Mary Ann Rawson’s legacy

Upper Wincobank Chapel and Old School House, Sheffield

Photo: © Penny Rae

Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887) was a celebrated campaigner for the anti-slavery movement, who corresponded with such luminaries as Frederick Douglass, Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce and promoted social reforms of all kinds throughout her long life.

The daughter of a prosperous Sheffield refiner of precious metals and the widow of a Nottingham businessman who died young, she was in an extraordinary position, as a woman in early nineteenth-century England, to work to benefit humanity.

She bought back the family home, Wincobank Hall, which had been sold to cover her father’s business difficulties, and lived there with her sister Emily to the end of her life.

Her philanthropy ranged widely and her views were lifelong and determined.  James Montgomery, who had been editor of Sheffield’s radical newspaper, the Sheffield Iris, considered she held “such extreme notions – such extreme views” about total abstinence and the abolition of the death penalty.  She was one of the first, in 1839, to sign the teetotal Pledge.

Though she campaigned nationally and internationally, she also did good on her own doorstep, in particular by selling her silverware to found a school for local children in 1841, and she afterwards financed a school house that “would attract a good School Master”.  In 1880 she established a Charitable Trust to ensure that the building would continue to benefit the community beyond her lifetime.  Her Trust Deed specified that it could be used as a place of worship but must remain undenominational and totally in the control of the congregation.

When the school was superseded by a board school in 1905 the congregation extended it as a chapel, and Mary Ann Rawson’s legacy remains active in making Wincobank a better place.  The Grade II-listed Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel has services each Sunday and hosts social activities during the week:  What’s going on at Upper Wincobank Chapel – Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel.

The Chapel trustees, together with members of the Friends of Zion Graveyard, the Friends of Wincobank Hill and local residents are refurbishing the Old School House to provide a community hub and heritage centre, thanks to support from the Veolia Environmental Trust, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Town Trust, the J G Graves Charitable Trust, the Clothmakers Foundation and South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

Rising costs and increasingly urgent needs, including a warm hub this winter, mean that the working group needs additional funds to complete the scheme. 

If you’d like to contribute, please go to

The Friends of Zion Graveyard Annual General Meeting takes place at the Upper Wincobank Chapel, Wincobank Avenue, Sheffield, S5 6BB on Monday December 12th 2022 at 7.00pm.  It’s open to anyone who has connections with the Wincobank community or is interested in the Chapel, the Graveyard.

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