Paul Gibson’s Hull and East Yorkshire History

Mustard and Whales in the Groves, Black Beer and Griffins in Bankside

Some notes on the colourful history of
Sissons Brothers & Co Ltd

(With an appreciation of the early paint industry in Hull)

Like so many of Hull’s industries the history of the paint industry is sparsely documented with few companies having left any written records. Sissons Brothers & Co were no exception and, apart from a few scant details in some of their brochures, company magazines and anniversary booklets from the 1950s, no details of the origins of the company appear to have been compiled. What details that were recorded by the company appear to be very general and they neglect to show details of the initial partnerships that led to the formation of the firm as we know it. Most of their literature suggests, simply, that the firm was formed in 1803. This has been repeated many times and is now the accepted version of events, however, as is often the case, it may not have been that simple; the Victoria County History recorded that: -

‘Two industries which arose in connection with the oil extracting industry were the manufacture of paint and the production of machinery for the extraction process. Samuel Tudor is reputed to have formed a paint firm in Hull in 1749, which later became Tudors, Mash & Co The main development of the industry, however, came in the early 19th Century; in 1803 Sissons Bros. began manufacturing paint in Hull, and in 1811 Henry Blundell.’

Even the VCH could only repeat what had already been written. Tudors, Mash & Co, although not latterly a Hull firm, started from Hull in 1749. White Lead (then the main constituent of paint) was imported (mainly from Holland) at that time, although the pig lead from which it was made was produced in Derbyshire and shipped via Hull to the Netherlands. Doctor Brown of Sheffield realised this inefficiency and experimented with Acetic Acid and Carbonic Acid upon sheets of lead, and eventually he succeeded in producing White Lead. John Kirkby Picard, a Hull man, contacted Dr Brown and began producing White Lead in Hull around 1791. The reduction in costs made the product much cheaper and orders flooded in - this was said to have been the origin of White Lead manufacture in England. The Picard premises were in the Lowgate area, noted to have been on the site of the former Suffolk Palace. Samuel Tudor’s firm had business associations with Picard and purchased White Lead from him; Samuel and his son William ran the Tudor’s company in the first 70 years or so, making simple dry paints, which were used at the time. Samuel died at the end of the 19th Century and his grandsons (also Samuel and William) carried on the business. At some point in the 1830s they took over Hesslewood & Co, to form Tudors, Hesslewood & Co with premises at no.60 Church Street, but soon reverted to the old name of Tudors & Co. Still at 60 Church Street they also had premises at ‘Old Dock End’, which may have been the old J K Picard premises, which is given credence by the fact that a token produced by Picard shows works and buildings very similar to that of the Tudor’s. In his final years Samuel Tudor retired to Cottingham and bought a house latterly known as ‘Tudor House’, and from around 1880 the company became Tudors, Mash & Co.

Sissons and Blundell (who was active from at least 1806) were not the only early paint and colour men in Hull as paint had been sent from Hull as early as 1703, and the famous Hull merchant Joseph Pease had produced paint in Hull since the 1730s.

There were others too, including Thomas Lee (of Pead & Lee), and later John Lawson of ‘Rodney Lodge Warehouse’, who was listed in an 1803 directory. Others included Branton & Ross and Joseph Wilkinson & Co (see below). The exact number of paint and colour men active in Hull in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries is almost impossible to establish, as the early trade directories are very unreliable and one tended to repeat the mistakes of another. Also, not every business entered the directories, as is shown by the lack of entries for Branton & Ross and Joseph Wilkinson & Co etc. Therefore to even guess the number of firms is quite a hit and miss affair, although it seems that from an early figure of around four or five operating in the late 18th Century, the numbers steadily rose to an average of 10 during the 1830s and 1840s, and fluctuated little until the late 19th Century. The industry apparently employed surprisingly few workers, the 1851 Census recording that only 200 men aged over 21 were employed in the paint industry. However, early Census information should also be treated cautiously, as many more unofficial employees were probably used on a casual basis, as well as no doubt dozens under the age of 21. Later figures are confused, as entries in the trade directories for paint and colour men, i.e. the manufacturers, often included paint retailers, shops and agents for paint all under the same heading. It can safely be said that it was an already competitive market that the Sissons brothers entered into in Hull.

