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Upper Porter Valley in Sheffield – Source Related Study Essay Sample

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Upper Porter Valley in Sheffield – Source Related Study Essay Sample

Introduction

On Tuesday 10th June 2003 and Wednesday 18th June 2003 I visited the upper Porter Valley in Sheffield. The purpose of these visits was to give me an understanding and provide evidence to aid me in answering the following questions.

a) Would your visit to Shepherd Wheel give you enough evidence to support what is said in Sources A, B and C?

b) Consider all the sites you have visited to help you answer the following question

b) i) How useful are the various sites in the Upper Porter Valley for learning about water powered sites and the cutlery industry before 1850?

b) ii) Is there sufficient evidence in the valley to provide a good understanding of Porter Valley’s water powered sites and cutlery making industry?

a) Would your visit to Shepherd Wheel give you enough evidence to support what is said in Sources A, B and C?

Source A – The heyday of the water mill in Sheffield was in the late 1700s when the streams were often so crowded that the tail goit of one mill fed the dam of the next.

The Forge and the Wheel – J G Timmins

Source A says that “the heyday of the water mill in Sheffield was in the late 1700s”. At Shepherd Wheel there is little evidence to support this claim. Though a small, modern plaque outside the workshop says that a Mr. Shepherd employed 10 men to work for him in 1794. This can be seen in figure 1. These ten men reportedly worked for Mr. Shepherd in the larger, grinding workshop (hull).

Figure 1 – Plaque suggesting that there were 10 men employed in 1794 (bottom two lines)

Source A also says, “streams were often so crowded that the tail goit of one mill fed the dam of the next”. I believe that my visit to Shepherd Wheel gave me evidence to agree with this statement. Although the tail goit of one dam doesn’t feed the head goit of the next dam directly, the gap is only a matter of metres and in the space of the three dams (Leather Wheel, Shepherd Wheel and Ibbotson Wheel) there is not room for any others. For example the tail goit of Leather Wheel Dam enters the River Porter but almost immediately is fed into a weir by a buttress. The water then is diverted by the weir into the head goit at Shepherd Wheel. Figure 2 below shows this.

Figure 2 – Tail goit of Leather Wheel Dam into the head goit at Shepherd Wheel.

Figure 3 shows the whole of the Porter Valley, yet a visit to Shepherd Wheel wouldn’t be able to tell you this. The picture still only shows you the mills on the River Porter and not the whole of Sheffield.

Figure 3 – The mills in the Porter Valley

Source B – The inhalation of the dust of the stone and steel is so pernicious, that the life of a dry grinder scarcely averages above 35 years, while that of the wet grinder is seldom prolonged to more than 45 years. The bent posture and pressure on the stomach probably aggravate the evil.

There are many accidents from stones breaking and catching the grinders. Often broken legs are a result and sometimes an early death.

Symonds 1842

A guide at Shepherd Wheel told us that when the two hulls at Shepherd Wheel were fully operational large clouds of dust would form. We were also shown pieces of “swarf”. Swarf is a mixture of small pieces of metal, dust and water. Over time the mixture would solidify into a rock like substance.

We found no evidence of the average life expectancy of the grinders at Shepherd Wheel, but a newspaper article tells of a man who died at 56. This is 11 years older than the average life expectancy of a wet grinder. This person didn’t die from dust inhalation but from a grindstone accident. Figure 5 shows this. The bent posture shown in figure 4 is said to have been “painful even after a day”. Figure 4 shows how a grinder would sit. The position looks as though it would damage the lower back and coccyx.

Figure 4 – The posture of a grinder

The newspaper article in figure 5 tells us of an accident in which a man died. It tells us of how a piece of the grindstone broke of and hit him in the head. The piece of steel that he was grinding flew up and hit him in the chest.

Figure 5 – Newspaper article about a grindstone accident at Shepherd Wheel

The newspaper article is the only piece of evidence that there was at Shepherd Wheel regarding grindstone accidents. This could mean that the only accident at Shepherd Wheel was the one stated in figure 5. But if this happened at Shepherd Wheel it could have happened at least once at other mills in Sheffield. But we can only presume this. Inside the two hulls at Shepherd Wheel we could see many broken grindstones. This does not necessarily mean that these stones broke while in use and does not mean that other people died.

