The Swallow Wheel marker post is located below the mill dam wall, where the grinding hull used to be. Photo: Sue Shaw, May 2016.
The Swallow Wheel marker post is located below the mill dam wall, where the grinding hull used to be. Photo: Sue Shaw, May 2016.

Introduction

Dating from at least 1692, Swallow Wheel appears to have been used continually for grinding cutlery and razors until it fell into ruins in the early 20th century.

The weir is in poor condition. There is water in the mill dam, but it is shallow and heavily shaded with trees. The remains of the wheel pit, the line of the buildings and parts of the stone floor are partially visible amongst the encroaching vegetation.

History (C. 1690s–1900s)

Also known as: Lockwood Wheel.

Main trades: Cutlery and razor grinding.

A small grindstone, found nearby in the river, is set into the bank next to the main overflow of the Swallow mill dam. Photo: Sue Shaw, September 2011
A small grindstone, found nearby in the river, is set into the bank next to the main overflow of the Swallow mill dam. Photo: Sue Shaw, September 2011

Swallow Wheel dates from at least 1692, at which time Hugh Lockwood paid a rent of £1. It was occupied by Joseph Swallow (a cutler from Stannington) in 1699. In 1745 there were four trows. Nathan Dixon held the lease in trust for the Swallow children in 1766; by this time the rent had increased to £4 and the mill to five trows.

Drawing of Swallow Wheel in about 1860, by Mr A. Chattle. Courtesy of M. Chattle.
Drawing of Swallow Wheel in about 1860, by Mr A. Chattle. Courtesy of M. Chattle.

There were further increases over the next few decades such that by 1794 records showed 13 trows employing 18 men and around 1814 there were ten cutlers’ trows and four razor trows. The wheel pit had a fall of some 16 ft 4 in (c. 5 m) at this time and in 1858 the waterwheel was noted as being 12 ft in diameter by 7 ft 5 in wide (c. 3.6 m x 2.3 m). The Wheel was in ruins by 1905. The drawing below shows the mill building in the late 19th century.

Members of the RVCG Task Team fixing the new gate to the main overflow at Swallow Wheel in 2002. Photo: Keith Kendall 2002.
Members of the RVCG Task Team fixing the new gate to the main overflow at Swallow Wheel in 2002. Photo: Keith Kendall 2002.

In 1936 the Swallow mill dam was recorded as “empty and grass grown”, but it was apparently reflooded by local anglers in the 1940s. In 2002, the RVCG cleared vegetation at the upstream end of the dam and dug out three large ponds, after which water was re-introduced via a modern shuttle gate.

What's there now?

Situated on a bend in the river just upstream of the Swallow mill dam, the curved weir is built of large pitched stones, now in fairly poor condition other than at the northern end. A modern shuttle gate controls water flow into the head goit – look out for the iron staples linking the lintel stones.

The Swallow mill dam still holds water but is heavily shaded with trees. The main overflow was rebuilt in 2002 (see photo on History page). Grooves for washboards (used to raise the water level) can be seen in the stonework on either side of the overflow. A second overflow, near the tail end of the Swallow mill dam, has a grill – this was built in the 1990s to help keep water moving through the mill dam. Water falls from the second overflow into a culvert under the path and then into the river.

The wheel pit and the line of the buildings can be made out amongst the vegetation; part of the stone floor is still in place and can be seen if not flooded.

A stone arch over the tail goit culvert (seen in the Chattle drawing – History page, and on the Wildlife page) is still in good repair and was reclaimed from the undergrowth by the RVCG in 2012. Old maps show that the long tail-goit originally joined the head goit of Plonk Wheel. Parts of the goit can still be seen alongside the footpath, with water finding its way across the path into the river in places. Some stones from the tail goit were apparently used to build the footpath for the nature trail in the 1960s.

Nature and wildlife at Swallow Wheel

The mill dam still holds water and is a wildlife haven, despite being quite silted and heavily shaded. Some trees, such as Alder and Willow, grow in the water – a legacy of when the dam was more leaky. There is a small patch of Reedmace (Bulrush) near the far bank.

Ferns grow in the damp stonework, and in spring the white flowers of Wood Sorrel can be seen on the bank of the dam wall here and Golden Saxifrage beside the tail goit. Bluebells, Birch, Oak and Whitebeam grow on the slope above the dam opposite the overflow.

Stand on the bank for a few minutes and see how many birds you can identify – this is one of the best places in the valley for seeing a Kingfisher.

Upstream of the Swallow weir, Bluebells grow on the bank to the north of the path. High up on this steep bank, on the east side of the footpath that climbs up to the road, there is a coal seam about 15 inches thick, but it is now obscured by vegetation. The landslip down the bank here was caused by a tree growing high up on the cliff, which was blown over in gales.

Location