Roots

Thomas Sissons was born in Market Weighton in 1783 and came from an East Riding family whose connections with Hull were said to go back to the days of William Penn (company literature). Around 1800 he came to Hull, possibly with other members of the family, and was soon known as an oil merchant, having dealings with the Whaling industry, and the processing of Whale oil. At some point prior to November 1804, still only 21 years old, he appears to have entered into a partnership with merchant Joseph Wilkinson ‘in the business of Paint Manufacturers, Oil and Colourmen’. It is possible that his family already had dealings with the trade but there is no evidence to confirm this. Joseph Wilkinson was listed in an earlier 1791 trade directory as a merchant in Charlotte Street and there are records of a paint and whiting mill in Charlotte Street (Hull Advertiser 1st April 1797), however, the exact address of their business is unknown but it was likely to be at the east end near the River Hull. The following announcements from the Hull Advertiser of 24th November 1804 reveals that: -

‘The partnership lately carried on by us, JOSEPH WILKINSON and THOMAS SISSONS, at the town of Kingston upon Hull, in the business of Paint Manufacturers, Oil and Colourmen, under the Firm of JOSEPH WILKINSON and CO was this day dissolved by mutual consent; all Debts owing by us as Co-partners, as well as Debts due to the concern, will be paid and received by the said Thomas Sissons. Witness our hands the 17th day of November 1804.

JOSEPH WILKINSON & THOMAS SISSONS’; ‘SISSONS, WEDDLE & CO (late Joseph Wilkinson & Co) Paint Manufacturers, Oil and Colourmen, beg leave to inform their Friends and the Public, that they have taken and entered upon the MILL and WAREHOUSES in which the above Business has been lately carried on at Witham, near Hull, by BRANTON & ROSS, and hope that from an unremitted attention to Business they, will be able to execute any orders they may be intrusted with, to the satisfaction of their Friends. Hull 17th November 1804.’

It seems that following the dissolution of the partnership, Thomas Sissons set up a new firm with John Weddle and thus Sissons, Weddle & Co were formed. They appear to have continued the business of Joseph Wilkinson & Co with little alteration. The exact location of the premises - ‘a mill and warehouses’ - previously occupied by Branton & Ross, in ‘Witham near Hull', is again unknown. There were three or four ‘colour mills’ in Hull by the end of the 18th Century, including ‘the Horse Colour Mill of Samuel Thompson’, and Branton’s was no doubt one of them. The 1791 trade directory for Hull noted a whiting manufacturer called Richard Ross, who had works in Wincolmlee, and must surely have been the partner in Branton & Ross. Therefore it can be speculated that the new Sissons, Weddle mill was in the Witham area and probably an ex-whiting mill located at the southern end of Lime Street that may have been premises later occupied by paint manufacturer George Webster in the 1850s. Apparent confirmation of this assumption comes by way of another announcement in the Hull Advertiser on 12th December 1807: -

‘Between nine and ten o’clock on the evening of Saturday last, a fire broke out in the whiting and Colour mill of Messrs. Sissons and Weddell, adjoining Mr Shepherd’s Shipyard in the Groves, near this town. The mill was chiefly constructed of wood, and the flames had got such hold before the engines could be brought to play upon them, that it was wholly burnt down: but the adjoining premises were preserved, and the fire was completely got under in the course of about three hours. The book and a great part of the stock-in-trade were saved.’

This confirms that the company premises were in Lime Street, ‘next to Mr Sheperd’s Shipyard’, as James Shepherd was a shipwright in Lime Street until c.1815. The location of the shipyard, and thus the mill, is unclear but it was probably at the south-west end of Lime Street. Sissons, Weddle & Co were quick to allay any fears regarding the continuity of their service and soon issued a reassuring note, which appeared the same day as the report of the fire: -

‘Sissons Weddell and Co Oil and Colourmen, beg leave to inform their friends, that they have every expectation of being enabled to renew their Business (temporally suspended by the late Fire) with three Weeks or a month from this time, when they will be happy in a continuance of their favours. Hull, Dec. 10, 1807’.

Whiting was a product closely associated with the paint industry, and in a directory of 1806, Sissons, Weddle & Co were listed simply as ‘whiting manufacturers’ in Lime Street. Trade must have been brisk as they were soon advertising again: -

‘Wanted a Steady, Active MAN, to take the management of a MUSTARD MANUFACTORY, he must be thoroughly aquaihnted (sic) with the business. For particulars apply to SISSONS, WEDDLE & Co. Hull, July 18, 1809.’

