Story: Nikky Wilson
Whilst studying recent plans for the new Tesco supermarket at the top of Spital Hill, somebody pointed out to me that the ‘attractive urban landscape with potential public plaza’ marked at the front of the drawing appeared to obliterate a bit of Sheffield’s political history: Caborn’s Corner. It’s a small triangle of land located at the junction of Spital Hill and Carlisle Street, just below the East House and opposite The Kashmir restaurant.
Leading the marches
Although insignificant in appearance and poorly maintained, there’s a story behind the site which many Sheffielders will know. It is named in honour of the famous trade unionist and lifelong communist, George Caborn.
During the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s the corner became famous as the traditional assembly point for political rallies and marches. George often lead the marches and was always involved in planning them with fellow union members.
Born in 1914, George grew up in Attercliffe, surrounded by industry. His father was a foreman at Sheffield Works so the family were quite well off by the standards of the time. However, as a boy, George witnessed the great poverty experienced by other steel workers in more lowly jobs.
Rising in the Union ranks
At the age of 14 George started work in Firth Brown steel works and became a shop steward at 22. A year later he rose again in the union ranks to become a convenor of shop stewards. He ended up as the District Secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering for 12 years. During that time he remained a staunch communist committed to campaigning for the rights of the workers.
When he died in 1982, the city council decided to turn the site into a garden to honour his dedication to political action. In 1983 the Bulgarian Cultural Attache and George’s widow, Mary, planted a blue cedar tree on the site to commemorate his life. It’s still there although overshadowed by other trees.
Wanting to find out more about George, I went to meet Jack Illingworth, a former colleague in the union.
“I first met George in 1940,” said Jack. “He was a bit older than me and quite a fatherly figure.
But over the years we worked together on many campaigns and became good friends. My upbringing was in a Labour household and George always respected that – he never tried to change my views. But he was a man with great powers of persuasion and someone who could motivate and inspire others.
He commanded respect from people of all parties – I can recall that people always wanted to shake his hand as we walked through town on the marches! And he stood out as totally honest. He taught me never to tell lies!”
George was also famous as one of the founders of the Sheffield Campaign Against Racism in the 1980s and became Chair of the organisation for 5 years. He wasn’t afraid to tackle racism in the workplace and campaigned for black workers to be given skilled jobs in the steel industry at a time when they could only get work as labourers on machines. Twenty five years after his death, George is still spoken about with respect – not a common phenomenon when we talk about politicians! For this reason and the fact that his efforts are seen as part of the political and industrial heritage of Sheffield, Caborn’s Corner needs to be preserved (and maybe a bit better looked after) to honour an admirable man in Sheffield’s history.
Thanks to Jack Illingworth for talking to me about George Caborn. If you want to see the plans for the new Tesco, you can pick up a leaflet about it in Burngreave Library or New Roots café. Add your comments to the form on the back!
Burngreave Voices: Our Stories
Celebrated is a Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust project in partnership with Sheffield Libraries and Information Service, supported by Burngreave New Deal for Communities Partnerships