initiated a claim under The Workman's Compensation Act for the equivalent of three years average wages (£202.16s). Isaac's wage at the time of his death were 25s which is approximately £122 in today's money. The claim was not contested and the claim was approved by Judge Waddy QC. .  

From what I can gather, ammonia was widely used as a coolant in the refrigeration units of the time. The late nineteenth century had seen major developments in the brewing industry. Temperature controlled malting gave the finished beer more consistency and refridgeration aided beer production in the summer months (Isaac died in June)

The Don Brewery had been in existence 75 years at the time of the accident. Founded in 1828 under the style of Warburton, Turton & Howe, it remained so until 1849 when it was acquired by William Smith and Joseph Redfern. Smith was already a wealthy man living in Barnes Hall, Ecclesfield, a suburb of Sheffield. From the information available it looks as though Redfern busied himself in the brewing process and the running of the business whilst Smith set about building up a tied estate. In the following twenty years they acquired 28 public houses and leased another six. Their sons, Alfred Harrison Smith and Joseph Redfern jnr ,joined the board and took over the running of the business. Redfern died in 1889 and so Alfred Harrison Smith took over full control of the brewery. At the time of his death the estate stood at about 40 public houses. The business continued to expand and at the time of Alfred's retirement in 1900, the estate had more than doubled in ten years to 83. It had also become a public registered company just prior to Smith's retirement.

Expansion continued into the twentieth century albeit at a slower rate. By 1915, a further 17 had been added bringing up the hundred.(1) But with the government of that great liberal Lloyd George hankering to introduce prohibition and uncertainty with the war in Europe, the shareholders accepted an offer from the Tennant Brothers for both the brewery and the tied estate.

The actual Don Brewery was sited at the junction of Penistone Road and Infirmary Road, more or less adjacent to St Philip's Church. Tennant's "mothballed" the brewery until 1958 when parts were then sold off in a piecemeal basis. Tennant's were amalgamated to Whitbread's in 1962. A Sheffield City Council road widening scheme finished the site off soon after. The stone that is on the site now is just a cast of the original plaster sign that disintegrated when they tried to remove it  

The Hornsey family are buried together in Sheffield's Burngreave Cemetery. Here is their burial record

HORNSEY, Annie (widow, age 85). Died at Nether Edge Hospital; Buried on July 5, 1939 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 20, Section A1 of Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield. Remarks: Officiating Minister: P H S Raine: Removed from Sheffield Parish.

HORNSEY, George William (son of J Hornsey, age 15). Died at 5 Albert Terr Rd; Buried on December 29, 1897 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 20, Section A1 of Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield. Remarks: 41141 Attending Minister: J. H. Ainsworth.

HORNSEY, Harry H (Engineer, age 64). Died at City G Hosp; Buried on March 25, 1946 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 20, Section A1 of Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield. Remarks: Officiating Minister, H C Mason: Removed from Sheffield Parish.

HORNSEY, Isaac Harland (Fitter, age 51). Died at 11 Bertha St; Buried on June 19, 1900 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 20, Section A1 of Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield.  Remarks: Officiating Minister, S Chorlton.

HORNSEY, Sarah A (Daughter of Isaac H Hornsey, age 7). Died at Slate Street; Buried on May 25, 1887 in Consecrated ground; Grave Number 20, Section A1 of Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield.  Remarks: S.Plot Owner: A HORNSEY of 11 Bertha Street. Page No 


In April 2017 a fellow researcher kindly passed this information to me. It concerned a Samuel Puplett

"Found this on the man who made the machine that killed Isaac Hornsey at the Don Brewery:

Born in Stockport in 1845 and educated at Ackworth School, Yorkshire, Samuel Puplett was a mechanical engineer who set up a business in Birmingham manufacturing ice-making and refrigeration machines. In 1878 he made his first ammonia compression ice machine, in which branch of refrigeration he subsequently specialised, opening offices in Westminster in 1891. He died in 1923, his obituary stating that “it was a source of pride to him that no fatal accident had occurred with any of [his machines]”.

He had clearly forgotten about Isaac Hornsey!"


The Mr. A. Neal mentioned in the report was Arthur Neal, perhaps the most prominent solicitor in Sheffield at the time. A photograph of Arthur appears on Wikipedia 

And Matthew Bell kindly sent me this mini biography of Arthur from his forthcoming book on Boxing in Sheffield

Born in 1862, Neal was a committee member of Sheffield United Cricket and Football Club. He chaired the 1899 meeting that decided to make the Club a limited liability company and to purchase the Bramall Lane ground from the Duke of Norfolk. He later became a Sheffield City Councillor and, in 1918, was elected Liberal MP for the newly created constituency of Sheffield Hillsborough. He died in 1933.


A brief history of refridgeration

The News of The World dated 14th June 1900 Page 4

The Daily Independent dated 18th June 1900

Beer Matters - Sheffield - November 2007

Matthew Bell

Sheffield Inxers

UK Census

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This page was last updated on 10/02/22 16:00