Category Archives: Sheffield’s Heritage

Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield

Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield

Behind Owlerton Greyhound Stadium, not far from the Sheffield Wednesday ground, a long road called Livesey Street leads eventually to a bridge over the River Don – a recent replacement for a much older bridge washed away in the 2007 flood.

On the other side of the bridge lies Wardsend Cemetery, last resting place of nearly 30,000 Sheffield people, forgotten until a group of Friends rescued it and drew attention to its fascinating history.

It was established in 1857 as a churchyard extension for St Philip’s parish church, Shalesmoor, one of four “Million Act” churches in Sheffield, opened in 1828, bombed in 1940 and demolished in 1952.  The church’s location, now unrecognisable because of road improvements, was opposite Green Lane Works, near to the Shalesmoor tram stop.

The vicar of St Philip’s, Rev John Livesey, bought five acres of land alongside the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, and – largely at his own expense – built a lodge and an attractive little chapel designed by the Sheffield architects Weightman, Hadfield & Goldie.

Rev Livesey had been minister since 1831 and vicar since the parish was created in 1848, “a tall man of fine presence, very active… genial, benevolent and kind hearted”.

He bit off more than he could chew when he opened Wardsend Cemetery.

The original sexton died shortly after the cemetery opened, and his successor, Isaac Howard, quickly made the place notorious.

In 1862 the tenant occupying the lodge, Robert Dixon, complained of unpleasant odours from the floor of his coach-house and accused the sexton of disinterring corpses to sell to the Sheffield Medical School.

Word travelled quickly and a crowd entered the cemetery on the evening of June 2nd to find a pit containing coffins, some containing corpses, one of which had clearly been dissected.  They burnt down Howard’s house, and over the next few days obliged the authorities to arrest him.

He in turn implicated the vicar, who had carelessly signed a burial certificate for a dissected corpse that remained unburied until discovered by the rioters.

In fact the medical school obtained corpses legally from the Sheffield workhouse, but had transported them in sacks rather than coffins and allowed Isaac Howard to take them to the cemetery illegally in plain packing cases on a wheelbarrow.

The real disgrace of Howard’s actions was that he exhumed corpses, particularly of children, to resell burial plots, a practice made easier by an unwise allocation of public graves beside the main pathway.

Howard was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, and the Rev Livesey to three weeks, but the judge, ruling that the vicar was only guilty of trusting the sexton’s word, back-dated his sentence to the opening of the assizes a fortnight previously.

When Howard admitted his perjury Rev Livesey was pardoned.  He returned to his benefice and served until his death in 1870, a total of thirty-nine years.

Contemporary accounts of this notorious affair are at https://www.chrishobbs.com/sheffield/agraveaffair1862.htm.

There’s more to the history of Wardsend than the often-told story of the 1862 riot.  The cemetery is a chronicle of ordinary and extraordinary Sheffield people.

While the movers and shakers of Victorian Sheffield were interred in the General Cemetery and pillars of Nonconformity gathered in the Zion Graveyard, Wardsend provided rest to a cross-section of society – soldiers from the nearby Hillsborough Barracks including George Lambert VC (1819-1860) who died of a burst blood vessel on the parade ground, victims of the Great Sheffield Flood which rushed past the site on the night of March 11th-12th 1864, and such fascinating characters as George Beaumont (died December 25th 1877, aged 23 years), killed during a football match when he climbed a wall to retrieve the ball and fell down a quarry face, Kate Townsend, Mrs Tommy Dodd (1849-1886) who with her husband travelled as show-people billed as “The King & Queen of the Lilliputians” and Tom Wharton (died 1933) – a life-long, celebrated Sheffield Wednesday fan, who missed only one home match in forty-six years [https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/heritage-veteran-owls-fan-was-the-happiest-man-in-sheffield-1-8995148].

The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery [https://wardsendcemetery.wordpress.com] have rescued the place from decades of neglect after its formal closure in 1988, and they welcome visitors to a regular programme of events and tours.

