SK3281 : Sheffield : River Sheaf

taken 10 years ago, near to Beauchief, Sheffield, Great Britain

Sheffield : River Sheaf
Sheffield : River Sheaf
The waters which form the River Sheaf rise as a series of streams on a ridge of gritstone over 6 miles (9.7 km) to the south west of Sheffield city centre. Blacka Dike, Needhams Dike and Redcar Brook combine to form Old Hay Brook, while Totley Brook is joined by Rodmoor Brook, and itself joins Old Hay Brook, after which the combined flow forms the Sheaf. Immediately below the confluence, the river is crossed by a railway, the Hope Valley Line, which then joins the Midland Main Line, and both cross back over to reach Dore and Totley Station, which was built on the site of Walk Mill in 1872. The river shares its valley with the railway, and there are a further five crossings before both reach Sheffield Station.

From the junction of Redcar Brook and Old Hay Brook to the city centre, the river descends by around 400 feet (120 m), and this fall has resulted in it being harnessed to provide water power for a number of industries from at least the 16th century.

The river valley is broad, cutting through the underlying coal measures with their sandstones and clays, and the location of harder rock has been a major factor in where weirs and dams, a local word for the ponds used to hold water, have been located. There are some 28 sites which have well documented and long standing mills associated with them, and a further seven were located on some of the smaller tributaries, or were more transitory.

The Sheaf supplied a greater variety of industry than the other Sheffield rivers, partly because of its close proximity to Derbyshire, with its mineral reserves of lead. The lead ore was brought to the area around Dore, Totley and Norton, which were then in Derbyshire. There were at least ten mills where the ore was smelted in ore hearths, which used kiln-dried wood to produce heat, and water powered bellows to produce the temperatures required. As well as the lead smelting mills, there were a variety of corn and paper mills along the river, some of which were adapted in the 18th century to serve the metal trades as they grew and expanded.

Walk Mill was one of the earliest known mills on the Sheaf, having been built around 1280 by the Canons of Beauchief Abbey as a fulling mill. After the abbey was dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII, it was used as a cutlers wheel. By 1746 John Tyzack was using it for grinding scythes. In 1797 Thomas Biggin was making knives for cutting hay and straw, and it was being used as a sickle mill in 1805. After a brief spell as a paper mill around 1826, it was occupied by Thomas Tyzack and Sons, who made saws. The site was sold to the Midland Railway by the Duke of Devonshire in 1871 for the construction of Dore and Totley Station, and the last mill buildings were taken down in 1890.

Below Walk Mill, Limb Brook flows in from the west. Whirlow Wheel was situated on the brook, and was used for milling corn between 1586 and 1803, when a grinding wheel was added. With the building decaying, the site was sold to Sheffield City Council in 1935. The roof of the building collapsed in 2006, but although there were calls to demolish it, the Friends of Whirlow Wheel campaigned for it to be retained until a use could be found for the site.

Abbeydale Works, now Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, was located just below Limb Brook and powered by two water wheels. In 1855, these were supplemented by a steam engine, but the site declined after 1900. It was given to Sheffield City Council in 1935 as an industrial museum, and only an active campaign by members of a local history group prevented its demolition. Restoration eventually began in 1964, and it was opened as a museum in 1970.

Abbey Brook then joins the river from the east, below which the river is bordered by Millhouses Park. In order to reduce flooding and pollution of the river when the sewerage system is overloaded by heavy rainfall, Yorkshire Water excavated the park in 2004 to construct a tank capable of holding 10,000 cubic metres (350,000 cu ft) of storm water. The decision to build a tank, rather than a vertical shaft, was made after test boreholes found hard rock and high groundwater pressure in the area. The project cost 7.5 million, and included three more conventional shafts further down the river, which provide an additional 3,175 cubic metres (112,100 cu ft) of storage.

Little London Wheel was used for the cutlery trade from the earliest known records in 1720. By 1814 it was described as a grinding and plating forge, and was later used for the production of scythes. When the railway was constructed, it crossed part of the dam, which was reduced in size by 12 per cent. By 1912 the water wheels had been modernised and there were two tilt hammers in operation. The owners moved their scythe production from Abbeydale Works to Little London in 1935, and the tilt hammers continued to be water-powered until the mid 1950s. Some of the equipment was dismantled in the 1970s and taken to Beamish Museum, in Durham, to be restored.

The next tributary is Meers Brook, culverted for its last section under the suburban buildings of Meersbrook. Just below the junction is Heeley Station, built on the site of Heeley Wheel. The mill was demolished and the river was diverted by the railway company. Other sections of the river were also re-aligned in the 1860s to make way for the railway, and the weir at the site of Cooper Wheel, which can be seen from Havelock Bridge, was probably built by the Midland Railway, as its orientation changed around that time.

From Granville Square to the River Don, the river is almost entirely in culverts. The Midland Railway bought the water rights to allow them to build their station over the river. The site of Pond Tilt is now occupied by the station forecourt, and the goods yard covered its dam. The owners of Pond Forge vacated their site soon after the station was built, but attempted to get compensation for loss of water power as a result of the work.

At Granville Square, a large screen prevents debris from entering the culverts. Serious flooding in 1990 led to the construction of the first screen, and it was refurbished in 2010, so that it can be continuously monitored by the Environment Agency. The river continues below ground to the edge of the station, where it is joined underground by Porter Brook, which emerges from its own culvert to flow beside the station car park before passing under the station from the west. The river surfaces briefly by Pond Hill, before passing beneath Ponds Forge. It flows through a huge cavern before joining the River Don beside Blonk Street Bridge, named after Benjamin Blonk, who was the tenant of Castle Orchards Wheel from the 1750s to the 1770s.

The river has been polluted upstream through centuries of industrial activity, including iron and steel working, and is only slowly recovering. A Sheaf Valley Walk is being developed that will follow the river from Granville Square out to Millhouses Park and beyond to the Peak District.

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Grid Square
SK3281, 259 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Sunday, 10 April, 2011   (more nearby)
Friday, 15 April, 2011
River   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SK 325 819 [100m precision]
WGS84: 53:20.0023N 1:30.7247W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SK 326 820
View Direction
Southwest (about 225 degrees)
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