Abbeydale Works was once a producer of agricultural tools and the largest water-powered industrial site on the River Sheaf.
Today, it’s a significant group of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Find out more about its history and the important role it played in the development of Sheffield industry.
Sheffield’s fast flowing streams, together with ready availability of raw materials, resulted in the early development of industry in Sheffield. Water was the main source of power for the early cutlery industry which made the city world famous.
During the heyday of water-powered sites between the 17th and 18th centuries, Sheffield’s rivers supported over 160 mills, many of which continued to operate into the 19th century. They were gradually eclipsed by the steam engine and arrival of the railways, which moved the centre of industry away from the rivers and their rural setting into the town and nearer developing transport routes.
Abbeydale Works was one of the largest water powered sites on the River Sheaf. The main products manufactured here were crown scythes, forged under tilt hammers, and patent riveted scythes, along with agricultural edge tools such as grass hooks and hay knives.
The earliest known records for the site date back to 1713, but it’s possible the site was occupied prior to this. In the 13th century the monks of nearby Beauchief Abbey had a smithy in the vicinity and in 1685 Hugh Stephenson rented ‘New Wheel’, which can be traced through the rent books as the same site. The Works remained in continuous occupation until 1933 when production ceased.
In 1777 the dam was enlarged during the Goddard family’s tenancy bringing on a period of expansion. The Tilt Forge was built in 1742, the Worker’s Cottage by 1793 and the Grinding Hull you see today in 1817. By the 1830s the site included a Crucible Steel furnace of the type invented by Benjamin Huntsmen in 1742 and a number of hand forges, along with a warehouse and offices.
The Manager’s House, built in 1838 and the Coach House and Stables about 1840, were the last buildings to be erected, apart from the first story warehouse over the Blacking shop which was added in 1876.
During the 19th century Abbeydale had its share of industrial problems and did not escape the many dangers of emerging industry at the time. In 1842 the Grinding Hull was blown up with gunpowder as the Grinders Union registered its disapproval of the then manager, Mr Dyson, employing non-union labour. Some twenty years later, Joshua Tyzack, joint manager of the works in 1862, was shot at five times and two other explosions of accidental nature also occurred. In 1870, the central heating boiler in the blacking shop blew up killing two men, and in 1912 a grindstone burst in the Grinding hull killing a scythe grinder.
In 1933, the firm of Tyzack Sons and Turner, who had been tenants from 1849, finally ceased production at the site to concentrate their manufacturing at the Little London Works down river. During the Second World War the Crucible Furnace was re-lit for a time to produce high quality steel to support the war effort.
in 1935 the site was purchased by the Alderman J G Graves Trust and donated to the City of Sheffield. It was restored by the Council for the Conservation of Sheffield Antiquities and developed as a museum by the City of Sheffield Museums Department, who opened it to the public in April 1970.
In the late 1990s the site transferred to the care of Kelham Island Museum Trust, which later became Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust. Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust went on to lead a major £1million three-year restoration and transformation project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was completed in 2016. Today, the site is part of Sheffield Museums.
© Ian M Spooner
© Ian M Spooner