Although their works address remained in Lime Street in the Groves, their office was noted at several addresses including no.1 Mason Street (1814) and no.10 Pryme Street (1817). Thomas Sissons home address was first noted c.1823 when he was resident at no.4 Wright Street – then a very classy new suburban street. At some point in the early 1820s, Sissons and Weddle parted company and from c.1827 Sissons Brothers were listed in Sculcoates. The company continued to be listed in the trade directories until at least 1823, as ‘oil & colourmen’, ‘manufacturers of paint’, and ‘manufacturers of mustard, blue, French and pearl barley’. The Hull University Manuscripts and Archives Database (HUMAD) contains references to a document which appears to record a settlement between Sissons and Weddle. It lists a payment of account from John Weddle to James Chilton (probably a solicitor) for ‘legal work respecting Sissons’’. This is dated 1834 and it would seem obvious that they parted shortly before the settlement. Later Sissons’ company literature, from the 1950s, states that Sissons parted company from Weddle in 1803. This is hard to reconcile with the announcement in the papers and the fact that the company continued to be listed at various addresses until at least 1826. Weddle appears to have maintained the business in Lime Street when the pair parted and he was noted in an 1822 directory as ‘John Weddle & Co, oil & colourmen, manufacturers of paint, mustard, French and pearl barley’, exactly the same description Sissons, Weddle & Co had used. However, apparently less successful than his former partner, as a column in the Hull Advertiser of 6 July 1827 noted he had been declared bankrupt. It is certain, however, that when they did part company, Thomas Sissons set up another business with his younger brother, another oil merchant Richard Jennison Sissons.

Sissons, Brothers & Company, processed whale oil and later expanded to Linseed Oil, White Lead and eventually to manufacturing paint, varnish and distemper. Company literature suggests that whale oil processing formed their initial business at Bankside. In 1834 they were described as ‘Oil merchants, paint & colour manufacturers, and importers of Black Beer and Saxony Salts’, and in 1838 - ‘Oil merchants, paint & colour manufacturers and dry-salters, Bankside, Sculcoates’.

Both brothers had their homes in Bankside near to their works by 1830 and probably earlier according to the Hull Poll Books. No building plans exist for the new site prior to the 1860s, but from that date there are a continuous run of plans showing the steady growth of the plant and warehouses. The maintenance of paint premises prior to modern Health & Safety regulations was extremely hazardous, as the following tragic report from the Hull Packet newspaper of 25th September 1827 reveals: -

‘On Wednesday morning last, as the workmen were employed in digging a watercourse in the yard of Messrs. Sissons, Brothers, & Co at Sculcoates, the earth suddenly gave way, and burned two of them. John Hodgson and William Watson beneath it, not withstanding the united efforts of ten men in clearing it away, which was accomplished in a few minutes, the former, was taken out a corpse, but the latter although internally bruised is in fair way of speedy recovery.’

Bankside

Why the Sissons family chose Bankside is unclear, as it was some distance from the town, but transport is the likely answer as the river, and later the railway, were near at hand for inward and outbound trade. The close proximity of the Greenland Yards in Bankside would have afforded easy access to Whale Oil, the company’s early staple requirement. It is also possible that company had taken over already existing premises; most of the riverside was occupied by the late 1820s and land nearer the town would have come at a premium. An artist’s impression of the works (said to be 1825 and possibly from the time) shows clearly that the company relied on the river for the majority of its transport requirements. A large wharf is shown and later plans show other smaller wharves were added along the length of the riverside.

As for the homes of the Sissons’ brothers in Bankside, only one description is known to exist. In his article for the company’s 150th Jubilee Magazine in 1953 the chairman of the company spoke of the ‘White House’ in Bankside. The White House was the home of the founder Thomas Sissons and is almost certainly the property shown on the 1832 plan and noted in the 1851 and 1881 Census as ‘Brunswick Cottage’. Of the White House, the company chairman recalled: -

‘… it was built in the Georgian style, and was situated a few yards further down Bankside, with its front outlook facing towards old St Mary’s Church. The house was of course entirely surrounded by pasture lands and were said to have included an orchard and a vineyard. Today (1953) only one wall of the original house remains and forms part of the entry to the Gas Works.’

