I felt like I was going on a school trip as I queued for the bus on a drizzly Wednesday morning to head to Abbeydale Road South. Part of Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is a unique 18th-century scythe-making works and a piece of Sheffield’s history preserved. It’s a collection of buildings set around a courtyard, with four waterwheels and lots of open doors that lead into various workshops and workers’ cottages. Pick up a map from the helpful people in the ticket shop, or download its Abbeydale Explorer app to learn more as you explore the site.
The journey starts in the All About Abbeydale building, where a timeline runs from the works’ beginnings until its opening as a museum in 1970. A video shows the scythe-making process, and there’s a child-friendly trail with elephant and mouse narrators to keep their attention.
From the Counting House to the Workers' Cottage there are little touches of past lives: a horseshoe or hat on the wall, a bunch of lavender, some casually kicked-off shoes. It’s like people went out meaning to come back but never did – now there are cobwebs on the horseshoe. The Manager’s House has a well-kept little garden and a fine carriage and penny farthing are stored next to the stables. In the Grinding Hull, the biggest workshop, all manner of sharp, heavy and blunt objects stand darkly against the white walls: hunks of wood and metal, anvils, benches, tubes and shafts. You’ll hear sounds of the past too, a hammering and grinding coming from the hand forges – for an extra fee you can get a key fob or bottle opener made in front of you to take home.
But what you most take away from this little museum is an increased respect for water, as you’re reminded how impressive it can be. From the still lake to the trickle through the dam that turns the gigantic, dripping waterwheel in its peaceful motion, you can see how it would have started a chain of gears and shafts that would slam massive hammers upon the white hot scythes. So much power from something so gentle.
Speaking of gentle – swallows! Gorgeous swallows were nesting in the Charge Room when I visited. (I forgot to learn about that part of the scythe-making process because I was too busy trying to get a photo of a swallow on an anvil. I’m sure it would have won me Wildlife Photographer of the Year but alas, I failed).
The ticket shop – where you can also get a cuppa and a slice of cake – is shiny and new, though the rest could benefit from a little update and a spot of cobweb dusting. But Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet is still one to tick off your Sheffield list. And whilst you don’t need to plan for a full day here, there’s much more to see and do on this side of town, from Abbeydale Road cafes and Sheffield Antiques Quarter shops, to a picnic in Whirlowbrook Park, woodcrafts in Ecclesall Woods, and – a couple of Sundays a month – the charming Abbeydale Miniature Railway.
Look out for upcoming events at the Hamlet, like kids' craft activities each Wednesday throughout the summer holidays and the Steam Gathering, an annual celebration of all things steam-powered each October.
2020 marks the hamlet's 50th anniversary as a museum! Look out for a bunch of celebratory events throughout the year, including the Amazing Abbeydale weekend of crafts and skills on 9–10 May, the blacksmith Forge In weekend on August bank holiday, a new exhibition all about the site's past 50 years, and more.
- Words by
- Nat Loftus
- Images by
- Gemma Thorpe
- Featured in
- 10 heritage highlights