I admire the volunteers who devote their time to preserving an unassuming burial ground and keeping alive the memory of “the short and simple annals of the poor”.

Tinsley Tramsheds

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

The most substantial remnant of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system is the original depot at Weedon Street, Tinsley, built in 1873 for the Sheffield Tramways Company when it opened its first horse-drawn line.

This very early tramway was founded by the railway contractor Thomas Lightfoot, who also built the Douglas horse-tramway that opened in 1876 and still operates in the Isle of Man.

When the Sheffield Corporation took over the horse-tram company, its first electric trams, inaugurated in 1899, ran between Weedon Street and Nether Edge, with a depot at each end, and for the first few years vehicles were maintained and eventually built at the two depots – mechanical parts at Tinsley, bodywork at Nether Edge – until a purpose-built works at Queen’s Road opened in 1905.

The National Tramway Museum’s photographic library shows the atmosphere of Tinsley Tramsheds up to the end of the 1950s:  http://ntm.adlibhosting.com/detail.aspx?parentpriref [insert ‘Tinsley Depot’ in search box].

A well-made film of a tram-journey from Beauchief to Weedon Street in 1960 ends with Roberts car 523 disappearing into the tramsheds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0a28Q_78eM  [at 16:45 minutes].

Almost all Sheffield’s trams, including the very last in service and those in the final closing procession in October 1960, ended up at Weedon Street, from where they were towed across the road to Thomas W Ward’s scrapyard.

Sheffield people customarily referred to “tramsheds”, though all of them across the city were substantial brick buildings.  Apart from Tinsley, they have either disappeared or survive only as sad facades.

At one time Tinsley Tramsheds was home to Sheffield’s bus museum, until a schism led to one collection moving out to Aldwarke near Rotherham to become the South Yorkshire Bus Museum and the other, the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, eventually moving to Eastwood in a nearby part of Rotherham.

Little remains of the tram-depot interior:  the tracks, inspection pits and overhead gantries that gave exterior access to trams at upper-deck level have long gone.  Urban explorer reports show empty graffiti-covered spaces [https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/32188-attercliffe-tram-sheds-sheffield-december-2015-a.html#.WPS3tYWcGUk], and the tile-depot that occupies the first two bays looks like, well, a tile-depot:  http://www.tiledepot.com/pages.php?pageid=3.

A glass-half-empty report from the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society suggests that the building is deteriorating:  http://hhbs.org.uk/2017/07/01/trams-to-tiles.

Nevertheless, this Grade II-listed relic of transport history, located between the Meadowhall shopping centre and Sheffield’s new Ikea store, close to a retail park and the Sheffield Arena, could be smartened up by a savvy developer.

Cracks in the tarmac of the forecourt show that the track-fan and stone setts survive, at least in part, waiting to be exposed.

The interior is a flexible space with scope for adaptation, and the exterior is capable of restoration as one of the few historic sites remaining in the Lower Don Valley.

Zion Graveyard 2

Zion Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Zion Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield

The Friends of Zion Graveyard have made great progress since their inauguration last May:  they have secured funds to buy the land from the United Reformed Church, and have continued to clear the graves which had become buried in undergrowth.

In the course of researching the Zion Congregational Church which stood on the site I’ve become fascinated by the history of the congregation, which stretches back almost continuously to the early history of Dissent in Sheffield.

Attercliffe and Carbrook, two of the three villages in the Lower Don Valley, were centres of Puritan and later Dissenting activity from before the Civil War, when Hill Top Chapel was built as a chapel-of-ease to Sheffield Parish Church (now the Anglican Cathedral).

There was a college for training Dissenting clergy at Attercliffe Old Hall in the late seventeenth-century, and informal congregations worshipped in several locations north of Sheffield during the eighteenth century.

A temporary chapel was built on the site that became the Zion Sabbath School in 1793, and a permanent building was erected on the opposite side of what became Zion Lane in 1805.  The existing Sabbath School building dates from 1854, and a fine Romanesque brick chapel with a tower and spire was opened in 1863.  This building was demolished after a fire in June 1987.

