About Friends of the Porter Valley
Our vision is to conserve, protect and restore the ecology, landscape and cultural heritage of the Porter and Mayfield Valleys for the enjoyment of all and the benefit of future generations.
The Geography and nature of the Valley
The Porter Brook rises on the moors above Sheffield and flows 10km easterly into the heart of the city. Its valley forms a natural green corridor leading to the open moors of the Peak District National Park and the terraced housing and congested roads around Hunters Bar. In the course of its descent the Porter falls some 340 metres through a constantly changing landscape. It links the steeply incised and wooded valley of Porter Clough to a gentler, farmed landscape of green hillsides with traditional pasturage and stone buildings. It then passes through the archaeological remains of our early industrial heritage (weirs, millponds, millraces and dams) and on to more ancient and semi-natural woodlands. It descends into the recreational and ornamental parklands at Bingham and Endcliffe that were created for social purposes in the 19th century. The stream then enters underground culverts alongside Ecclesall Road and flows eastwards past the General Cemetery into Sheffield City Centre to join the River Sheaf below beneath the railway station. The “Friends of the Porter Valley” was set up in 1994 to preserve and enhance the natural and historical characteristics of the Porter Valley for public benefit.
Some 5km of the valley bottom and the upper reaches of its tributary, the May Brook, were designated “Areas of Natural History Interest “in the Urban Development Plan (UDP) because the valley contains considerable ecological capital. Botanically these communities comprise several blocks of ancient oak woodland with spectacular displays of spring flowers and autumn fungi; semi-natural scrub, riverine and pond habitats; wet valleyside ‘flushes’ containing rare species; old flower rich meadows of a type that are fast disappearing from the countryside and acid grasslands that in autumn are bright with wax-cap toadstools. The sequence of millponds known locally as “dams” also contributes significantly to the ecology of the valley although they are in a poor state of repair with several leaking and all becoming silted up.
The watercourses support an abundant fauna of breeding ducks, dippers, kingfishers, herons, crayfish and other freshwater invertebrates, while the meadows and hedgerows are home to many species of butterfly and moths. The trees support many birds, including summer visitors such as willow warbler and chiff-chaff, and all the year round familiars such as two types of woodpecker, treecreepers, nuthatches, tits and corvids, including a longstanding rookery at Forge Dam. Mammals include several species of bat which are conspicuous flitting over the dams, foxes, water voles and several badger communities. By identifying and managing appropriately those parts of the valley that play a key role in providing this biodiversity, we would like to ensure that users of all stretches of the Porter Valley will continue to encounter a memorable range of wildlife. This includes areas away from the valley bottom that can be accessed by the network of footpaths and quiet lanes.
Amenity and recreational value
Urban parks were created throughout Britain in the 19th century as a response to the often appalling urban environment brought about by industrialisation and rapid population growth. They are still a vital amenity in our 21st century lives. The whole Porter Valley, except for Endcliffe Park, lies entirely within the Green Belt. It also forms a significant part of the Sheffield Round Walk and a Strategic Cycle Route out to the Peak District. Because the valley provides a direct link between the city and the countryside it is used extensively by people from all over the city and beyond. Its accessibility and unique atmosphere appeal particularly to the communities along its flanks, to Sheffield schools, ramblers, cyclists, and nature lovers. There are several frequently used access points from the roads and footpaths that border on, or run across, the Porter. Half a million people may use the Valley every year; and over 30% come from parts of Sheffield other than the nearby relatively affluent wards of Broomhill, Hallam, and Ecclesall.
Man has inhabited this Valley since Palaeolithic times but the most obvious evidence of human impact is the sequence of dams. In the 18th century the Porter Brook was one of Sheffield’s intensively used industrial streams and drove 20 mills mostly for the manufacture of cutlery, hand tools and other metal products. All but 6 of the original 20 millponds have disappeared over the years as their original industrial use declined and the valley became a focus for leisure. What remains is an attractive linear amenity and wildlife habitat studded with features of exceptional historic interest.
The dams provide a compelling thread of interest to the linear valley walk. Unusual features are that the mills were constructed for the metal (e.g. cutlery) trades and not preceded by corn mills. Forge Dam impounds the full flow of the stream, whereas all other dams use the by-pass system. Wire Mill once had the largest diameter wheel in Sheffield. Many of the remaining monuments and buildings in the valley have listed Grade II status and Shepherd Wheel, a water-powered grinding hull and dam, is a scheduled Ancient Monument. A conservation area encompasses Fulwood Chapel, Forge Dam and Wire Mill Dam.
The UDC map also shows an “Area of Special Character” on the northern slopes of the valley from Harrison Lane down into the brook bottom. In 2001 Endcliffe Park was included in the South Yorkshire county volume of English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest as a grade II site. The whole Valley was given grade II listing by English Heritage in 2002 in recognition of its unique mosaic of features.
It is a landscape that has appealed to English Heritage’s interest in “the engine room” of our 18th and 19th century heritage. Neil Cossons, a former President of English Heritage, recognised the importance of the national heritage of waterways, mills, and workers’ cottages. The Porter Valley retains examples of this heritage.
The Porter Valley is also recognised as linear parkland of particular and historic interest. Patrick Abercrombie’s 1924 civic survey for Sheffield City Council describes the Porter Valley as follows “The Porter Brook Parkway, consisting as it does of a string of contiguous open spaces, is the finest example to be found in this country of a radial park strip, an elongated open space, leading from a built–up part of the city direct into the country, the land occupied being a river valley and so for the greater part unsuitable for building. As compared with the finite quality of an ornamental park of more or less square shape, there is a feeling of movement in a continuous park strip …….the human being ….is lead onwards until the open countryside is reached.“