1) ‘Wheel’, more than any other word in the vocabulary of the Hallamshire cutlers, has the power to evoke the great days of the industry. It came into use in the Middle Ages when water wheels on the fast-flowing Don and its tributaries powered the region’s corn and fulling mills, but was used from the Tudor period, certainly from 1496 (WPS166), to refer to the water wheels which drove the grinders’ wheels.
1542 My Weyle in letel Sheyfeld Moore. The ‘wheel’ therefore had double significance and once it was used in the names given to the grinding sites it developed semantically, similar in some respects to the use of ‘mill’ in the textile area. By the 1500s, for example, ‘wheel’ was being used of the buildings which housed the cutlers’ wheels and finally it emerged in its own right as a local place-name element. The use of ‘wheel’ for the water-powered grindstones was explicit in the Cutlers’ Orders of 1590 which placed restrictions on personnes usinge … the said mysteryes or scyence of Cuttlers and having or occupyinge any whele or wheles for gryndinge of Knyves. The term ‘cutler wheel’ was in use from the early sixteenth century at least, and a fine in Latin records the sale of lands in Ecclesall and Sheffield in 1607-8 quatuor rotis cultellariis, surely a scribal rendering of ‘four cutler wheels’. In Harrison’s survey of Sheffield, in 1637, the list of The Rents of the Cutler Wheeles had more than forty entries. The only inventory noted for a specialist grinder is dated 1728 and All his Concerns at the wheele belonging his trade were valued at Ł2 10s 0d. Certain title deeds illustrate the different phases of the word’s development: 1530-1 ‘one messuage with one water-wheel built above called le Southwhele’, Ecclesfield
1715 the other part of the wheel now fallen down, Hawksley Wheel. In 1547 Richard King of Sheffield left his wheile to his daughter and in a footnote the historian T. W. Hall wrote: ‘Wheile is an old spelling of wheel and refers to a building used for grinding cutlery’. Similarly, C.A. Turner noted that ‘The term wheel refers to the building housing numerous shafts and belts working from one power source’. Several of the word’s attributive uses are dealt with below. See cutler wheel, end, quell, wheelhouse, wheelstead.