Wheely good news for piece of Sheffield’s industrial history

The Shephers's Wheel at Whiteley Woods which has been restored and is now up and running and open to the public. Engineer Duncan Edwards.
The Shephers's Wheel at Whiteley Woods which has been restored and is now up and running and open to the public. Engineer Duncan Edwards.
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THE wheel is back in motion for a piece of Sheffield’s industrial history.

After months without movement, the water-powered Shepherd’s Wheel is well-oiled and ready to impress visitors to its home in the 16th-century knife grinding workshop at Whiteley Woods.

The site, home one of the earliest recorded water-powered grinding spots in the country, was opened to the public following a three-year restoration project last March.

As part of that, history was brought back to life as the 5.5 metre-high structure, made from cast and wrought iron, elm and oak and bronze, began turning once again.

But engineers were left in a spin when some of the historic bearings which had been deemed usable were beginning to become damaged.

It was then that the council and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust were forced to stop it from moving and call in the specialist team who carried out the original work. Months later the wheel, which represents the humble beginnings of the city’s metal industry, is now back into business to turn grindstones as it would have done centuries ago.

Eddy Foster, technical services manager at Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, said: “Unfortunately once we were running the machinery on a regular basis it became apparent that some of the bearings were wearing rapidly and the vibration of running was damaging the wooden aspects of the drives and mechanisms.

“The council asked trust engineers to help with the replacement of the internal bearings in the main hull but we had to get IJP Millwrights back to change the outer bearing on the water wheel shaft.

“The water wheel and the small grinding hull are both in running order now and the main hull have been re-connected.”

The project to restore was a joint partnership between the Friends of Porter Valley and Sheffield Council and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Structure dates back to late 16th century

* The earliest recording of the wheel is from 1584, when William Beighton, a cutler of Stumperlowe left ‘Potar Wheele’ to his sons in his will.

* A Mr Shepherd is recorded as holding the tenancy of the workshop in 1794

* Water from a large dam on the River Porter was used to power the wheel, which then turned grinders for workers to craft tools

* Throughout the 19th century the wheel was held by the Hinde family, who operated it until its closure in 1930

* The land remained with the Dukes of Norfolk until 1900, when Sheffield Council bought Whiteley Woods to make a public park

* The workshop first opened as a museum in 1962 but closed in 1997