Top Forge is a Water Powered Heavy Iron Forge whose history can be traced back to at least 1640. The site has been used for bloomeries and fineries but it is best known for the Wrought Iron Railway Axles that were hammer-welded between 1840 and the closing of the Forge around 1910.
Following the final abandonment of the site in 1929, various bodies have been involved in securing the site which now forms the heart of an Industrial Museum.
Exhibits at Top Forge include the original water wheels and water-powered drop hammers within the original Forge building which is progressively being restored to 1900s condition. All three Water Wheels can be run subject to the conditions.
An adjoining 1750s building houses a 1900s Machine Shop, that is used for most of the restoration work, displays of medium sized and small stationary steam engines and displays of old machine and hand tools.
Two adjacent buildings (the Smithy and the Smithy extension) form a permanent working exhibition of powered forging hammers and metal forming machines
A unique 1897 steam mill engine ‘Elizabeth’ can be operated (on a limited number of advertised days) in its purpose-built engine house. This 250hp vertical compound engine features a ‘Grasshopper Beam’ and was rebuilt at Top Forge during the early 1990s.
A large 1910 horizontal compound steam engine ‘George III’, rescued from Heckmondwike, is being built near Elizabeth and nears completion (December 2018).
South Yorkshire Industrial History Society
The South Yorkshire Industrial History Society, formerly the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, was formed in 1933 by people from local industries and the University of Sheffield who saw that much of the area’s industrial heritage was disappearing. The society is thought to be the world’s oldest local industrial history and preservation society and has had some notable achievements.
The Society was instrumental in the early preservation of Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and led a successful move in 1956 to prevent the works’ proposed demolition.
Wortley Top Forge is owned by the society and has been restored by its volunteers. The society also owns Rockley Furnace, Bower Spring (in Sheffield), being the only remaining cementation furnace chests still in situ, and the Nail Forge at Hoylandswaine (near Barnsley).
The Society holds evening lectures during the winter and has a programme of events and visits through the summer.
The Society’s Field Recording Group has published a Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of South Yorkshire and records historic industrial buildings, sites and machinery.
The Group carries out research and provides an informal forum where researchers can meet and discuss findings. The Group also comments on planning applications, has for many years maintained a register of sites and is represented on the Sheffield City Conservation Advisory Group.
South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust
The South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust Ltd was established in 1976 to restore, manage and safeguard the properties owned by or leased to the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society.
The trust is made up of invited members and has a management committee that meet on a regular basis.
The Trust manages all the properties of the the South Yorkshire Industrial History society.
Rockley Blast Furnace
Near Birdwell, off M1 J16 – SE 338022 – Scheduled Ancient Monument
Built between 1698 and 1704, the furnace formed part of a trade syndicate in Yorkshire centered on the Spencers of Cannon Hall. It operated until 1741 with Charcoal as fuel.
It is thought that the furnace operated again around 1790, using coke fuel, to produce gun castings.
Rockley Furnace made Cast Iron in the eighteenth century, using ores mined in the same valley and charcoal from the surrounding woodlands
This furnace was probably built about 1700, for by 1704 there would appear to have been two furnaces in the valley, the other having been started in 1652 – 500 metres to the west.
Documents from the first twenty years of the eighteenth century suggest that both furnaces worked intermittently, but in 1726 only this one appears on an estate map. In that year it was leased to William Cotton and Samuel Shore from the Earl of Stafford. Their rent payments can be found in the Stafford accounts until 1741.
The Furnace site was purchased from the Wentworth Estate in 1957, but the site has never been developed.
Archaeological excavations took place between 1978 and 1982. These have shown that molten iron was cast from the hearth (now missing) in the base of the furnace, into moulds in a bed of sand to the west. The pigs of iron which were formed would be sent to finery forges such as Wortley Top Forge, to be converted into bar iron.
Probably after the time of Cotton and Shore a pit was dug through these pig-beds, and this was lined with stone. In this pit, moulds of clay or loam would be placed, for casting objects such as cylinders, pipes or guns. This change could have taken place about 1790, when the furnace is said to have been re-opened. The archaeological results support this, for the more recent deposits contain coke, which was increasingly used in Yorkshire blast furnaces at this time. The furnace cannot have been used in this way for long, for it is not mentioned in lists of furnaces of the period.
The site has been backfilled after the excavation work to both protect the building foundations and to make a site that is safe for unaccompanied visitors.
A cut-away drawing (see a copy is displayed at Wortley Top Forge) shows how the furnace may have appeared in its last years. Moulds and castings lie near the pit on the west (right) of the furnace, and the water-wheel is powering the wood-and-leather bellows in the foreground. Traces of the wheel and the bellows frame were found during the excavations. The wheel received water from the south, from a reservoir long since dry. The furnace was loaded with ore and fuel across a bridge from the existing bank to the south.
A visitor to the furnace sees the core of the furnace structure. The original ashlar stonework that formed the outer structure has been progressively robbed. A photograph from about 1900 shows the stone facing partially in place on the north side.
The furnace is protected under the Ancient Monuments Act. It is owned by the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society and administered by the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust Ltd.
You are welcome to visit the site and examine the area within the fence, but please do not climb upon or damage the furnace and its surroundings.
Bower Spring Cementation Furnace
Sheffield, near the City Centre – SK 353879
This site is the last remains of two Cementation Furnaces built around 1828. They were in the Frankin Works of Thomas Turton. It is thought that the furnaces were used until 1911, by which time the works was owned by Moss & Gamble.
Only the lower parts of the furnaces survived to be rediscovered in the 1970s when the works was demolished.
It is possible that more parts of these or other furnaces remain, still buried, adjacent to the current site.
Work at this site so far has been limited to a few working parties to remove the ‘inner city rubbish’ that accumulates here.
This site is not open to the public at this time, although it has been suggested that a canopy and viewing area might be built in the future.
Hoylandswaine Nail Forge
Hoylandswaine Village, near Penistone – SE 265047 – Listed Grade 2
The building is a row of three forges at the side of the former main road. Only one room retains the hearth, chimney and bellows of the forge.
This site is open to the public on occasions and to pre-booked parties. The Trust is working towards its goal of returning one forge to near working condition and using a second as an information/interpretation area dedicated to the iron nail forging industry in South Yorkshire.