The ancient rural village of Mosborough, once part of the parish and manor of Eckington and now on the outskirts of Sheffield, was not typical of a purely agricultural community. Whilst farming still remains an important part of the village economy, it was often combined, in the past, with a particular industrial occupation which became a dominant feature of its identity. There is evidence of metal working here during the medieval and early modern periods, and from 1624, this part of North East Derbyshire fell within the six-mile radius of the Cutler’s Company of Hallamshire, established by Act of Parliament. It was the rapid expansion of the sickle and hook manufacturing trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that would transform the character of Mosborough in subsequent years.
The basic technique of sickle and hook making has not changed to any significant degree, although there have been innovations in design. Forging, grinding and handle making were different aspects of the trade, often undertaken by specialist craftsmen. Over time, the industry evolved from individual tradesmen to larger scale manufacturers, but agricultural mechanisation and growing international competition led to its ultimate decline. Alongside these changes, new specialist industries such as coal and ironstone mining and brick making emerged, bringing in a wave of new and temporary workers to the village in the 1860s and 1870s. Despite this, the resident population remained fairly stable, providing a degree of stability and continuity.
Although geographically remote, Mosborough had the physical advantages of ironstone, grindstones and rivers to provide waterpower for the metal industry. When William Cobbett passed through Mosborough in 1830, he remarked “The whole of the people. . . . are employed in the making of sickles and scythes; . . . . they are very well off even in these times. A prodigious quantity of these things go the United States of America” (Cobbett, W., Rural Rides, vol. II, 609)
Approximately six miles south east of Sheffield and eight miles north east of Chesterfield, Mosborough lies north of Eckington, from which it is divided by the Moss Brook. Its boundaries have remained virtually unchanged since the middle ages and are adopted for the purposes of this study, incorporating the hamlets of Halfway, Holbrook, Plumley and Owlthorpe. Boundary changes in 1967 resulted in Mosborough being transferred from the administrative county of Derbyshire to the Metropolitan District of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. For most of its distance the boundary is marked by the valleys of the River Rother, Moss Brook, Short Brook and Ochre Dyke, along with an un-named tributary of the river Moss beside Plumley Wood.
Also included in the study area are the water-powered sites on the River Rother and the Moss Brook, regardless of which side of the watercourses they occupied.