Source C – When it was realised how serious phthisis (grinders’ asthma) had become, a number of attempts were made to find ways of controlling the dust. One device was nicknamed the Fannie. It consisted of a box fitted with a long wooden chimney which was placed above the grindhouse. The chimney had a fan built into it to carry away the dust. When it was used, this apparatus worked well, but it was fairly expensive to install and the grinders complained that the box interfered with their work. Consequently, few wheel owners bothered to purchase the Fannies and until grinding wheels were covered by the Factory Acts (of 1867), there was nothing to compel them to do so.

The Forge and the Wheel – J G Timmins

At Shepherd Wheel we saw what could have been an extractor fan but we cannot be sure of this. We also have no evidence saying that if there was an extractor fan whether it was expensive or if it worked well. If there was an extractor fan we cannot be sure whether it was used all of the time. Extractor fans used power from the wheel, this meant that less power was going to the grindstone. With less power at the grindstone work would take longer and less work could be done meaning that less money could be made from selling the blades. If there was no extractor fan the wide entrance door would let some of the dust out. The door is shown in figure 6. The windows did not have glass inside them which would also let dust out.

Figure 6 – The wide entrance door to the main hull at Shepherd Wheel

Conclusion

Shepherd Wheel gives us some reliable evidence to support some elements of sources A, B and C. Although the information may be reliable it does not give us a very accurate picture of what mills were like in the whole of Sheffield. This is because Shepherd Wheel is one of 136 mills in Sheffield. So we cannot presume that every mill in Sheffield was the same as Shepherd Wheel. For example some mills may have had more evidence of an extractor fan or grindstone accidents.

b) Consider all the sites you have visited to help you answer the following question

“A visit to the Upper Porter Valley is a useful way to learn about water power and the cutlery industry in the early nineteenth century”

b) i) How useful are the various sites in the Upper Porter Valley for learning about water-powered sites and the cutlery industry before 1850?

The five sites that we visited from the bottom toward the top of the valley were: –

* Ibbotson Wheel

* Shepherd Wheel

* Leather Wheel

* Wire Mill

* Old Forge (Forge Dam)

Some of the above sites were more useful than others for learning about waterpower and the cutlery industry. Some of the sites give us very little information due to lack of maintenance and erosion.

At Ibbotson Wheel we can see a weir, which can be seen in figure 7, a sluice gate, head goit, dam, overflow and tail goit. We cannot see any evidence of the cutlery industry and there are no buildings in which grinding could take place. We can also see no wheel.

Figure 7 – A weir

Shepherd Wheel shows us good evidence of a water powered site. There is a weir, which can be seen in figure 7, a sluice gate, head goit, dam, overflow, a hull controlled pentrough, which can be seen in figure 8, a wheel with an overshot system and tail goit. Shepherd Wheel shows us almost everything that we need for learning about waterpower apart from the wheel actually working. The two workshops (hulls) show how the cutlery industry worked. We can see grindstones, tools and knives. Figure 9 shows inside the main hull. In the smaller hull you can see the wheel used for glazing, again though it does not work. Overall Shepherd Wheel is a good site to look at to understand grinding and glazing. This is because it is a restored museum. It does not give a good understanding of other stages like putting handles on cutlery.

Figure 8 – A hull controlled pentrough

Figure 9 – Inside the main hull at Shepherd Wheel

At Leather Wheel there is very little evidence. Where there was once likely to be a dam has now silted over and is now replaced by trees. There are no remaining buildings at Leather Wheel this is due to lack of maintenance. At Leather Wheel there is a weir, which can be seen in figure 7, sluice gate, head goit and tail goit. There is no proof of any cutlery industry due to no buildings. The only evidence that we can gather of any cutlery making is the name Leather Wheel. A leather wheel was used for glazing cutlery, which suggests this may have taken place.