The 1863 chapel was founded on the energetic ministry of Rev John Calvert (1832-1922), who was invited to become minister in 1857.

His leadership made Zion Church prominent, until its attendances exceeded any other place of worship in Attercliffe.  Zion members helped to form branch churches in Brightside and Darnall, and a mission church at Baldwin Street, half a mile away.

When Mr Calvert retired to Southport in 1895 he named his house ‘Attercliffe’.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Zion was the largest Congregational community, measured by membership, in Sheffield:  it had four hundred members when the four city-centre chapels each had around three hundred each.

To accommodate the Sunday School and young people’s activities, in 1911 the congregation opened an extensive Institute next to the chapel, designed by the Sheffield architects Hemsoll & Chapman, whose best surviving building is Cavendish Buildings on West Street.  When first built, the Institute offered football, cricket, tennis, a gymnasium and a literary and debating section to young members of the congregation.

This vigorous Christian community filled its extensive buildings for only twenty years.  By 1930 the Sabbath School was leased as a printing works, and after the Second World War rooms in the Institute were leased to the Ministry of Works for use by civil-service departments.

Gale-damage in 1962 made the church itself unusable, and services moved next door into the Institute.  Zion Congregational Church closed entirely at the end of 1969 when the congregation amalgamated with Darnall Congregational Church.

Photographic evidence shows that the Institute building was completely demolished by July 1977.

The Church continued to be used as a furniture store until a serious fire on June 22nd 1987 led to its subsequent demolition.

Now only the Sabbath School and the graveyard remain – unobtrusive monuments to a long, proud tradition of Nonconformist worship in north Sheffield.

On Thursday May 24th the Friends of Zion Graveyard present Mike Higginbottom’s talk on Victorian Cemeteries at the Upper Wincobank Chapel, Sheffield.  For further details, please click here.

Sheffield’s hidden rivers

River Sheaf culvert and former Alexandra Hotel, Blonk Street, Sheffield

River Sheaf culvert and former Alexandra Hotel, Blonk Street, Sheffield

In the nineteenth century the rivers on which Sheffield is built were polluted, insanitary and smelly.

The River Porter runs south-east to join the River Sheaf at the site of the city’s railway station, and the Sheaf then runs north-east for about a quarter of a mile to join the River Don at the site of the medieval castle.

Both rivers were progressively culverted, tidied away and largely forgotten about.

The original Midland Railway station, platforms 5-8 of the modern station, opened in 1870, and was more or less doubled in size in 1905 when the present concourse and platforms 1-4 were added.

It’s difficult to imagine, while waiting for a train, that beneath the tracks is a spectacular complex of vaults and arches carrying the water from the two rivers northwards under Sheaf Street, where there is a brief open stretch before the watercourse disappears under the Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, next emerging at the confluence of the Sheaf and Don at the end of the oddly-named Blonk Street (named after a scissor-smith, Benjamin Blonk).

This last section was only completed in 1916, after the demolition of the Alexandra Theatre a couple of years earlier.  Part of the theatre building stood on iron columns over the river bed:  http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/SheffieldTheatres.htm#alex.  The now-defunct and possibly haunted Alexandra Hotel stands on an adjacent site:  https://sheffield.camra.org.uk/2013/11/alexandra-hotel.

There are plans to remove the 1916 culvert as part of the forthcoming development of the former Castle Market site, and there are informal campaigns urging the opening of other stretches of Sheffield’s buried rivers.

This recent press article, about a sinkhole revealing the River Sheaf beneath the car-park of the sports-shop Decathlon, includes a spectacular video of waterborne gymnastics beneath the station:  https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/feature-bold-plans-to-uncover-sheffield-s-hidden-rivers-1-8421598.

An artful slide-show that suggests the cavernous extent of the area beneath the station (named for reasons which escape me the Megatron) is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fmsG6svhYo.

And three more pedestrian urban-explorer reports are at https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/river-porter-culverts-sheffield-railway-station-april-2017.108056, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T13hCT2XBn4 and https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/megatron-sheffield-june-and-july-2015.97955.