The atmosphere in the Sculcoates area was described succinctly by Freebody’s in their trade directory of 1851: -

‘Hull has long maintained its position as the principal seat for the manufacture of Linseed Oil & Cake. The thump, thump, thump of the mills of ancient construction, is familiar with the inhabitants for miles round the town, breaking upon the ear of the sleepless during the stillness of midnight, and proving the untiring industry of the operative. Science, however, is doing much to remove those night disturbers, and mills are now erected on more economical principles; doing a greater amount of work, with scarcely any noise.’

Another paint and colour manufacturer, Thomas Storry of Storry, Smithson & Company, had the foresight to build a row of houses for his workers. Storry’s Row was listed in the Census of 1851 as a line of ten dwellings and appear, from what plans are available, to have run west from Bankside along the perimeter of Storry, Smithson’s works. They were still listed up to 1876 and were recorded ‘Smithson’s Row’ in contemporary directories. Around the same time the Sissons’ brothers also built housing at the entrance to their works, which became known as Sissons Row. The new dwellings appear to show on a plan of 1832 and are listed in the 1851 Census. The buildings were still shown on the Ordnance Survey plan of 1908, and had narrowly missed demolition for the extension of Bankside, through to the new Clough Road bridge in 1905.

By 1842 Thomas Sissons junior had joined the company and was also resident in Bankside. Shortly after, in 1846, Richard Jennison Sissons retired from the business and spent the rest of his days at no.67 Prospect Street. Perhaps it was the increasing hubbub and smells of Bankside that caused the Sissons’ to move their private residences to the fashionable residences of Beverley Road and Prospect Street. Another brother, Jonathan Dove Sissons, had been resident in Beverley Road since c.1838 and by 1842 had also joined the company. Not as part of the paint business, but as a ‘black beer brewer’ in Chapel Street, by which time he had moved his home to no.12 Story Street. Circa 1850 he moved to no.4 Landsdowne Terrace, directly opposite Henry Blundell’s paint works at ‘Blundell’s Corner’; was he keeping an eye on the competition? Bankside was a busy place in 1851, as the Census of that year reveals: -

No.1 Bankside, John Peasegood, turpentine distiller

One un-numbered property

One un-numbered property, John Little turpentine distiller

Brunswick Cottage, Thomas Sissons paint & colour manufacturer, aged 68 years, born Market Weighton,
Elizabeth – wife, 68,
Mary – daughter, 38 (born Hull)
       Christiana – daughter
       Elizabeth – daughter
       2 servants

The Gas Works

One un-numbered house...

One shop

‘Storry’s Row’ – ten dwellings, the first house was occupied by T Wardell, whiting manufacturer – the majority of other residents were paint grinders, distillery labourers etc.)

then …

No.1 Bankside (again - was this Sissons Row?)

No.2

No.3

No.4 Mr Jennings, colour maker

No.5

No.6 George Johnson, Oil miller

No.7 Ann Johnson, beer retailer (see below)

No.8

No.9

No.10

... one un-numbered house

Thomas Sissons [Junior], paint & colour manufacturer, aged 42 years, born Hull
Thomas H. – son
Anne E. – daughter
Jane – daughter
Rebecca – daughter
David W. – son
Edward R. – son
Christiana – daughter

One un-numbered house

end of Bankside.

Ale, Expansion and a New Road

It is also interesting, but not surprising, to note that Bankside had a pub. Nearby Air Street had three by this time (Tanner’s Arms, Horse Clipper’s Arms and the Golden Ball) and the growing population in the area, boosted by the huge industrial growth could easily support many pubs and at that time it was still safer to drink ‘small’ or weak beer than water. Ann Johnson was recorded as a beer retailer at no.7 Bankside in the 1851 Census. Further details in contemporary trade directories reveal that the pub lasted some time; indeed it was probably around prior to the Census reference as it is unlikely that such a densely populated area would not have had at least one ale-house for all the workers to quench their thirst. The Painter’s Arms, or would it have been the Colour Man’s Arms? Sadly not - the pub was recorded several times as simply the ‘Sculcoates Inn’, a very common name in the area: -

