Wheel of history is turning once again

Shepherd Wheel
Shepherd Wheel
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SHEPHERD Wheel in the Porter Valley has rolled again for the first time in 16 years.

A reminder of Sheffield’s industrial history dating back to the 1600s, it has been repaired and given a test run as a community campaign to see it back in action for the benefit of schools and other visitors nears its end.

The Friends of the Porter Valley, who have been working on the project with the council, are aiming to see the wheel and its two grinding workshops open to the public again early next year.

The building at the bottom of Bingham Park will be run by Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, which already operates Kelham Island Museum and Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.

Experts and volunteers will explain the history and how knives, scythes and scissors were made next to the River Porter. The building still contains complete sets of machinery for cutlery production.

Now that repairs have been carried out to the wheel and machinery and the dam has been rebuilt, an education centre and toilets are next to be built.

Teams from SIMT, Friends of the Porter Valley, the council and York Archaeology Trust are designing education and visitor programmes and there will be a celebratory opening. Before then, the Friends will hold a volunteer clean-up day clearing the scrub along the dam path.

“I am afraid the wheel is not going to turn again for several weeks because the reconstruction work has turned the mill into something of a building site again,” said Ann le Sage, who chairs the Friends. “But it will certainly turn again in 2012.”

Shepherd Wheel is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and the city’s only remaining example of the early small-scale industry that was prevalent in the 1600s and 1700s.

It ceased commercial operation in the 1930s. A restoration project in the 1960s allowed it to open to the public at weekends but eventually the council ran out of money and the condition of the whole complex began to deteriorate.

Restoration is on the back of £500,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with another £500,000 being raised by the Friends through fundraising and grants.

“We are very grateful to the people who have given us money,” said Ann. “There are people who have admired this place for years, but have not seen it function for at least 20 years. It is such a neat collection of small workshops and so evocative of a past age.

“It is so intimate you can imagine the grinders working here and dying in miserable circumstances at an early age. It’s a history that is fascinating for children.”