Brighton opened its sewers to public tours half a century ago:  https://www.southernwater.co.uk/brighton-sewer-tours.  Perhaps Sheffield should open its subterranean rivers.

One man, one mester

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

My Sheffield’s Heritage tour-group were honoured to be introduced, by Mike, our guide from the Ken Hawley Collection, to Stan Shaw BEM, who at ninety-one is not exactly the last of Sheffield’s little mesters, simply because in his lifetime he has picked up the craft skills of perhaps a dozen of the specialised traditional Sheffield tradesmen.

Technically, he’s a spring-knife cutler:  all his hand-crafted knives have retractable, spring-loaded blades.

Stan tells his own story in a Sheffield Telegraph article dated March 24th 2016 [https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/life-is-still-at-the-sharp-end-for-expert-sheffield-craftsman-in-his-90th-year-1-7813981]:

“When I got to be 14 years of age I wondered – because I’d never done metalwork or woodwork – what am I going to do for a living?  I went on to Rockingham Street and saw Ibbersons and knocked on the door and said, ‘Can I have a job, Mr Ibberson?’

“I went upstairs to see him, in a little ante-room, and there were all the knives in glass cases.  I said, ‘I want to make them’.  I don’t know why I said it – I’d never used tools in my life – so he sent for his head cutler and said, ‘This lad wants to make knives.  Will you have him?’

“So I started with him the following morning.  I took to it like a duck to water, like it was made for me.”

 Over the decades he gained the expertise to make high-quality, decorative, practical knives that command premium prices, and since he went self-employed in 1987 he has never looked back.

The old hand-craft skills will die with Stan, because he’s consistently declined to take on the paperwork encumbrances that come with apprentices.  He explains in a 2006 interview [http://www.mylearning.org/metalwork-in-sheffield-/p-833] how modern machine-made knives lack the quality he achieves:

“I was taught the proper way with a skilled man.  You’ve got to have somebody teach the proper way and there are a lot of people trying to learn themselves but they can’t.  They try and make as good a job as they can but they’re limited so there is only one way to learn and that is with skilled people who’ve learnt it from his father and his father before him.”

To buy one of Stan’s knives, stamped “Stan Shaw, Sheffield”, you wouldn’t get much change out of £2,000, and you’d have to collect it – wherever in the world you live – because he doesn’t trust them to the post.

And he has a four-year waiting list.

The only clients who don’t have to wait are his grandchildren, to whom he gives knives on their birthdays and Christmas.

No doubt family members, like such other clients as HM Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of York and President George H W Bush, have to hand over a coin in return, to prevent the friendship being cut.

The best available account of Stan’s life and work is a downloadable illustrated booklet Stan Shaw and the Art of the Pocket Knife (2016) by the Sheffield industrial historian Geoffrey Tweedale [http://contrib2.wkfinetools.com/tweedaleG/stanShaw/0_img/TWEEDALE-Stan%20Shaw-(12-12-2016).pdf] – an example of a craftsman in words writing about a craftsman in steel, silver, brass, wood, bone, stag-horn, buffalo-horn, abalone, tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl.

Nowt but tools

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Few people have done as much to preserve the living legacy of Sheffield’s industrial crafts as Ken Hawley MBE (1927-2014).

Born on the then new Manor Estate, Ken lived almost all his life in the north of the city, the son of a wire-goods manufacturer.

He left school at fourteen, in the middle of the Second World War, and after National Service he worked for a succession of Sheffield businesses until in 1959 he set up his own shop, selling “nowt but tools” for thirty years.  Retirement in 1989 kept him busy for the rest of his life.

On a sales visit to an undertaker in 1950 Ken was intrigued by an unusual brace which he was allowed to take home because it was no longer useful.

From then on, often with the unanswerable words “You’ll not be wanting this, will you?”, Ken amassed a collection of tools, and tools that make tools, ancient and modern, across the entire range of Sheffield’s multifarious specialist crafts – saws, chisels, planes, hammers, trowels, spades, shovels, scythes, files, awls, shears, scissors, knives of all kinds, vices, drills, micrometers, callipers, soldering equipment, drawing equipment, kitchen equipment and surgical equipment that doesn’t bear thinking about.

