The Friends of Zion Graveyard have made great progress since their inauguration last May: they have secured funds and bought 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 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.