At Wire Mill there is some evidence. We can see two sluice gates, a head goit, dam and overflow channel. The dam is about 40 feet above the river so we can presume that there was once a large wheel. The heat goit is half a mile long and one of the longest in Europe. Next to the dam is a cottage named “Boulsover Cottage”. Thomas Boulsover was the inventor of Sheffield Plate; this was a cheap form of silver plating items. There is also a monument to Thomas Boulsover which was built from the bricks of an old mill. This leads me to believe that the Wire Mill area had something to do with the cutlery industry.

At Old Forge or Forge Dam as it is also known, there is a large grass area that I believe was once a dam. The area has all the characteristics of a dam, it was dam shaped and raised above the river. But to be certain of this we would need to look at old maps. At Forge Dam there is no head goit, but instead just a river running through the dam. This is a very unusual characteristic. This is useful as it suggests that more power was needed. The extra power would most likely have been used for forging as the name of the dam suggests too. At Forge Dam we cannot see a wheel but we can see a stone wheel arch. Which leads me to believe that once there was a wheel at this site. Where there is now a cafe situated is where the original hull may have been.

Conclusion

Out of the 5 sites that we visited in the Upper Porter Valley only Shepherd Wheel gives us a good understanding of waterpower and the cutlery industry. The reason for this is that Shepherd Wheel is a restored museum. To get a better understanding we had to visit more sites. Also to get a better picture of the Upper Porter Valley before 1850 we would need maps and more background knowledge.

b) Consider all the sites you have visited to help you answer the following question

“A visit to the Upper Porter Valley is a useful way to learn about water power and the cutlery industry in the early nineteenth century”

b) ii) Is there sufficient evidence in the valley to provide a good understanding of Porter Valley’s water-powered sites and Cutlery making industry?

On my visit to the Upper Porter Valley I visited only 5 out of the 19 mills on the Porter. The best site that I visited for a good understanding of waterpower was Shepherd Wheel. At Shepherd Wheel there was evidence of a weir, as shown in figure 10, sluice, dam, hull (workshop) controlled pentrough, as shown in figure 11, overflow channel, overshot wheel and a tail goit. Shepherd Wheel gives us sufficient evidence, as it is a restored museum. The main problem is that the wheel does not work..

Figure 10 – A Weir

Figure 11 – Hull Controlled Pentrough

The other four sites that I visited in the Upper Porter Valley do not give sufficient evidence. At Ibbotson Wheel there is no wheel, yet there is a weir, sluice gate, head goit, dam and tail goit. At Leather Wheel there is no dam as it has silted over, yet there is a weir, sluice gate and tail goit. At Wire Mill we can presume that there was once a 40ft high wheel but there is insufficient evidence to prove that. There is also a half-mile long head goit. This is one of the longest head goits in Europe. Finally at Forge Dam there is no head goit but instead the river flows straight thorough the dam. All of this though is insufficient evidence to support the understanding of water powered sites in the Upper Porter Valley.

There is also insufficient evidence to support a good understanding of the cutlery industry in the Upper Porter Valley. Again perhaps if we had visited more than 5 sites in the Upper Porter Valley we may have gathered a better understanding of the cutlery industry. Shepherd Wheel is the only site that gives us sufficient evidence of the cutlery industry. This is because it is a restored museum. At Shepherd Wheel we can see millstones, blades and knives. This is shown in figure 12.

Figure 12 – Inside the main hull at Shepherd Wheel

We also saw evidence of glazing in the smaller hull at Shepherd Wheel. The problem was that the site was not actually working and we only saw evidence of grinding and glazing and not evidence of other stages of making a blade.

The other 4 sites that I visited insufficient evidence. At Ibbotson Wheel and Leather Wheel there was insufficient evidence although the name Leather Wheel could suggest that glazing took place using a leather wheel. At Wire Mill there are Boulsover Cottages. Thomas Boulsover invented Sheffield Plate which links into cutlery. At Forge Dam there are buildings that could have been used for the cutlery industry, again we cannot be sure of this.

Overall I think that there is a reasonable amount of evidence regarding waterpower. For cutlery there is clearly insufficient evidence and to get a clearer understanding of the cutlery industry more sites would have to be visited on not just the River Porter but the whole of Sheffield.

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