He was instrumental, as a member of the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, in restoring the historic Wortley Top Forge [http://www.topforge.co.uk], of which he was Custodian for forty years, but his greatest legacy is the collection of tools and associated archives that gradually filled his house, his garage and two garden sheds.

Eventually, Sheffield University offered space for what became the Ken Hawley Collection Trust, which was relocated in 2007 to the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, where it formally opened in 2010.

Here, as a separate operation from the Museum, a band of volunteers conserve, research and catalogue the seventy thousand or more artefacts and documents that form the collection.

Ken was intensely proud of his city, “a wonderful place, with all the skills of the different people”, and considered it a privilege to bring together the evidence of its industry at the time when the traditional crafts were dying out.

Without him, we’d know a good deal less about the ingenuity and the sheer skill of Sheffield’s metal workers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijCEeRIdQSo&feature=youtu.be

The Ken Hawley Collection can be viewed whenever the Museum is open, and its volunteers are more than happy to explain the intricacies of the specialist displays:  http://www.hawleytoolcollection.com.

And if you have any spare tools, they might fill a gap in the collection.

 

Dig in the park

Firth Park bandstand dig, Sheffield, July 6th 2017

Firth Park bandstand dig, Sheffield, July 6th 2017

When I took my friends John and Lynn for a post-prandial walk in the park we came upon a deserted trench, surrounded by security fencing.

We were intrigued to see brickwork exposed, and I surmised that it would have some connection with the bandstand that I knew stood on the park from the Edwardian period until it was demolished in the 1970s.

Sure enough, when I saw activity a couple of days later and walked across to ask what was going on I discovered it was Dig it!, a project led by Dr Katherine Fennelly, Lecturer in Heritage at the University of Lincoln, and Colin Merrony from the Department of Archaeology at Sheffield, a happy combination of academic investigation and outreach to encourage local school and college students to take an interest in the fascination of archaeology and to think about taking the opportunity to study at university:  https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/news/digit_2017-1.714348.

Teenagers are likely to take notice when they see young people a few years older than they are – in this case Sheffield University students Ceiridwen Blakesley and David Inglis – enjoying themselves with hands-on work that also requires serious thinking.

By the end of the two-week dig the team had determined the dimensions of the octagonal bandstand from its remaining foundations, and had decided that the brick-lined compartment in the centre was a furniture store accessed by a trap-door in the wooden floor of the bandstand.

The exercise will be all the more valuable if, sometime in the next five years, some kid from a north Sheffield school decides they want to train their mind and expand their career by going to university, whatever they choose to study.

And I trust the Department of Archaeology will continue to Dig It! – after all, in archaeology as in show business, you’re only as good as your last dig.

The Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group has a meeting that includes a talk by Kathy Clark of Historic England on Bandstands on Thursday November 23rd 2017 at 7.30pm at the Friends Meeting House, St James’ Street, Sheffield, S1 2EW.  There is a charge of £5.00.

 

 

The spire and the minaret

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

Trinity Methodist Church and the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, Firvale, Sheffield

The multicultural, multi-faith nature of the local community, depicted in the Channel 4 documentary Keeping up with the Khans (2016) [http://www.channel4.com/programmes/keeping-up-with-the-khans], has a remarkable architectural expression in the buildings of Trinity Methodist Church, Firvale, Sheffield, which has closed because its congregation felt they could no longer maintain their large, listed building:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/our-towns-and-cities/sheffield/a-120-year-old-sheffield-church-to-close-due-to-cost-of-upkeep-1-8561680.

The church was built in 1899, designed by the Derby architect John Wills (1846-1906), a prolific builder of nonconformist churches and chapels.  The Gothic design is remarkably church-like, with a chancel, an altar and a tall spire that dominates the narrow fork of the junction between Firth Park Road and Owler Lane.

This High-Church Methodist layout, unusual in north Sheffield, is more often found in the affluent south-western suburbs.

