Category Archives: Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Full steam ahead

Mill Meece Pumping Station, Staffordshire

Few preservation groups are invited to take on a historic site in complete working order.

When the steam engines at the Mill Meece Pumping Station, south of Stoke-on-Trent, were finally decommissioned at the end of 1979 the then owners, the Severn Trent Water Authority, invited enthusiasts to form a Preservation Trust to preserve the historic waterworks intact while the modern machinery did the work of supplying water. 

The Trust took over the site in 1981 and promptly opened it to the public.

Mill Meece Pumping Station (1914) represents one of the latest preserved examples of steam-powered water-supply pumping installations.  It is in effect the penultimate chapter in the story of steam and water-supply, a little earlier than the Kempton Great Engines, west of London, which were completed in 1929. 

The Trust website emphasises why this late example of steam pumping engineering is historically important:

[Although] beam engines abound, the Mill Meece horizontal tandem compound steam engines are the only ones of their type still capable of being steamed.  Along with all the ancillary equipment of boilers, economiser, Weir pumps, steam winch and weigh bridge the station forms a complete example of an Edwardian water supply pumping station.

The Staffordshire Potteries Water Works Company was founded in 1846 and spent the following three-quarters of a century trying to keep up with demand from the rapidly growing industrial Five Towns and the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. 

The Company opened a succession of waterworks and repeatedly extended them and their supporting networks of mains and reservoirs.  For much of the time further installations were planned even before the new ones were operational.

Indeed, when the land for Mill Meece Pumping Station was purchased in 1899, the Hatton Pumping Station, two miles further north, was incomplete.  The original pair of beam engines of 1892 at Hatton were supplemented by a horizontal engine completed in 1898, and a further horizontal engine was added in 1907.

Though diesel or electric power was available for water pumping by the beginning of the twentieth century, the Company, based in a coalfield, was content to rely on steam.  The Hatton engines were considered efficient, reliable and economical, so the Mill Meece engine house was built to accommodate two engines, powered by three boilers.

Mill Meece was the last of the Company’s waterworks, initially completed in 1914, though it didn’t begin pumping to supply until 1919. 

Half the engine house was occupied by a horizontal compound tandem rotary steam engine by Ashton Frost & Co of Blackburn drawing steam from two Lancashire boilers, pumping to the same reservoir at Hanchurch as Hatton. 

In the empty half of the engine house the Company’s municipal successor, the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board, installed a second engine by Hathorn Davey in 1927, broadly similar to its companion, together with a third Lancashire boiler. 

The two engines were built to the same specification, though they are not identical, and they are laid out in mirror image so that they can be controlled from a single central operating position.

All the other Company water works were converted to pump by electricity in the 1930s, but despite talk of scrapping them, the relatively new and powerful Mill Meece engines were kept for stand-by use after the station was electrified in 1949.

Indeed, the last time they pumped water into the public supply was December 22nd 1979, and within two years they formed the centrepiece of a working museum: Mill Meece Pumping Station.

In 2013 structural problems with the boiler house flues prevented the engines from steaming, and the remedial work took until November 2020. 

After years of frustration when visitors have been invited into a cold and silent works, the Covid pandemic precluded a quick return to steam.

The engines eventually moved again over the weekend of August 14th-15th 2021, and there’s every reason to hope that there will be a full programme of events at Mill Meece in 2022: What’s On (millmeecepumpingstation.co.uk)

Thomas Hawksley’s grand designs

Former Bestwood Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire, now Lakeside Restaurant (2021)

A pair of remarkable linked architectural experiences are to be found north of Nottingham, where two of the magnificent pumping stations associated with the Victorian engineer Thomas Hawksley (1807-1893) are open to the public.

When I first planned my Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness tour to take place in 2020 I couldn’t include Bestwood Pumping Station because the restaurant that occupied the building had closed.

The slightly later Papplewick Pumping Station is so important and so spectacular that I determined the date of the tour to coincide with the steaming-day programme at Papplewick, and I did exactly the same when I had to postpone the tour, first to 2021 and latterly to 2022.

By the time I did final checks for the 2022 dates – Thursday August 25th-Monday August 29th 2022 – the newly refurbished Lakeside Restaurant had reopened, providing the opportunity to enjoy both buildings on the same day, with lunch included.

When Bestwood Pumping Station was built between 1869 and 1873 the landowner, the 10th Duke of St Albans, had only recently completed his grandiose retreat at Bestwood Lodge, and His Grace specified in the lease to the Nottingham Waterworks Company that the waterworks should embellish his estate.

Consequently, the engine house is an elaborate brick essay in thirteenth-century Gothic, with a 172-foot high chimney that’s encased in a Venetian Gothic staircase tower leading to a viewing platform.  (This will be open to the public when building works are finished in due course.)

