TitleFairbank Collection
AdminHistoryIt is probable that the requirements of the Fairbank's practice rather than deliberate purpose led the four generations of the family to preserve the records of their work first begun by William Fairbank about 1739. They were engaged in surveying at a time when Sheffield was evolving from a small town to a great industrial centre, and were the only such firm whose work has survived in any quantity. It is doubtful whether there is a similar collection, in size and character, in existence. Good fortune has attended these records throughout; from the care of two interested successors of the Fairbanks, they came into the possession of a book lover and student of archaeology in Mr R D Bennett, who, realising their value, gave them to the City Library.

The work of classifying and cataloguing so large a collection of diverse material presented some difficulties. Apart from the arrangement of the 4,650 plans of various sizes, a notation had to be devised which would preserve topographical order and be at the same time mnemonic and progressive. Before any final cataloguing could be carried out, the plans had to be collated with the field books and, wherever possible, with the other records.

The Fairbank Collection is an excellent source for many types of research: local history, topography, transport, history of surveying and family history; the archives reveal the appearance of Sheffield as it was nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, and shows the changes which destroyed one by one the ancient landmarks of Hallamshire during a century of rapid growth.

Summary Description

The Fairbank Collection consists of the plans and business papers of the Fairbank family, who practised as surveyors in Sheffield from about 1736 to 1848. The majority of the plans are the work of the second William Fairbank, his sons William and Josiah, and Josiah's son, William Fairbank Fairbank. In their capacity of surveyors they were actively concerned in local enclosures, railways, canals, roads and waterworks. Their business extended beyond Sheffield to cover South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire and even Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire.
The following are the main classes of documents involved:

Surveyors' Work:

Maps and plans (4,650), of which 2,263 are of places in the parish of Sheffield.

" Field books (311) being the notebooks in which the surveyor's original notes and sketches were made; supplementary to the plans.

" Building books (68), 1765-1800, running parallel to the field books during the period when the firm engaged in building work on a considerable scale. Survey (miscellaneous) books (546): these contain numerical and other surveys, which form the key to the plans, and were taken particularly in connection with enclosure, tithe commutation and canal and railway development. The series includes Josiah Fairbank's records as agent for the Crown manor of Eckington, with rentals, 1736-1737, and court rolls, 1793-1804.

" Plans: Collieries at Parkgate (1769), Sheffield, Wibsey and north Derbyshire, late 18th century (photocopies of originals in private custody)

" Surveys: Mills on River Don above Oughtibridge 1824

" Letters: and papers re rail and road transport c1820-1840s

Firm's Business and Family Business records:

" Account books (33), 1753-1830. (The early books contain accounts of the school kept by the first William Fairbank).

" Work diaries (26), 1814-1841; relate to apprentices' work.

" Notebooks (44), 1780-1847 (miscellaneous).

" Letters and papers (50 large packets).

" Sheffield and Glossop Turnpike Trust records, 1818-1874, practically in their entirety.

" Deeds, etc. (56), relating to the Fairbank family or persons for whom one of the Fairbanks was executor (Hawke, Hirst, Parkin and others); also apprentices' indentures to the Fairbank firm. 1706-1783.

The Fairbanks

"It was . . . during the century between 1750 and 1850 that the modern England, with whose features we are familiar, came into being"; and with modern England, modern Sheffield. The activities of the Fairbanks cover this vital period almost exactly; the earliest plan in the collection is dated 1739, and the latest, 1850. The first William Fairbank (c. 1688-1759) was a schoolmaster, of the Quaker faith, who undertook surveying and legal work; only a few examples of his plans, dated from 1739-1749 remain. They show stretches of pasture where Silver Street runs down to West Bar. His son William (c. 1730-1801) made a large percentage of the existing plans; and it is clear from many other sources of local information that he did more work even than can be inferred from the collection. His two sons, William (c. 1771-1846) and Josiah (1778-1844) carried on the business for some time as W & J Fairbank. Prior to 1833 the partnership was dissolved, and about that year Josiah took his son William Fairbank Fairbank (1805-1848) into partnership. They worked as Josiah Fairbank & Son until the death of Josiah in 1844; and on the death of the son four years later, the firm was wound up. Parts of their records were bought by clients ; the remainder, which forms the present collection, was bought by Marcus Smith of Sheffield, a surveyor. His widow, Sarah Smith, presented the collection to her nephew Alfred Smith Denton of Raisin Hall, and after his death it passed to his son Arthur Smith Denton, from whom it was purchased by Mr R D Bennett.

The Fairbanks were mainly employed in the surveying of estates and townships in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and of property in the town of Sheffield; but their work extended at times to the counties of Nottingham, Stafford and Lincoln, and even further afield. The second William Fairbank was a surveyor of considerable standing; his quiet and steady industry is amply illustrated by the numerous examples of his work remaining in the collection. He was the surveyor of many turnpike roads, mostly in Derbyshire; and several important Yorkshire and Derbyshire roads were undertaken by his son and grandson. The spread of railways offered them further opportunities; the plans for many lines, some of which were carried out and others abandoned, are the work of Josiah Fairbank and his son William Fairbank Fairbank. In the nervous and hurried atmosphere of the early years of the nineteenth century, these two energetic surveyors undertook more work than they could easily encompass; and the excitement and sudden collapse of the railway boom of the 1840s was clearly the cause of their ill-health and comparatively early deaths.

