Holme Head Wheel in about 1923; stepping stones made of old grindstones cross the river nearby. Sheffield City Council, Libraries Archives. The current set of stepping stones cross the river just above the Roscoe weir, about 100 m downstream of this location.
Holme Head Wheel in about 1923; stepping stones made of old grindstones cross the river nearby. Sheffield City Council, Libraries Archives. The current set of stepping stones cross the river just above the Roscoe weir, about 100 m downstream of this location.

Introduction

The remains of the Holme Head wheel pit and workshop are some of the best in the valley. The mill dam is quite large and mostly overgrown, although still holds water. It now provides a haven for wildlife.

Holme Head Wheel was mainly used for grinding cutlery and razors. The first recorded use was in 1742 when it was leased to Nicholas Morton & William Shaw. By 1936 it was disused but still in good condition. An archaeological excavation in 2009 found many broken knife blade blanks here.

HISTORY (C. 1740S–C. 1930s)

Main trades: Grinding (mainly knives and razors).

The Rivelin trail passing Holme Head mill dam. Photo: Sue Shaw, May 2015.
The Rivelin trail passing Holme Head mill dam. Photo: Sue Shaw, May 2015.

The first record for this location is for a lease in 1742 to Nicholas Morton & William Shaw. It was subsequently taken over by Spooners and by 1794, Cadman & Co (razor makers) were running 11 trows and employing 15 men. The waterwheel was 11 ft diameter by 8 ft wide (c. 3.4 m x 2.4 m).

Interior of Holme Head Wheel, Rivelin Valley, Sheffield. Painting by Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre; oil on canvas, 1879. Courtesy of Museums Sheffield. This painting gives an excellent insight into working conditions in a grinding workshop in the mid-19th century.
Interior of Holme Head Wheel, Rivelin Valley, Sheffield. Painting by Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre; oil on canvas, 1879. Courtesy of Museums Sheffield. This painting gives an excellent insight into working conditions in a grinding workshop in the mid-19th century.

Holme Head Wheel was unusual in the valley as, together with Mousehole Forge, it did not originally belong to the Manor of Sheffield but to the Manor of Owlerton. By 1905 the site was owned by Sheffield Waterworks Company, who let it to several tenants. It was disused but still in good condition in 1936.

Holme Head Wheel and mill dam in about 1931. Sheffield City Council, Libraries Archives and Information: www.picturesheffield.co.uk Image y00553. Greenhouses can be seen to the left, on the opposite bank of the river, in an area that was once used as a market garden.
Holme Head Wheel and mill dam in about 1931. Sheffield City Council, Libraries Archives and Information: www.picturesheffield.co.uk Image y00553. Greenhouses can be seen to the left, on the opposite bank of the river, in an area that was once used as a market garden.

In July 2009, the University of Sheffield Archaeology Department conducted a survey here and archaeology students excavated the small water-powered grinding workshop. The excavations revealed the concrete floor with grinding trows set into the floor, one of which contained a riveted metal frame and hooks for the chains which secured the wooden seat (known as a horsin) to the floor. Many broken knife blade blanks were found here.

What's there now?

The steep, convex stone weir is deteriorating at the north end. Rusted remains of the capstan & roller of the head goit shuttle mechanism survive. The tail goit from Little London Wheel, now blocked, used to run directly into the head goit of Holme Head alongside the weir. The Holme Head mill dam is quite large and mostly overgrown, although still holds water.

A few remains of the building, pentrough, wheel pit and the wheel spindle can still be seen. A roller survives on the overflow stonework; the water is culverted beneath the path and flows into the river through a small stone arch. The tail goit runs in a culvert beneath the path before emerging into the river just above the modern stepping stones, initially separated from the river by edge-set slabs joined by wrought-iron straps.

The large stones of the overflow can be seen beside the path, near to the wheel pit. Look out for the iron staples holding the top stones together, the low-level drain, slotted side stones and the remains of the roller mechanism for the shuttle gate.

On the nearby river-bank look for some broken stone steps leading down to the river – these mark the location of stepping stones that used to cross the river here. These were replaced by the stepping stones downstream (just above Roscoe weir), put in when the path on the river bank opposite became eroded in the 1970s.

Along the side of the river about 75 m downstream of the Holme Head Wheel area, there is a row of edge-set stone slabs, joined by wrought-iron straps, which mark the end of the tail goit. As the wheel pit was lower than the river, this arrangement was needed to equalise the water levels and prevent water backing up the channel when river levels were high; a similar line of stonework can be seen at Hollins Bridge Mill and Third Coppice Wheel.

Nature and wildlife at Holme Head Wheel

The Holme Head mill dam is quite large but mostly overgrown, although still holding enough water to create a wetland habitat for amphibians and the more secretive birds like the Willow Tit. In 1934 the dam was reported to be nearly filled with Horsetails and as a result of further silting and drying it has now been largely succeeded by other vegetation including Brooklime, Forget-me-not, Great Hairy Willow Herb, Iris, Nettle, Reedmace (Bulrush) and some trees (mainly Alder and Willow).

The rust-coloured stain at the upstream end of the dam is a result of water draining from the iron-rich mineral deposits in the Hagg Hill & Crosspool hillsides coming into contact with the air. The plants growing here include Creeping Buttercup, Horsetail, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Soft Rush, Wavy Bitter-cress and Wood Sedge.

The damp walls of the wheel pit and dam wall provide an ideal habitat for ferns such as Hart’s Tongue fern and liverworts such as the Great Scented Liverwort. Look out for the white flowers of Greater Stitchwort on the river bank here in spring.

The river bank opposite the mill dam wall is a good place to watch for Wrens darting about in the walls or undergrowth.

On the south side of the path near the end of the Holme Head tail goit, there is an old tree stump on which grow several large fungal fruiting-bodies (brackets) – the top of the stump and a large bracket were knocked off in a storm in 2014.

On the north side of the river here is an area once used as a market garden. A German bomb fell here during the ‘Sheffield Blitz’ on 12th December 1940 – this is said to have blown out all the windows in the greenhouses on the nearby allotments!

Location