news letter



Member’s visit to Wortley Top Forge on 1st November

The Friends membership scheme was re-launched at Portland Works on 29th July and we now have 68 members – a good start!  Your trusteesCarol Seymour is our Membership secretary and we are using software called “Membermojo” to maintain records etc.  The technology  exists to support our internal record keeping and we will endeavour always to provide a personal service to members. John Clarke and Andy Kershaw have extensive experience of voluntary work and do a great job promoting Portland Works through social media and the press. Geoff Marston OBE has been an ardent supporter of Portland Works from the early days, providing wise counsel to the rest of us, both as a director in the early days and then a founding trustee of Friends. We are lucky to have a qualified accountant, Rachel  Eagle, as our Treasurer. Without her we would struggle to put together the quite complicated accounts that have to be submitted to the Charities Commission every year. That completes a brief line-up of the trustees who are responsible for ensuring our charity is managed with care and accountability.  Our year end is in December and next spring we will invite you to Portland Works to share our annual report, celebrate our successes, and involve you in our plans for the future.
As well as our first group visit, we completed a season of monthly lectures at  Portland Works with an excellent presentation by Dr Peter Morgan on behalf of Dr David Dulieu – “Who invented Stainless Steel.”

Looking ahead
We are developing a programme of lectures for 2024 and will let you know dates and details in the new year.  We are also taking soundings on future visits to local heritage assets and have already assembled a long list of possibilities. The next visit will be in February and we will let you know when arrangements are finalised. We will be seeking an indoor location for obvious reasons!

Please  contact me if you have any thoughts on heritage visits or lectures

An external repair was recently completed at Portland Works

Volunteers admiring the restored brickwork at the top of the window.

Work in progress!  Volunteers made and installed  a wooden form to support the bricks that had come out of alignment.
A professional heritage bricklayer was called in to expertly remove, repair, clean and replace the bricks.  The work was funded by a grant from Friends.Since 2015, Friends has granted over £50,000 for repairs and restoration of the works, much it raised locally.

Thanks are due to Member and volunteer Chris Cooper who has written the following account of our visit to Wortley Top Forge. 
An unfavourable looking dawn with mist and rain and thus a pleasant surprise to see the sodden woods of the Upper Don valley glistening in brilliant autumn sun as we approached Wortley Top Forge: a water powered iron forge dating back to the 1600s.
Having been introduced to our informative and personable guide, Gordon Parkinson, welcome hot drinks and biscuits were supplied in one of the old cottage buildings on the site.

Production at Top Forge ceased around 1910 and the site was gradually stripped of equipment to leave a collection of decaying buildings, and the remains of 2 breast shot and 1 pitch back water wheels and 2 tilt hammers. In 1955 when the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust took over the site volunteers set to work restoring the buildings and repairing the two larger water wheels and tilt hammers. Over time equipment has been made by volunteers or rescued from industrial sites around South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. A vast array of machine tools and engines has been brought onto the site in addition to re-introducing many original features of an iron works. This includes a “Sheffield carpet” consisting of iron plated floor cladding as used in melting shops etc all over Sheffield in past times.

Gordon outlined the history of the works and the families involved in the ownership, then gave an excellent account of how wrought iron and pig iron is made, and the challenges that had to be overcome in the production process.  Volunteers have built a model of a reverberatory furnace which acts as a superb visual aid to help us understand the iron making process.

Crossing to ancillary buildings, a narrow gauge train trundled by with a bogie mounted leaf blower, clearing the rails as we approached the old blacksmith’s shop -this is now the volunteers workshop well supplied with tools and machines.  The old system of line shafts and belts to drive the machinery has been installed and are reminiscent of pre-war machine shops all over Sheffield but now extinct!  We learned that a number of the rescued machinery was manufactured in the USA and imported by British manufacturers early in the 20th century. The US had developed simpler and better machinery making parts to more accurate tolerances as they depended on a multi national and largely unskilled immigrant workforce.

The final leg of our tour was to the old foundry which now houses an amazing collection of working steam engines powered by compressed air. We saw a pump with a massive fly wheel rescued from Neepsend gas works, and an elegant machine donated by Wilson’s of Sharrow snuff mill (Wilson’s is still in production at their historic buildings behind Tesco on Ecclesall Road)  Just 2 of many pumps and engines on display, each with a story to tell.

By the car park on open ground or in shelters is yet more machinery that had been brought to the site including a very impressive beam engine.

What an excellent visit it was.  We had great admiration for the skills, patience persistence and shear hard work being applied at Wortley Top Forge.

Chris Cooper

Our brilliant guide Gordon Parkinson explaining the workings of water-driven bellows built by the Wortley Top Forge volunteers to a Victorian pattern.

Come and join the fun at the Kelham Island Victorian Christmas Market on 3rd and 4th December.  Once again Friends of Portland Works has a stall at the Market. We will be selling raffle tickets and announcing the lucky winner of a magnificent silver plated set of cutlery donated by Arthur Price; promoting the membership scheme;  selling vintage cutlery; and of course enthusing the public about Portland Works.  If any of you would like to help run the stall, and enjoy dressing up as a Victorian, let me know!

Paul Iseard