River Don

It is the lifeblood of our city, the reason Sheffield’s industrial status grew, but what do you know about the powerful River Don?

The source of the River Don is high up on the Peak District Moors, on Great Grains Moss, near Holme, West Yorkshire, a trickle of a stream that grows as it flows through a series of reservoirs that supply water to the Calder Valley.

From here, it flows near to the Woodhead Tunnel, through Dunford Bridge and onto Penistone, where it is joined by Scout Dyke. Onwards it flows towards Deepcar, where the Little Don River (or River Porter, not to be confused with Porter Brook) spills into it.

Ewden Beck joins near Wharncliffe Side, and by the time it flows past Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium, it is a force to be reckoned with.

The River Loxley flows into it near Penistone Road, before widening and flowing towards Neepsend, Kelham Island, Lady’s Bridge, joined by the Porter Brook and the River Sheaf, onwards to The Wicker, Norfolk Bridge, Attercliffe, Meadowhall and Tinsley.

After Sheffield, the River Don continues through Rotherham, Mexborough, Conisbrough, Doncaster and Stainforth, eventually joining the River Ouse at Goole. This wasn’t always the case, because it originally joined the River Trent, and was re-engineered by Cornelius Vermyden as the Dutch River in the 1620s.

During the Industrial Revolution, mighty industries used the River Don, building a series of weirs used to power mills, hammers and grinding wheels.

But industry was also its downfall.

By the late 1800s, the councils of Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster were concerned at the amount of pollution being deposited into the Don. They talked about the problem but were powerless at stopping the river choking to death.

In 1920, a correspondent to the Sheffield Telegraph said the river had only one redeeming feature.

“No person, temporarily or permanently insane, would ever commit suicide in it. Here, perhaps a century ago, was a smiling, healthy valley, and now look at it. And they call this kind of thing progress?”

In May 1937, Alfred Short, the Doncaster Labour MP, said that when he was a boy in Sheffield, he had often heard the older citizens describe the beauty of the River Don when salmon and trout were to be caught. But he lamented on the state of the river.

“From Penistone until it finally emptied into the sea it was a veritable cesspool. A few weeks ago, I went to Sheffield, and it seemed to me that the river was flowing out in agony.”

And still little was done to help the river.

In the 1970s, the Sheffield Star printed a photograph of the River Don, riddled with pollution, with flames coming off the surface of the water.

But times have changed.

The decline of heritage industries and greater concern for the environment has seen the River Don steadily coming back to life, with the first spawning salmon heading back upriver, and migratory fish being seen for the first time in centuries.

Alas, whilst we love the River Don, it is quick to remind us who is the boss.

Over the years, the river has claimed thousands of lives, not least the Sheffield Flood of 1864, following the collapse of the Dale Dyke Dam on a tributary of the River Loxley, sending millions of gallons of water into the Don, and claiming 270 lives.

And don’t think that the floods of 2007, when the river burst its banks, flooding areas of Sheffield from the Wicker to Meadowhall, was anything new.

The River Don has repeatedly flooded over centuries , and despite millions of pounds being spent on flood defences, will inevitably claim the streets again in years to come.