1851    Ann Johnson, beer retailer, No.7 Bankside
1855    John Clark, Sculcoates Inn, Wincolmlee
1867    Wm. Jagger Sculcoates Inn, Bankside, Sculcoates
1872    William Jagger beer retailer, Bankside, Sculcoates
1873    W. Jagger beer house, Bankside
1874    Wm. Jagger, Sculcoates Inn, Bankside
1879    William Jagger, beer retailer, Bankside’

Thomas Sissons senior, the founder of the company, died in 1867 at which point Thomas junior took two of his own sons into the business – Thomas Hall Sissons (born 1836) and David Waddington Sissons. Eventually Thomas Hall Sissons also brought his two sons Charles and Thomas B. into the expanding business. He also introduced the husband of his second daughter into the business, Mr Allan Twisleton Hall. The Hall family was as famous in the Hull and Barton area as the Sissons, and as the manufacturers of ropes they were to become world-famous. Hall’s Barton Ropery became another of Hull’s (and Barton’s) big names. Their link with the Sissons family was forged in the middle of the 19th Century when Rebecca Robinson Hall took Thomas Sissons (senior) as her second husband and John Edward Hall married Anne Elizabeth Sissons. Thomas Hall Sissons, later the chairman of the company (c.1900), became a JP and resided at ‘Beech Lawn’, in Anlaby. He was chairman of the Hull Constitutional Club and married Jane, daughter of Samuel Beswick of Scarborough.

Sissons Brothers were incorporated as a limited company in 1887, with an authorised capital of £100,000. At this time (the 1880s) the local sanitary authority was unhappy with the common practice of applying wallpaper layer upon layer, when decorating houses etc. It was Allan Twisleton Hall (son of John Edward Hall), whilst employed by Sissons Brothers, who developed an alternative and more hygienic wall covering and finish; thus the later world-famous ‘Hall’s Distemper’ was created - Hall’s Distemper was described as ‘new’ in an article in The Builder in February 1898. The trademark of ‘two men and a plank’, was created shortly after and in 1919 it received a Royal Warrant. The Sissons’ had their fingers in many pies; another large Hull paint and varnish company Thomas Fewster & Son Ltd, (established in 1839) produced their own version of distemper, known as Fewstemper. Fewster’s was largely owned by members of the Sissons family and Fewster’s premises were adjacent to the Sissons’ site. Entries from an 1892 trade directory reveal that Bankside was dominated by the paint industry at the end of the 19th Century, when these companies were all listed there: -

Thompson & Thompson shipbuilders
Thomas McDonald straw board liner
W Peasegood & Co oil merchants
Blundell, Spence & Co oil boilers
Sissons Bros. & Co colour manufacturers
Hull and Liverpool Red Oxide Co Ltd. colour manufacturers
William Smith Merrikin colour manufacturer
Eliza Johnson shopkeeper
William Halcrow cooper & farrier
Blundell Spence & Co Ltd. varnish manufacturers
Sculcoates Goods Station
British Gas Light Co Ltd.
Storry, Smithson & Co Ltd. colour manufacturers
Ellen Turner shopkeeper
And several private residents

Hull was an important city in the paint industry at the start of the 20th Century and it was here that the National Federation of Associated Paint, Colour and Varnish Manufacturers was created in 1911. This was largely due to the efforts of the Sissons family, the first national president being a family member. Hull had its own ‘Association of Paint Manufacturers’ prior to this. The 4th Annual Report of the federation listed a Sissons brother as president and another early subscriber was E L Sanderson (of A Sanderson & Co Ltd.) and as a measure of its importance, out of 153 members in 1915, 36 were from Hull.

In June 1904 the local council’s Works Committee (Streets & Lighting Sub-Committee) met. An item on the agenda was a proposal for a ‘New Street, Bankside to Clough Road.’ This was an important development for Sissons as it would provide better access to their site as previously all road transport had to follow the cumbersome routes via Sculcoates Lane and Air Street, or along the winding route of Wincolmlee and Church Street. Either approach was prone to delay and the only approach from the north and Clough Road was via an ancient footpath from the end of Bankside to the old Stone Ferry at Newland Clough. The new Stoneferry Bridge, completed in the autumn of 1905, had provided the impetus for the new link to Hull’s industrial heartland and the bustling river bank trades. The committee decided that at last ‘the making of this new street might now be taken in hand.’ In July 1904 the tender of Messrs. Boyce, Broadley & Co was accepted for the works at a total cost of £1,971-11s-6d. In June 1905 it was decided that ‘6 ordinary burners’ would be sufficient gas street lighting for the new connection. A knock-on effect of the improvement works was that all other residents of the old section of Bankside were required to ‘sewer, level, pave, flag or channel or otherwise make good’ their portion of the road and footpaths. This was at the cost of the residents and all work was to be completed within the month. Another new street was proposed in February 1910 when the committee met again to discuss proposals from Sissons Bros: -