The engines were dismantled in 1968 and the empty building reopened as the Lakeside Restaurant in 1997 with a décor strongly reminiscent of Victorian country houses, later replaced by an understated colour scheme of sage green and gold.

The latest refurbishment has transformed the interior to a dramatic charcoal and white scheme with tiny touches of gold that admirably brings out the decorative detail of the Victorian structural ironwork.

Papplewick is even more ornate, and for different reasons.  By the time it was started in 1882 the Waterworks Company had been taken over by Nottingham Corporation, and their engineer, Marriott Ogle Tarbotton (1835-1887), closely followed Hawksley’s design at Bestwood.  The Papplewick project was finished below budget, so the surplus cash was spent on a riot of craftsman decoration, all on the theme of water and water creatures.

When I visited the Lakeside to update my photos, and to have lunch, my hostess Theo mentioned that she hadn’t ever visited the Papplewick Pumping Station, and she was sufficiently enticed by my friend’s videos of the engines in steam to arrange to visit the next steaming day with her colleague Katie.

They’re in for a treat, as my guests will be on next August’s tour.

To walk through the imposing front door of Bestwood Pumping for an excellent lunch, and then to drive over to Papplewick and walk through a very similar front door to witness two huge beam engines quietly turning is a profoundly satisfying contrast.

In the warm, hypnotic environment of the Papplewick engine house it feels as if the earth moves.

Bestwood is visually dramatic, and Papplewick is a multisensory theatrical experience.

The Lakeside Restaurant in the former Bestwood Pumping Station is a lunch stop on the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Exploring Canberra: All Saints’ Church, Ainslie 1

All Saints’ Parish Church, Ainslie, Canberra, Australia

Just as I’d taken a jetlag break in Manila only to see the San Sebastian Church, in my epic journey from Hobart in Tasmania to Cairns in Queensland I took a side-trip from Sydney to Canberra specifically to see one building.

All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, deep in the Canberra suburbs, is of unique interest to anyone who studies Gothic architecture, railways, nineteenth-century funeral practices and conservation. 

The stonework of All Saints’ started out as the Haslem’s Creek Cemetery Station, the terminus of the rail spur into Rookwood Cemetery from Lidcombe Station, ten miles from Sydney Central.  This imposing structure accommodated a single track under cover, with platforms on either side and open arcades through which coffins were transferred to horse-drawn hearses to reach their burial site.  The funeral station was a highly elaborate Gothic essay, matching the high quality of the Mortuary Station alongside Central Station.  Both buildings were designed by the Colonial Architect, James Johnstone Burnet (1827-1904).

Trains entered through a Gothic arch, from which spring carved angels, the left-hand one holding a scroll with closed eyes, the right-hand with open eyes holding a trumpet:  the pair presumably symbolise death and resurrection.  The station originally ended in an octagonal apse which was removed in 1891 when the line was extended further into the cemetery to Cemetery Stations 2, 3 and 4:  the stones of the apse became the ladies’ waiting room of Cemetery Station 3 and the Haslem’s Creek station was renamed Cemetery Station 1.

The cemetery railway closed in 1948, and Cemetery Station 1 was vandalised and then burnt out, leaving only the masonry standing, sometime in the 1950s.  The stones were purchased by the parish of All Saints’, Ainslie, for A£100 and transported to Canberra in eighty-three lorry-loads in 1958.  The total cost of transport and reconstruction was A£5,101 3s 2d.

This remarkable transaction was led by the Rector, Rev Edward G Buckle, and a parishioner, Mr Stan Taunton.  Some people were not in favour.  According to Mr Buckle, “anonymous phone-calls were received, from sincere people, declaring the venture foolhardy, and urging its abandonment”.

None of the stones were lost, though there was a worrying moment when a truck carrying carved stonework including keystones of the arches and interior columns, broke down on the road and apparently disappeared.  It reappeared two days later after the driver had arranged a replacement clutch at a remote country garage.

There is a poignant photograph of the clergy and parishioners holding hands in a circle around the footings of their new church in a service based on 1 Peter 2:5 – “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 

The architect, Mr W Pierce, ingeniously adapted the 782 tons of stone, including the apse rescued from Cemetery Station no 3, in a three-dimensional jigsaw in which nothing was wasted.  To fit the site the bell-tower was re-erected on the opposite side of the building from Burnet’s original layout.  The entrance arch with the angels was taken inside to frame the sanctuary, and the rear arch became the west front.  The sanctuary itself was built from most of the stones of the original apse, except for the angled stones which became the pulpit.  The top of the chimney of the apse is now the font.

The result is a very beautiful and original building.  The Tasmanian Mountain Ash roof and interior fittings all date from 1958 and a new floor of ceramic tiles, coloured to match the sandstone stonework, was installed in 2011.  There is a west gallery with a Bishop & Starr organ from Wealdstone Baptist Church, Harrow, purchased in 1988.

