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Hi Folks,

I’m looking for information about an object I found recently in the Sheffield area, which may or may not have some historical significance.

Here’s the story:

I often fly-fish the more obscure sections of the Sheffield rivers, wading stretches of water where few people travel. Recently, while fishing one such stretch of the River Don in the Hillsborough area during unusually low and clear water conditions, I came across a spherical object half buried in the sediment on the riverbed (I only noticed it because the hook of my wet-fly actually got snagged on it).

After working it free I decided it was worthy of further attention so I carried it to the bank and left it in the undergrowth for future retrieval. A few days later I returned with a rucksack and brought the object home with me, where I weighed and measured it. The weight is around 15lb and the diameter is between 4 ¾” and 5”. It was initially covered in surface crud but after fully drying out this came off quite easily with an old toothbrush. The object appears to be made of steel or iron and there are absolutely no holes or any other markings on it.

I’ve been doing some online research myself and come up with a few possibilities as to what it might be, but I’d rather get the views of others before going any further.

Pajod.

 

Object_1.jpg

Object_2.jpg

Object_3.jpg

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Edmund

My suggestion - a cannonball, test fired from Hillsborough barracks?

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MartinR

 

Hmm, at first glance it looks like a cannon ball, but it's a bit light for solid roundshot.  At 5" dia it is about 65 cu in in volume, taking cast iron as 0.26 Lb/cu in gives around 25 lb.

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OK, since you've both brought the 'cannonball' idea up let's explore that a bit further (because I've been following up on this theory myself for the past few days).

If it is a cannonball it’s not from the 18th or 19th centuries — sizes and weights were apparently standardised in 1712 and this ball doesn’t fit with any of those sizes, which were 3lb, 6lb, 9lb, 12lb, 18lb, 24lb, 32lb and 42lb. However, it does pretty closely match a size of shot from an earlier ‘Culverin’ cannon. For those interested here’s where I got this info from: https://arc.id.au/Cannonballs.html Of course... it could just be that my spring weighing scale is off!

As for alternatives:

1) It’s not a fly-press weight (as the 2018 Sheffield Castle 'cannonball' retrieved from the River Don turned out to be) because there is no hole.

2) It’s not an old-fashioned barbell weight for the same reason.

3) It’s not a shot-put because there is no weight-mark stamp.

Returning to the cannonball theory, apparently, Culverin cannon were indeed deployed during the English Civil War in 1644 at Sheffield Castle,  but as that’s downstream of where I found the ball and I’m not about to suggest it swam upstream, I’ve ruled this out as a possible source. Likewise, if it is from the 1600s it's unlikely to have been fired from Hillsborough Barracks, which weren't constructed until 1848.

One other possible source is Wortley Top Forge, where cannonballs were apparently cast in bygone days. This site lies upstream of Hillsborough (albeit quite a long way upstream) so it doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility for the ball to have been washed downstream during flood periods.

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1 hour ago, MartinR said:

 

Hmm, at first glance it looks like a cannon ball, but it's a bit light for solid roundshot.  At 5" dia it is about 65 cu in in volume, taking cast iron as 0.26 Lb/cu in gives around 25 lb.

Doesn't 65 x 0.26lb = 16.9lb?

PS. I've just borrowed a scale from a nieghbour and on this the weight comes in as slightly higher than my original figure... more like 16lb than 15lb.  I've also re-measured the ball using a more accurate method and it's definitely slightly under 5"... more like 4 ¾”.

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leksand
10 minutes ago, Pajod said:

Doesn't 65 x 0.26lb = 16.9lb?

PS. I've just borrowed a scale from a nieghbour and on this the weight comes in as slightly higher than my original figure... more like 16lb than 15lb.  I've also re-measured the ball using a more accurate method and it's definitely slightly under 5"... more like 4 ¾”.

The standardised weight for an elite male competition shot put was/is 16lb. The diameter you state also lies within the historically accepted bounds. I'm not sure that they would always have required a stamp, particularly if they were produced for training use.

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6 minutes ago, leksand said:

The standardised weight for an elite male competition shot put was/is 16lb. The diameter you state also lies within the historically accepted bounds. I'm not sure that they would always have required a stamp, particularly if they were produced for training use.

That sounds a strong possibility then... not quite as romantic as the idea of a cannonball!