The interior, split to provide meeting rooms in 1979-81, still retains its alabaster pulpit and font, and a three-manual Wilcox organ.

The adjacent Sunday School, added in 1907, was sold in 1976 and has become the Jamia Mosque Ghausia, carefully extended with a domed minaret that echoes the Gothic spire at the other end of the complex.

The church itself was put up for sale, with a price of £375,000, early in 2017.

The departure of the Methodists diminishes the symbolism of the two groups of worshippers as neighbours.  It will be interesting to see whether the church is taken over by the Muslim congregation or put to some other use.

Christians and Muslims remain neighbours in the heart of Firvale, however, because the Anglican parish church of St Cuthbert continues its work, with a well-designed community centre leading from the north aisle, opened in 2014:  http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/community-boost-from-new-sheffield-church-1-6698115.

St Cuthbert’s is a building of quality, dating shortly after the opening of Trinity Methodist Church.  It was built 1901-5, designed by John Dodsley Webster (d 1913) whose many Sheffield buildings included the recently demolished Jessop Hospital for Women.

The diminutive tower of 1959 is an unfortunate addition.  However, the church contains fine stained glass by Archibald Davis (1877-1953) of the Bromsgrove Guild, including a particularly beautiful war-memorial east window depicting the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Whatever happens to the Trinity Methodist Church buildings, the Christians and the Muslims will continue to be neighbours and no doubt will work together for the good of the local community.

St Cuthbert's Church, Firvale, Sheffield:  east window

St Cuthbert’s Church, Firvale, Sheffield: east window

Zion Graveyard 1

51750-Sheffield-Attercliffe

There’s not a lot left of the vibrant community that existed in Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley until the late 1950s.  Two ancient structures – Carbrook Hall and Hill Top Chapel – survive from the seventeenth century.  There are some twentieth-century buildings, such as Banners Department Store and the former Adelphi Cinema.  Other, less prepossessing buildings have become significant simply because they survived – a number of banks and pubs, two Burton’s tailors, a chapel, a swimming baths and a library.

In a corner behind the remaining shops on Attercliffe Road is a historic discovery.

Parallel to the main road runs Zion Lane, a narrow alley still paved with bricks and stone setts.  It takes its name from the former Zion Congregational Church, a place of worship since 1793, the site ultimately occupied by a grand Romanesque chapel with a tower and spire, opened in 1863.

Inevitably, as the houses were cleared in the 1950s and 1960s the church became unsustainable. The building was sold in 1976 and the church became a furniture store until it burnt down in 1987 and was afterwards demolished.  The Zion Sabbath School across the lane survives as a motor-repair business.

Through all this, in the graveyard behind the church generations of Attercliffe people slept undisturbed.  I photographed it in 1977, and another photographer recorded it in 1994, when it still looked like a burial ground.  Eventually it became a jungle.

The graveyard still belongs to the United Reformed Church, which needs to divest itself of the responsibility.  A sharp-eyed member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, an energetic conservation body operating a couple of miles away, spotted the sale notice, which led to the formation of the Friends of Zion Graveyard who have cleared sufficient clutter to reveal that this place is freighted with historic significance.

Among the graves so far uncovered and identified are Mark Oakes (died September 19, 1856) – assayer, refiner and crucible maker, John Pearson of Hall Carr House (died January 14th 1877) – whose daughter Martha was assistant organist to Zion Church, buried with his wife and sister in an elaborate grave marked with iron posts and railings, and Jonathan Wood (died October 20th 1848), – owner of Wood’s (or Bridge) Foundry, member of the Zion Church choir, and his wife Catherine Wood (died September 12th 1873) – buried with their two infant children in an tomb surrounded by iron railings that were once painted gold, and two other children with the same family names, aged one year and two months, close by.

Most important of all, the Friends have located the family vault of the Read family.

Joseph Read (1774-1837) established the Sheffield Smelting Company (which is still in operation as Thessco Ltd) at Royd’s Mill, Washford Bridge, half a mile away from the Zion Church.  They lived at Wincobank Hall.

