Monthly Archives: August 2018

North of the Gap

Great Central Railway (Nottingham):  LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

Great Central Railway (Nottingham): LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

The Great Central Railway (Loughborough) has a long and fortunate history since it was formed as the Main Line Project Group in 1970.

Through many struggles against all manner of setbacks, volunteers have maintained and expanded their train services and recreated much of the infrastructure of the old Great Central.

It’s fair to say, without disparagement, that their colleagues at the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) have more challenges to face.

Their line, north of Loughborough, didn’t become available until the 1990s, by which time the buildings on the only original station, East Leake, had been demolished, though track remained because of British Gypsum and Ministry of Defence freight traffic.

Initial preservation work concentrated on creating a branch and terminus, Ruddington Fields, on the former MoD site, which became the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre.  This is currently the centre of activity, with plenty for transport enthusiasts to enjoy.

Train services run out of Ruddington Fields on to the former main line, reverse at Fifty Steps Bridge and run down the old GCR to a stop-board about a mile from the other preserved Great Central Railway at Loughborough Central.

It’s refreshing to be able to travel on a stretch of the old Great Central, but for the moment it’s also a frustrating experience because of the Gap that was severed in the 1970s.

Though the bridge across the Midland Main Line has been reinstated, there’s still a canal bridge to refurbish and a 300-metre stretch of embankment to rebuild before the GCR (Loughborough)’s depot can be swept out of the way and trains can run uninterruptedly eighteen miles from Ruddington to Leicester:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

Indeed, though it can’t be high on the agenda, it seems possible that the line could be reinstated north of Ruddington to the point where the NET tramway occupies the old GCR formation at Clifton Boulevard.

This is the work of decades, if not a generation, but it’s testimony to the determination and hard work of transport enthusiasts that what was once discarded as useless infrastructure is slowly, doggedly being restored to useful amenities.

Hardly anybody would have imagined, when the Great Central main line was wound down in the 1960s that it would ever again carry trains, let alone trams.

The Great Central Railway (Nottingham) website is at http://www.gcrn.co.uk and the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) is at http://www.gcrailway.co.uk.

Both railways are included in the itinerary of the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

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”.