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neddy

Hattersley & Ridge Club Mill Rd. made balls for the crushing industry, there maybe loads escaped into the Don ( usually by means of curious kids rolling them either way from their factory ).

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lysandernovo

Something similar happened at Daniel Doncasters where imperfect forgings were not infrequently "chucked" into the Don. On a Junior Chamber sponsored clean up of the river around Doncasters back in the 1970s a skip of scrap forgings was collected!

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4 hours ago, neddy said:

Hattersley & Ridge Club Mill Rd. made balls for the crushing industry, there maybe loads escaped into the Don ( usually by means of curious kids rolling them either way from their factory ).

OK, that's another possibility... I found the ball upstream of Club Mill Road but not that far...maybe the road extended further up towards the Livesey Street bridge in the old days than it currently does or (as you say) mischievous kids could have just rolled it a bit before chucking it in?

One more thing and I'll leave it for now: after this morning's posts I remembered that I had some weight-training gear in the garage (from younger days) so I used two different 7.5kg discs made by different companies to 'calibrate' my scales. The conclusion was that my spring scales were originally about .5kg down. This means that the ball actually weighs 7.5kg (16.5lbs) so if it is an 'elite' shot put it wasn't made to very exacting standards.

Sadly, it also means that the likelihood of it being a shot for a Culverin cannon is also very much in doubt.

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neddy

The road though a bit rough went up to the bridge and there was a track that extended through to Herries beyond the bridge,

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LeadFarmer

It could have moved around over the years, folk finding it like you did, and chucking it back further along the river etc.

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Lou Scannon

I reckon it's a ball from a ball-mill too. Fell off the back of a lorry?

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lysandernovo

It seems to me that analysis of the metal would give a pretty good idea of its origin. If it's iron or mild steel the odds are a cannonball or shot. If it's high carbon or an alloy containing  any nickel, chrome or molybdenum then it's likely to be a crusher ball. In another life I supplied alloy steels ...usually out of spec or seconds quality (hence the low price) to a number of Ball manufacturers...it was a cut throat market!!!

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7 hours ago, lysandernovo said:

It seems to me that analysis of the metal would give a pretty good idea of its origin. If it's iron or mild steel the odds are a cannonball or shot. If it's high carbon or an alloy containing  any nickel, chrome or molybdenum then it's likely to be a crusher ball. In another life I supplied alloy steels ...usually out of spec or seconds quality (hence the low price) to a number of Ball manufacturers...it was a cut throat market!!!

That's sound advice, thanks.

When the notion of it being a ball mill ball was initially mentioned the other day I pretty much had to agree with the logic: right shape, nearby former manufacturing facility, etc. When trying to solve a 'mystery' there's nearly always a simple answer...

But since then I've done a bit more online research myself and also involved a few of my wide community of climbing friends (I climb as well as fish) and the conclusion is that I need to keep digging to be sure.

It turned out that several of my climbing buddies had personal knowledge/experience of ball milling (I'd never even heard of the process before it was raised on this forum) through former business dealings and their remarks mirrored my online findings... namely that:

1) the object I found in the river was somewhat larger in diameter that the largest balls commonly used in the mills in their experience and;

2) if it is, in fact, made out of cast iron then it's just not the right grade of metal for the purpose (too easily shattered on impact).

So I'll start investigating how to get the ball analyzed.

Whatever the result this has been a great learning experience... I now know something about the history of British cannonballs since the late middle ages + the weight of an elite men's shot put (surely that's got to come up in a pub quiz sometime in the future?) + the basic concepts of ball milling!

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Edmund

Vickers advertised their milling balls " in all sizes up to 12 inches"

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neddy

Hattersley & Ridge had their stockyard next to the Don opposite what is now Chapmans Agricultural it was full of 50 gallon barrels full of balls of all sizes, it was a wire mesh fence then and not too hard to get one and roll it off down the road.

 

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Righto... these last two bits of information seriously shorten the odds on it being anything other than ball mill ball. I'll just add it to my garden collection of other industrial bits and bobs I've retrieved from the rivers over recent years.

Thanks all.

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lysandernovo

Might I suggest you try and get one of our Universities interested? I am sure they will have  a metalurgical spectrometer spare for a few minutes.

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Yes, I think I'll do that just to be 100% sure... but it will have to wait until early next year as I'm just about to go abroad for 2 months for work purposes.

In the unlikely event that it turns out to be anything other than a modern ball mill ball I'll post an update in 2021!

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