‘The Committee considered [a] plan submitted by Messrs. Runton & Barry, on behalf of Sissons Bros. & Co for a new street on Bankside near Clough Road. The plan shewed asphalte (sic) footpaths, and it was understood that the road was to be constructed in tarred macadam, and that Messrs. Sissons Bros. did not intend to apply for it to be taken over.’

Their initial plan for 14 houses was not approved, but further applications were successful, and by April 1913, most houses in the street, (aptly named Sissons Street) were already occupied. Built to a high standard, they were very similar to houses in the Garden Village and described by the company as ‘Model Dwellings’. The houses were in two blocks of five facing south with their back facing north to Clough Road. At the junction of the new street and Bankside two existing houses were converted and extended to form the other four houses in the plans. The houses suffered damage in the blitz of the Second World War on more than one occasion. One house suffered a direct hit and was completely demolished but fortunately there were no casualties.

Until 1914 all of the board of directors were Sissons’ except Allan T Hall, who was the nephew of Thomas Hall Sissons and David Waddington Sissons. David Waddington Sissons had two sons, Harold and Oswald, who also entered the male dominated business some years later. A new colour works was built in 1906 and in 1912 a new varnish plant was created, which was sufficiently well equipped to make it the one of the largest in the world. By 1910 all but one of the original works buildings had been re-built and the premises as a whole had grown from an initial acre plot to around 16 acres. In 1850 it had employed around 30 staff and by 1911 the number had risen to nearer 350. In 1915 the company also had premises on St. Andrew’s Dock. All employees were issued with a set of employee regulations, setting out their responsibilities and the company’s procedures. An example from c.1900 noted amongst other items that: -

Allan Hall died in 1917, Thomas Hall Sissons died in 1920, Harold H Sissons died in 1926 and David Waddington Sissons also died in 1928, but fortunately the next generation was already in place. The fifth generation of the Sissons family were T E B Sissons (son of Thomas B.), Richard C Sissons (son of Harold H Sissons) and Noel H Sissons (son of Oswald H Sissons) who was the last of remaining member of the Sissons family at Sissons Bros. T E B Sissons was killed in 1940 whilst serving his country in France during the Second World War; Richard and Noel Sissons also served in the armed forces. Nearer to home the Sissons site was severely damaged during the blitz of 13 March 1941, and suffered further damage on the 18 March, 18 July and later in 1943. Sissons’ efforts during these years is well documented in their own brochure ‘A Front-Line Factory’, produced in 1945, which also describes the plight of their other branches in the UK. Out of the ashes rose a completely new factory covering most of the corner of Bankside and Clough Road. Although stylistically very much of the 1930s the building was built in 1952-3 and opened in 1953, the company’s 150th anniversary year. The gates at the entrance to this part of the site are familiar to most Hull people, but most famous was the landmark huge tiled mural wall, featured on a corner building, depicting the famous two men and a plank logo. Sadly all of the buildings were lost when the site was demolished in 1994, although the gate pillars have been retained on the new estate that has been built there.

The Sissons logo was not without its problems, as one company in the Far East copied the design, simply replacing the plank with a ladder - Sissons went to court and won. Labelling and symbols were very important to Sissons as most of their sales were abroad and often in countries where literacy was poor. Other trademarks were the ‘griffin and shield’ (the company’s main emblem), which was made up of the griffin from the family’s coat of arms and a shield bearing Hull’s three crowns; and ‘Sisco’ a little man known in the company as ‘the man who covers all’. Sissons produced copious amounts of advertising material, colour and shade charts etc, which became more and more colourful as the years moved on. Local printers Mason & Jackson Ltd. produced many of their colour and shade charts in the company’s latter years.

