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The Shepherds Wheel is a 16th century water wheel that is located within a workshop in the Porter Brook Valley, about 2 miles to the west of Sheffield City centre.
During the industrial revolution, Sheffield was the ideal location for water powered workshops and hundreds of different water wheels were constructed along its five rivers. The earliest recorded records of water being used to power industrial machinery anywhere in the world is from the nearby River Don. It is however known that within a decade of this first water wheel on the River Don that there were over fifty different wheels within Sheffield. Many of these were along the Porter Brook Valley and one of these was known as the Shepherds Wheel.
Today the Shepherds Wheel is one of only two places in the City where the general public can see working water wheels, the other example being at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. However, the Shepherds Wheel is now only used occasionally and it no longer serves any commercial purpose. At all other times it is simply on view for the many visitors that come here every week to see it.
It is thought that Shepherds Wheel was one of the earliest water wheels to be constructed along this stretch of the Porter Brook River. The workshop that this wheel is located within was used to grind blades and there would have been ten different men working within this building at the same time. This site is now a Grade 11 listed building and it is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The exact year that the Shepherds Wheel was constructed is not known but a document held in the Sheffield Archives building tells us that during the latter part of the 16th century it was owned by a man called William Beighton, who lived in a cottage at nearby Stumperlowe. William Beighton's Will of 1584, held in the local archives, bequeaths this wheel to his two sons, Thomas and Hugh.
In William Beighton's Will of 1584 this wheel is referred to as the Potta (Porter) Wheel. The name Shepherds Wheel was probably not given until at least 1794 when a Mr Shepherd held the tenancy of this wheel. In the 1820s this wheel passed into the hands of the Hinde Family, who continued to occupy the site until the 1930s.
The Earl of Shrewsbury, who was Lord of the Manor of Sheffield, originally owned the land on which Shepherds Wheel stands. During the time of William Beighton the Lord was a man called Gilbert Talbot. When Gilbert died his land passed to his son in law, Thomas Howard, who later became the Duke of Norfolk. The Duke of Norfolk continued to own this land until 1900, when Sheffield City Council acquired the land. William Beighton and his successors would have paid a rent to the Lord for both Shepherds Wheel and the workshop in which it stands. Records from the Duke of Norfolk s Estate, also held at the Sheffield Archives, from 1637 show that a Mr William Beighton, presumably the grandson of the William who bequeathed the wheel in 1584 paid an annual rent of one pound and two shillings to the Duke.
After the Hinde Family abandoned the site during the 1930s Shepherds Wheel fell into a state of disrepair until Sheffield Council took steps to preserve it and opened the site as a museum in 1962. In 1998 the site was placed under the management of the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.
The men that worked in the workshop would have used the grindstones that were powered by the wheel to sharpen the blades of a variety of different, small, hand held tools, including domestic kitchen knives. Some of the men that worked here would have been employed directly by the owner, whilst others would have just rented time on the wheel. These men would have worked around the clock on various shifts so the workshop would have been continually occupied both day and night. This single function for a workshop is very different to the ones at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, where a single workshop would carry out a variety of different tasks, using different types of machinery powered by the same water wheel.
Shepherds Wheel lies in a rather idyllic setting, beside a crystal clear stream. A stone bridge across this stream from the main footpath leads the visitor directly to the workshop. From the outside there is nothing impressive about this workshop at all, which looks like a stone built building with a series of small, wooden doors. These doors would have lead to the various sections within the workshop but these days only the door on the furthest right hand side of the building is open.
Walking into the workshop the first thing that you notice is that this is actually two different workshops, both powered by a single water wheel at the front of the building. The second thing that you notice is that it is very dark, even with the daylight from the open entrance and when I visited here the upper half of the other stable-style doors were also open. Even with this daylight from outside it still took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. It is also very, very dirty and even though many of the grinding machines here have hardly been used for the last eight decades they smell as if they had only been used yesterday. The dust is so intense that it actually catches the back of your throat so I cannot begin to imagine what the working conditions in here must have been like during its heyday.
In fact there are surviving written accounts that refer to the working conditions here. In 1865 the Childrens Employment Commission interviewed two workers at Shepherds Wheel in its fourth annual report to the Government. The first of these was a man called Benjamin Wildgoose who was 44 years old and had worked at the wheel since he was 9. The second Man was called Samuel Hind who was 54 years old, he had worked there since he was 10 years old. Both of these men describe the dark, dusty conditions in which they worked, often only by candlelight.
The water wheel itself is five and half metres tall and over two metres wide. It is constructed from wrought and cast iron and bronze. Whilst the outer part that catches the water is constructed from oak and elm. This wheel is connected via a simple, but effective series of pulleys and shafts to twenty different grindstones, plus several smaller stones that were used as glazing stones. The grindstones vary in size from almost one metre in diameter to 300mm. Shepherds Wheel had a total pulling capacity of over 22 tonnes.
The water that feeds Shepherds Wheel is fed from a man-made dam that is located just above the workshop. This same dam also once powered a second water wheel known as Ibbotsons Wheel. There is nothing that remains of this wheel today.
Within the workshops there is a large display of some of the typical tools that would have been made here. It has to be said however, that these are arranged somewhat haphazardly and there are no placards telling you what they actually are. Whilst it is obvious what some of these are, others are a little bit more obscure and working out what they are is left to ones imagination.
Due to the age of this building it is not really suitable for disabled visitors and there is no car park close by. The nearest places to park vehicles are on the nearby streets.
Overall I would definitely recommend a visit here and this place is vital to preserve the early history of the industry for future generations. It is also serves as a stark reminder of the working conditions endured by our ancestors. I particularly enjoy visiting here and I have been here several times. I have also seen several of the documents that relate to the Shepherds Wheel at the Sheffield Archives Centre.
Shepherds Wheel is only currently only open to the public on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 10am until 4pm. Entry is free.
Shepherd Wheel is a water powered grinding workshop located in quiet and green surroundings on the River Porter. The site is the earliest industrial building on this stretch of water, with records going back to the sixteenth century. The grinding hull powered by a waterwheel could once house up to ten men grinding blades at the same time. The site is a Grade II listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Shepherd wheel is a working site and has not been developed, therefore it still has rough and uneven surfaces, and many areas are only accessed by steps. The grinding hall has level access, but the route to the water wheel involves steps.