If they had no other cause for local celebrity, the Fairbanks would always be remembered for the sake of their three beautiful and indispensable maps of Sheffield: The Town of Sheffield, 1771, by William Fairbank; The Parish of Sheffield, 1795, by W Fairbank and Son; and The Town of Sheffield, 1808, by W and J Fairbank.

The Collection

The main group in the collection is the fine series of Field Books and the 4,600 draft plans, mostly of places in north Derbyshire and south Yorkshire, which were made from them.

The Field Books are small paper note books of uniform size, containing measurements for plotting the plans, and (until the last days of the firm, when modern methods had come into use) rough sketches of the fields and buildings, with names and other details. The survival of this almost complete series, with the great majority of the entries dated and described, is particularly fortunate; for many of the plans are undated and as many without titles, and careful search for the corresponding entries in the field books has made it possible to date and identify all but a few.

The science of surveying is comparatively recent; and the plans themselves show an interesting change from early to modern methods. The plans of the first William are small and quaint; the fine pen and ink productions of the second William are generally eked out with pasted-on scraps at the edges to save expensive paper, and are given character by delicate handwriting and rich brown ink; in comparison, Josiah's coloured work, covered with pencil notes, is very modern-looking, and the untidy drafts which bear the thick scrawly writing of William Fairbank Fairbank reflect the haste of the industrial age. Only a few examples of the third William's work remain; they, like his father's, are careful pen and ink drawings.

The appearance of villages and their common fields; early street and field names; sites of coalpits, leadmines, ponds, wells and footpaths; the encroachment of the town on the country, and the names of the first purchasers of building plots: these are examples of the "visible history" recorded in the plans. Of outstanding interest are the large maps of townships, many of them showing pre-enclosure conditions, a list of which is given on page 19.

The section of the collection called Building Books is another relic of the industry of the second William. These books, which are of the same size and appearance as the Field Books, are almost entirely in his handwriting; they contain measurements of buildings for estimating the cost of repair, erection or alteration, and record Sheffield's vanished bricks and mortar as the plans record its vanished fields. They offer information valuable to the student of eighteenth century building, prices, and trade conditions, and to the reader interested in particular Sheffield buildings. In the case of private houses, however, some research or previous knowledge is necessary to identify them.
The remainder of the collection consists of a number of miscellaneous books of all sizes and descriptions, the majority of which are books of reference to plans of large estates, townships, railways and roads; a few account books; and a quantity of correspondence and loose papers of all kinds. All these sections are described in greater detail below.

Their extent is shown by the following summary:-

Plans and Maps
Plans Land 3,699
Engineering 901
Maps 50
Surveyors' Books Field Books 311
Building Books 68
Miscellaneous Books 546
Account Books 33
Note Books 44
Work Diaries 26
Letters and
Papers Loose Papers 6,983
Glossop Road Records 975 7,958
Total Number of Items 13,636

DescriptionDRAFT (2016)

Plans and business papers of the Fairbank Family, who practised as surveyors in Sheffield from about 1743 to 1848. The majority of the plans are the work of the second William Fairbank, his sons William and Josiah, and Josiah's son, William Fairbank Fairbank. The collection also contains a series of Field Books, a quantity of miscellaneous survey and note books, and a mass of loose papers, including the records of the Sheffield and Glossop Turnpike Trust.

Summary Description:

Plans of land, 1743 - 1847 (FC/P/ALF1L - FC/P/YOR1S)
Plans of engineering undertakings, 1750 - 1847 (FC/EBr1S - FC/EWa57L)
Other maps, ### (FC/MAPS)
Field Books, 1752 - 1847 (FC/FB)
Miscellaneous books, 1753 - 1847 (FC/MB)
Note books, 1780 - 1847 (FC/NB)
Daily work diaries, 1814 - 1841 (FC/WD)
Building books, 1765 - 1815 (FC/BB)
Correspondence and papers, 1770 - 1848 (FC/CP)
Sheffield and Glossop Turnpike Trust, 1817 - 1875 (FC/CPG)
Parliamentary Publications, [19th cent] (FC/PP)
Deeds etc, 1706 - 1823 (FC/D)

Note re measurement:

1 square pole or perch = 30.25 square yards

40 square poles or perches = 1 rood (1/4 acre)

4 roods = 1 acre (4840 square yards)

22 yards = 1 chain

10 chains = 1 furlong

8 furlongs = 1 mile

1 linear rod/pole/perch = 5.5 yards/16.5 feet (standard measure)

1 perch = ΒΌ of a chain

1 link = 1/100th of a chain (i.e. approx 8 inches)


CustodialHistoryThis collection was donated to Sheffield City Council in July 1932.
ArchNoteIndex cards typed up by Clea Carroll and Alison Darby; catalogue prepared by Cheryl Bailey, 2012 - 2016 (editing ongoing, May 2019)
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