No doubt conscious of the fact that staff welfare could affect productivity, the Sissons Brothers looked after their staff very well considering the times they lived in. Sissons AFC, the company football team from c.1890, was closely followed by a series of cricket, tennis, table-tennis, netball and even whist teams. A ‘music and band’ room was constructed in 1911 and by the 1950s the staff had a luxurious canteen, shooting range, their own sports ground and a small cinema. As well as this, Sissons were pioneers of the ‘Sick Club’, for their employees, and theirs was thought to be the oldest in Hull.

Left derelict, much of the property was demolished in 1994, including the famous ceramic tiled mural and was cleared by D J Broady & Co for proposed new developments. Many of the buildings had been targeted by vandals, and ironically been vividly decorated with aerosol paint over the last ten years or so. The houses in Sissons Street were left empty after the closure of the factory and the street is now enclosed as part of the premises of Akzo Nobel a large conglomerate that took over Croda Paints. The last occupants left in the early 1980s and the houses were demolished shortly after. Sissons’ still have a mark on the area however, as a new road in the mainly retail area further west along Clough Road, is now known as Sissons Way.

During 2008 and early 2009 the whole site was redeveloped as an industrial estate and many of the modern but impersonal units have already been occupied bringing life back into an historic industrial sector of Hull.

© Paul Gibson

Hull, January 2003, edited for the web, June 2009

The following article is included to further illustrate the hazards of working in the paint industry in the 19th Century: -

‘THE FATAL PETROLEUM EXPLOSION IN HULL.

On Wednesday the inquiry into the death of Robert J. Steele, who was fatally burnt on the 20th ult., by an explosion of spirits at Messrs. Sisson’s Brothers Brothers and Co’s paint and varnish works, Bankside, Sculcoates, was resumed before J.J. Thorney, Esq., coroner, at the Town hall. - Mathew Moody, junior, Hodgson street, in the employ of Messrs. Sissons Brothers, said that on the 29th of April, two minutes previous to the fire, he saw the deceased (Steele) passing the joiners shop door, going towards the varnish house, Witness heard the explosion, and ran towards the varnish house. The doors were closed, and flames and smoke were issuing through the ventilator in the roof. Witness saw John Langdale in a boat, and assisted him on to a keel asked him to leave him, and go and look after Steele. Witness went and got a hammer for the purpose of opening the door. - William Leech, labourer, residing in Newland-lane, deposed that he saw the deceased about a quarter-past four. About ten minutes to five he heard the explosion, and running out saw the flames issuing from the building. The front door which was red hot, was forced open with a ladder, and water was played on the fire. After the flames had been extinguished witness went inside and found Steele’s remains, burnt to (to a cinder), about eight feet form the copper. Steele had been at Messrs. Sisson’s for about six years, and bore the reputation of being a careful man. - John Sands, cooper, gave similar evidence. - William Shepherd, labourer at Messrs Sisson’s, said he he understood the process of black varnish making. When the compound (asphaltum) was sufficiently hot, oil which had been heated in an adjoining apartment was added to it.

The fire under the copper was then drawn and slacked, and the mixture allowed to cool down to a certain temperature. Steele used to gudge(sic) when the (asphaltum) was sufficiently cool, and would then order the spirits of petroleum, which were kept in another part of the yard, to be put in the copper. The petroleum was (metered) by the witness and another man, and handed to Steele, who put it (?) the copper. About forty gallons of were used at a time. When the spirits were added to the mixture was stirred gently. The fumes from the copper were very strong, and the front door was always kept opened to let in the air. The doors between the varnish house and the copper apartment were kept shut by order of Steele who said it was safer. Steele was a very careful man, and in every way competent to do the work. - (?) was (Hall) Sissons, member of the firm of Sissons Bros. and Col. stated that he had a practical knowledge of the process of making varnish. Steele was at the head of the department. He was a (?) man, and one who would run no uneccessary risk. No orders were given to him as to having the fire drawn before putting the spirits in the copper, Steele having been with them at the business so many years. He was (?) by his father, who had been in the employ of the firm for about 25 years. - At the the conclusion of the Mr, Sisson’s evidence the coroner remarked that, they had put as far as they could, without the evidence of the men who were in the Infirmary, and therefore he proposed to adjourn until next Thursday, the 22nd instant. By that time there was accordingly adjourned to the time stated, when it will be reopened at the Infirmary. On Wednesday Mr. J. Holden watched the (Inquiry) for the Messrs. Sissons.’

Archived by
the British Library

undefined