Artists impression of Mousehole Forge in the early 19th century.

Introduction

Mousehole Forge dates back to at least 1628, when there were two lead mills, a farmhouse (part of the present house) and a small cutlery workshop. The lead mills were later converted to an iron forge and by the end of the 18th century Mousehole had become famous throughout the world for producing anvils, one of which can still be seen at Gretna Green. The forge closed in 1933 and fell into ruin until the 1980s, after which restoration work was carried out by the owners. Mousehole Forge is on private land, but some of the forge remains can still be seen from outside the gates. The huge oak log, over 22 ft long by nearly 3 ft in diameter, is the remains of a hammer helve.

History (c. 1620s–1930s)

Main trades: Lead mill (smelting), cutlers’ forge, iron forge (iron bars, vice-legs, sledgehammers, anvils).

The history of Mousehole Forge dates back to at least 1628, when the land was called Turneholme & Leyes Stubbing and there are records of two lead mills (‘smelting houses’). At this time there was a farmhouse (part of the present house) which incorporated a small cutlery workshop. By 1664 the lead mill had been converted into an iron forge. This was included in the national list of ironworks in 1717, at which time the annual production of iron bars amounted to some 60 tons, converted from blast furnace pig-iron.

By the end of the 18th century the forge was producing the anvils for which it became famous throughout the world. It was one of the leading exporters to the USA and hundreds of Mousehole Forge anvils, much sought after by collectors, are still available there. The anvils won much acclaim and were awarded a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. One of the anvils at Gretna Green bears the mark of Mousehole Forge.

View of ruined buildings at Mousehole Forge, now designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. [Photo: Sue Shaw, March 2015]
View of ruined buildings at Mousehole Forge, now designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. [Photo: Sue Shaw, March 2015]

In the early 19th century, three more waterwheels were built, giving a total of four: two breast-shot wheels powering forge hammers, and two overshot wheels powering a furnace-blower and grindstones for finishing anvils. Extra air for the furnaces was supplied via cast-iron pipes from the Grogram Wheel (next downstream) in the mid-19th century, which meant that more water was available at Mousehole to power the hammers and grinding wheel. An artist’s impression of the site at around this time shows the extent of the complex.

Along with vice-legs and sledgehammers, anvils were made using water-powered hammers until 1933, when the forge closed. Parts were demolished in the 1940s and the site fell into ruin until the 1980s, after which some of the best remains of a forge to be seen in the valley were restored by the owners.

The remnants of the former forge complex, along with parts of the surviving timber belly-helve hammer and a puddling furnace, are considered to be of national significance – the site is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SY1284) and the workshop range is also Grade II listed.

The weir, made of stone blocks, is slightly curved and still in good condition. Large stone blocks mark the entry to the short head goit, which now leads into a shallow channel along the bottom of the steep hillslope. The drained mill dam is well wooded. The massive stone blocks that are the remains of the overflow sluice can be seen by the side of the trail – this is a good example of a double-overflow with a central draining hatch . Water from the overflow was culverted beneath the path and out into the river through an arch in the stone-work. The tail goits are culverted under the path and flow into the river through arches in the river wall just above the Grogram weir. There is also said to have been a third, more recent culvert.

During the 1920’s an artist’s colony was based at the Rivelin Corn Mill.

Art at Rivelin Corn Mill

The water power at Mousehole Forge was used to drive furnaces, bellows, tilt-hammers and grindstones, and its anvils and other iron products were exported world-wide until the 1930s. The scale of the industrial settlement, its picturesque collection of industrial buildings and cottages, and its easy access from the tram terminus at Malin Bridge made Mousehole Forge and its dam a favourite subject with the Rivelin Valley Artists. Ben Baines always described this view as one of his “pot-boiler watercolours” and there must be many versions of the scene hanging on walls in Sheffield and beyond.

Mill Dam and Distant Mill, by Ben Baines, 1935

Nature and wildlife at Grogram Wheel

The mill dam at Mousehole was one of the largest in the valley but since the forge closed in the 1930s the mill dam has become well-colonised by trees such as Ash, Alder, Elder, Sycamore, Holly, Hawthorn, Elm and Willow. At the time of writing (2015), there is a large amount of the invasive species Himalayan Balsam here. Look and listen out for birds such as Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Robin, Thrush, Wren and tits including Blue, Great and Long-tailed.

Just above the Mousehole weir (about 300 m upstream from the gates to Mousehole Forge), there is a steep wooded bank on the north-west side of the river. Here there are several large Oaks at the top the bank – a favourite early morning haunt for the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Brambles, ferns, ivy and liverworts grow on the damp rocky outcrop. Watch out for a Kingfisher on this stretch of the river.

Mousehole overflow sluice with wooded mill dam behind. The mill dam has become well-colonised by trees such as Ash, Alder, Elder, Sycamore, Holly, Hawthorn, Elm and Willow. [Photo: Sue Shaw, June 2015]

Location