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 knives and razors, the first recorded use being in 1742. The building was disused and still in good condition in 1936, but subsequently demolished, so now only a few remains of the building, wheel pit and the wheel spindle, together with the weir and mill dam, can still be seen. 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 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).
An auction notice of 1858 described the site as “situate on one of the best streams in the neighbourhood for water power …. There are at present two Saw Troughs, one Glazier and five Table Troughs …”.
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.
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 a 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. A painting by Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre [Rivelin Artists] shows the interior of Holme Head Wheel and gives an excellent insight into the working conditions at this site.
Across the river from Holme Head there is an area that was 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!
What's there now?
A few remains of the building, pentrough, wheel pit and the wheel spindle can still be seen. The mill dam is quite large and mostly overgrown, although still holds water. The overflow is near 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. The water from the overflow is culverted beneath the path and flows into the river through a small stone arch.
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.
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 tail goit runs in a culvert beneath the path before emerging into the river about 75 m downstream, just above the modern stepping stones, initially separated from the river by edge-set slabs joined by wrought-iron straps. 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.
Just above the Holme Head weir can be seen the Crosspool Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) – after heavy rainfall, water can sometimes be seen flowing out of this. In 2019, records show that 126 instances and over 1,664 hours of flow were recorded at this location.
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 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 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 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 and the Roscoe stepping stones, look out for an old tree stump on which grow several large fungal fruiting-bodies (brackets) – the top of the stump and a large bracket fungus were knocked off in a storm in 2014.
Art at Holme Head Wheel
This painting by the British 19th Century painter Joseph Wrightson MacIntyre gives an insight into working conditions in a grinding workshop in the mid-19th century, although perhaps looking cleaner than in reality! Two grinders are hunched over their grindstones, whilst others seem to be taking a break by the fire, and another greets children at the door.
Holme Head Wheel is situated on the south-east side of the river, between Glen Bridge (at the “S”-bend on Rivelin Valley Road) and Roscoe Bridge. The site is owned by Sheffield City Council and there is open access. A public footpath passes the site and can be easily accessed from Rivelin Valley Road.
A marker post installed at the site by Rivelin Valley Conservation Group gives a brief history and links to this website.
OS map grid reference: SK 3154 8803
Nearest postcode: S6 5PN