Reopening oils the wheels of city’s steel heritage

Opening of Shepherd Wheel 12/5/12
Opening of Shepherd Wheel 12/5/12

a THREE-year restoration project was declared a resounding success as crowds gathered to celebrate the relaunch of the historic Shepherd Wheel.

Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg performed the official re-opening ceremony, watched by VIP guests including Lord Mayor Dr Sylvia Dunkley and Master Cutler Pam Liversidge.

He said: “Shepherd Wheel is a vital part of Sheffield’s industrial heritage. Therefore I’m delighted to officially re-open the wheel so that Sheffielders can see and enjoy this important bit of Sheffield history being brought back to life.”

The Porter Brook wheel, with its two adjoining hulls, is one of the earliest recorded water-powered grinding workshops in the country. It represents the small-scale rural beginnings of the internationally-renowned Sheffield metal industry.

The campaign for its conservation was masterminded by the Friends of the Porter Valley, who also helped to restore the mill pond, buildings and machinery.

The project was a partnership between the Friends, the council and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, funded from a number of sources, including £500,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Saturday’s ceremony was the highlight of an open day which gave the local community a chance to see work carried out as part of the Porter Valley conservation project and experience the result in action.

It was a colourful affair, with presentations by costumed members of Sheffield University Drama Society and Sheffield Young Singers Choir.

But the focal point was the newly-restored wheel which turned the grindstones as it would have done centuries ago.

Local co-operative, Regather, brought to life the roots of Sheffield’s steel heritage with a demonstration of early iron smelting, knife making and grinding – powered by water alone, as the industry was before the Industrial Revolution.

A knife produced during the day was presented to the Friends group.

Chair Ann Le Sage said: “This is a very special gift. No one could have forseen a few years ago how life-enhancing our Porter Valley activities would become. This is a lovely present for us, a real memento of the Shepherd Wheel open day.”

The Shepherd Wheel has been renovated to full working order and the surrounding area has been landscaped.

The buildings comprise two grinding workshops containing gearing, shafts, drive-belts and grindstones set in stone troughs. The controlling lever-system remains complete.

Schools can now book in on weekdays to see the wheel running and learn about the life of a grinder.

Weekend visitors can drop in, free of charge, and see the grinding wheels in operation, with volunteers on hand to explain its story.