Our history

The name ‘Graves’ is well known to anyone familiar with the City of Sheffield. Graves Gallery, Graves Park, and Graves Tennis Centre are some of the better-known gifts to the City which bear the name of the donor. There are several more that do not carry such an obvious indication of their connection to J G Graves including Blacka Moor, Ecclesall Woods, Forge Dam and Whirlow Brook and stretches of parkland and open spaces throughout the City.

John George Graves

John George Graves was born in Lincolnshire in 1865, and grew up in Heckmondwike in West Yorkshire. When he was 15, he moved to Sheffield to take up an apprenticeship with a German watchmaker whose shop was on Gibralter Street in the Shalesmoor area of the city.

At the age of 20, having served his apprenticeship, Graves started his own watch making business in central Sheffield. The business flourished and he soon moved to larger premises in Surrey Street where he was able to expand his business to include jewellery, cutlery and silverware.

Graves’ decision to sell goods by mail order proved pivotal to the development of his business and, through advertising in the national press, it was soon a very successful and profitable activity. He was amongst the first entrepreneurs to embrace the idea of selling goods, most notably watches, on ‘monthly terms’ thus enabling people to have items they could not immediately afford which they continued to pay for over a period of time. The gamble paid off and by 1903, he employed 3,000 people. The range of goods was no longer advertised on the back page of the newspapers but captured in an extensive catalogue.

Into public service

Graves was influenced by his Methodist upbringing and affection for his adopted city. He was interested in politics and was first elected on to the City Council in 1896, at the age of 30. He later went on to serve as Lord Mayor and to be elected Alderman.

In addition to his business and political interests Graves was a keen cyclist and loved the countryside; he enjoyed travelling and became an avid art collector.

Graves gave generously to the City of Sheffield throughout his life; between 1925 and 1935, he established Graves Park, Concord Park and secured the future of Ecclesall Woods. He was greatly enthused by the public ownership of open spaces. He commented of Blacka Moor,

I find much satisfaction in the thought that this splendid piece of natural open countryside, which affords views of moorland scenery unsurpassed in grandeur by any other spot in the neighbourhood of Sheffield, will be kept in its present state, being protected from the encroachment of builders and remaining accessible to all to provide recreation and enjoyment for the benefit of succeeding generations of local people.

There can be little doubt that Graves was one of the Sheffield’s great benefactors.

The JG Graves Charitable Trust

The JG Graves Charitable Trust was established in 1930. Its initial funds derive from shares in JG Graves’ business and this legacy has been carefully nurtured and enhanced over the years by legacies and gains from property transactions.

The Trust was chaired and dominated by Mr Graves until his death in 1945. The work has been carried on by the Trustees since his death under the guidance of succeeding Chairmen.

Today, trustees meet on a quarterly basis and endeavour to uphold the values of the founder by supporting local organisations which benefit the citizens of Sheffield. Periodically the trust is in a position to make more significant contributions to larger projects for the benefit of the citizens of Sheffield. These have included support for the J G Graves of Sheffield Lifeboat (1958), the redesign of Tudor Square (1990), the JG Graves Tennis Centre (1991), the JG Graves Woodland Discovery Centre (2007) and the purchase of Comfort Blanket by Grayson Perry for the City’s art collection in 2016.

In his reminiscences Graves said:

It has seemed to me the most natural thing that I should engage in effort and outlay which has for its object the betterment of the city in which my own lot has been cast, and which I love and understand so well.

Learn about the Trust today