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Stories of the River Don Engine

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Stories of the River Don Engine

Do you have a story about our amazing River Don Engine?  Would you like to be involved in our new HLF funded Sheffield 1916 project?  We are looking for input from people who know the engine to inform our new exhibition.

If you have any stories or memories about the Engine that you would like to share, please contact Maria Flude on 0114 2210827 or email

We are also looking for volunteers to support the project, if you'd like to be involved you can also contact Maria.

Posted in Exhibition | Community | Learning | Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust | Kelham Island Museum | Sheffield 1916: Steel, Steam & Power

Tagged in Sheffield 1916: Steel, Steam & Power


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I believe it is the steam engine that powered the armour plate rolling mill at river don works the first time I visited it was when it was nearly at the end of its working days and I can remember having to take my boots off and put provided slippers on as you could eat your meal off the floor it was that clean it was I believe the fastest reversing steam engine ever built when it was rolling steel they used birch twigs thrown onto the steel to help lift of the scale from the steel which flew at great speed when lifted and with great banging and crashing it's armour plate went into meny a fine battle ship.


Expat visits Kelham Island 2014
I went to Kelham Island on the wrong day. Don’t get me wrong, the 40’s extravaganza was excellent, the displays, entertainment and demonstrations really worth seeing. I just wish it had been somewhere else. It’s my own fault, I shouldn’t have expected that the River Don Engine would be the centre of attraction but to see people filing past it on their way to the entertainment in the courtyard outside just didn’t seem right. When I first saw the River Don Engine in action 20 years ago I was totally smitten and from that time on it became for me symbolic of the city itself, the naked beauty, the colossal power and strangely, the ability to stop and change direction in a matter of seconds. Returning to Sheffield after a long absence, the changes seem to have happened in the blink of an eye. Walking around the city, seeing how she has coped with change, I have often been moved to ask, not ‘How did you do that?’ but ‘Why?’
I never realised at the time but when I rode my motorbike to work from Pitsmoor along Upwell Street, every day of the week I passed within yards of the last two industrial sites where the mighty engine plied its trade. In 1956 the engine made it's last move from Carlisle Street East to the River Don works on Brightside Lane. Upwell Street bisected the two sites. The mill and the engine were still operating then, back in the sixties. If only I had known.

Peter Ellis

As an engineering student at Sheffield Polytechnic in the mid-60s, I became interested in stationary steam engines that were rapidly vanishing from almost every form of heavy industry. A fellow student worked for English Steel, and would "tip me off" when the engine was due to run - always on a Sunday at that time as all other rolling mills, and their operatives, had been transferred to the new Tinsley Park - running the heavy plate mill was an overtime job. The engine exhausted to atmosphere up a short steel stack, and the exhaust could be seen (and heard!) all along Brightside Lane. Particularly amusing was the fact that, reversing instantaneously from 170 rpm, it over-ran for a few revs in the wrong direction, so that when the exhaust valves opened there was a vacuum in the cylinders - it thus sucked back the last few "puffs" of the exhaust - I never saw any other steam engine do this! Once inside - and it was easy to walk in unchallenged - it was an amazing sight, but almost impossible to photograph! The operatives throwing bundles of green brushwood onto the hot metal, so that they exploded under the rolls and blasted off the scale (modern mills use waterjets for this purpose) created noise and smoke. The engine itself, running at up to 170 rev/min and then reversing instantaneously was spectacular, but this contrasted with the quiet efficiency of the operatives and crane drivers - each knew his job and got on with it without any fuss or hassle. I was lucky to see this on several occasions.

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