One of his daughters, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), was a notable anti-slavery campaigner who with her sister Emily Read was a founder-member of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society and its successor, the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery.

Another of his daughters, Elizabeth “Eliza” Read (1803-1851), married William Wilson (1800-1866), a nonconformist Radical who was chairman of the Nottingham Anti-Slavery Committee.

Their son, Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914) was the “stern and uncompromising” Liberal MP for Holmfirth (1885-1912).

His teetotal, non-smoking younger brother, John Wycliffe Wilson JP (1836-1921) became Lord Mayor of Sheffield (1902) on condition that alcohol should be banned at the Town Hall during his term.  As Chairman of Sheffield Board of Guardians he instigated the development of cottage homes for orphaned children.

Henry Joseph Wilson’s son, Cecil Henry Wilson (1864-1945) was Labour MP for Attercliffe (1922-1931 and 1935-1944).

In this nonconformist, Radical, individualistic town, this self-made dynasty is working-class aristocracy and Mary Ann Rawson’s campaigning career entitles her to national recognition.

Their unassuming, long-forgotten burial place deserves to be treasured and celebrated.

It commemorates what made Sheffield.

Chapel of ease

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe, Sheffield

It’s no accident that the main road through Attercliffe, the industrial east end of Sheffield, is called Attercliffe Common.

Until 1811 it was indeed agricultural common land, where the highwayman Spence Broughton was gibbeted in 1792 near to the scene of his crime.  His name and the location are commemorated in nearby Broughton Lane.

After the enclosure the salubrious country homes and villas of the valley were overrun by steelworks and housing, so that only their names survive in the street-plan – Attercliffe Old and New Halls, Woodbourn Hall and Chippingham House, though part of the Jacobean Carbrook Hall, with its original panelling, plaster ceilings and ghost, survived and still survives as a public house.

Of similar age to Carbrook Hall is another unlikely survival, Hill Top Chapel, a simple Gothic-survival building of 1629, built ostensibly because the journey to Sheffield parish church, now the Cathedral, was said to be impossible in winter.

It was built by subscription, with contributions from William Spencer of Attercliffe Hall and Stephen Bright (1583-1642) of Carbrook Hall.  His younger brother Rev John Bright (1594/5-1643) was vicar of Sheffield from 1635 until the year of his death.  Both of them, like most influential people in Sheffield, were Puritans.

Stephen Bright’s son, John (1619-1688), was an important figure supporting Parliament in the Civil Wars, and politically astute enough to be awarded a baronetcy at the Restoration.  He retired to Badsworth, near Wakefield.

The Brights’ puritan influence remained in Attercliffe, where a dissenting academy was founded in 1686.

The steelmaker Benjamin Huntsman was buried in the Hill Top graveyard in 1776.

The Hill Top Chapel remained the only Anglican place of worship between Sheffield and Rotherham until a new parish church, Christ Church, Attercliffe, was consecrated in 1826. 

By the 1840s the chapel served only for funerals in the surrounding graveyard. 

After Attercliffe Cemetery opened in 1859 alongside Christ Church, even that function declined, yet the chapel and the graveyard survived amid the grimy industrial works and densely packed streets of terraced housing.

The structure was reduced and substantially rebuilt by John Dodsley Webster in 1909.

The exterior featured in the music video of ‘Sensoria’, by the Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2vCpT1H7u0 – made in 1984, an interesting moment of change in the landscape of the Lower Don Valley.

In the late 1990s Hill Top Chapel accommodated an offshoot of the Nine o’Clock Service [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/nine-oclock-church-relaunches-services-1303804.html], which was witnessed by a bemused mystery worshipper from the Ship of Fools website:  http://shipoffools.com/mystery/1998/026Mystery.html.

The building is now used, appropriately, by a Presbyterian congregation that proudly recalls the building’s Puritan heritage:  http://sheffieldpres.org.uk/about-us/hill-top-chapel.

The Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour includes a visit to the former industrial East End of Sheffield.  For details, please click here.