The proportions of the interior are unlike a conventional Gothic church – wider, lighter and lower, big enough to accommodate an Australian-sized train.  Its proportions work perfectly as a worship space.

Blackburn Meadows

Blackburn Meadows Waste Water Treatment Works, South Yorkshire

Sheffield sits in a bowl of hills, drained by five rivers:  the rivers Loxley, Rivelin, Porter and Sheaf each drain into the Don, which flows north-east to Rotherham, Doncaster and the Humber estuary.

There’s only one place to put a sewage works to serve Sheffield – Blackburn Meadows, named after the Blackburn Brook that joins the River Don near to the Meadowhall shopping centre.

Blackburn Meadows Wastewater Treatment Works is nowadays discreetly shielded by the bulk of the M1 motorway Tinsley Viaduct.  Formerly, it was surrounded by steelworks and railway lines, an environment of stygian gloom that was, ironically, essential to the health of the city.

Sheffield stunk for much of the nineteenth century, until in 1886 the Sheffield Local Board of Health completed a main drainage scheme, costing £150,338, including the 23-acre Blackburn Meadows sewage works at Tinsley, which cost £44,730. 

Sewage treatment was rudimentary and didn’t work particularly well.

Sheffield Corporation, the successor-authority to the Local Board, took compulsory powers in 1890 to convert premises served by middens to water closets:  in 1893 there were still 32,362 privy middens in the town;  by 1914 this number had been reduced to 7,450 and hardly any remained by the end of the 1920s.

Through the twentieth century Blackburn Meadows was repeatedly modernised to deal with Sheffield’s industrial and domestic sewage by bio-aeration – oxygenating the liquid to encourage “good” bacteria to digest the offensive matter – and, latterly, the incineration of solid waste.  In the inter-war period visitors came from far and wide to admire and learn about the ‘Sheffield System’ of sewage disposal.

From January 1979 Sheffield’s Victorian sewerage-system was dramatically upgraded by the completion of the gigantic 5.5m-diameter Don Valley Intercepting Sewer. Sewage is pumped into the works at Blackburn Meadows from a depth of 22.5 metres by four 1050Kw and two 540Kw pumps housed in a cream-coloured, clad and glazed pumphouse designed by Hadfield Cawkwell Davison and completed in 1983. 

Blackburn Meadows remains the ultimate and inevitable destination for all Sheffield’s sewage and storm-water.  Indeed, in the 1950s when Sheffield built a housing estate on its southern boundary at Greenhill, which drains south into the Drone valley, the Derbyshire authorities told the city exactly what it could do with its ordure.  Consequently, the Greenhill effluent is pumped back over the watershed to begin its long journey to Blackburn Meadows.

It’s the proud boast of the workers at Blackburn Meadows that the liquid they return to the River Don is cleaner than the river itself.

One day’s itinerary in the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour includes a journey along the course of the Great Sheffield Flood, which killed at least 250 people in March 1864. It starts at the Dale Dike Dam which replaced the one that burst, includes relevant sites including Wardsend Cemetery, and ends with a fleeting view of Blackburn Meadows WTW from the M1 Tinsley Viaduct. For details of the programme, please click here.

No more Coles in Sheffield

Sheffield General Cemetery: John Cole monument

One of the many business casualties of the Covid pandemic was the John Lewis store in the centre of Sheffield.

Its demise was not entirely a surprise but it caused sadness to Sheffield people who’d shopped there over the years.

Indeed, the building was only branded ‘John Lewis’ in 2002.  Previously it was Cole Brothers, and Sheffield shoppers continued to call it Coles because to them that was what it was.

The Cole brothers, born in Pickering, North Yorkshire, were John (1814-1898), Thomas (1824-1902) and Skelton (1827-1896).  The older two had served apprenticeships as drapers and founded the company in 1847, trading as “Silk Mercers, Shawl, Mantle and Carpet Warehousemen, Bonnet Makers and Sewing Machine Agents”.  Skelton joined the partnership later.

One of their assistants, John Atkinson, left in 1872 to found his own department store, which still trades on The Moor.

The business was continued by the sons respectively of Thomas and Skelton Cole – Thomas (b 1854) and Thomas Skelton Cole (b 1853), who sold the store in 1920 to Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947).  He transferred it to his Selfridge Provincial Stores group seven years later and in 1940 sold it to the John Lewis Partnership, then as now an employee-owned mutual partnership.  Throughout these changes the store continued to trade as Cole Brothers.

The shop was repeatedly extended between 1869 and 1920 along Fargate and round the corner on to Church Street, and the corner entrance became the favoured meeting place for young couples, known as “Coles’ Corner”.

In the Sheffield Blitz of December 1940 Coles was the only department store in the city-centre that was largely unscathed.

The original store was replaced in 1963 with a new building on the site of the burnt-down Albert Hall at Barker’s Pool, and the lovers’ rendezvous moved to the fish-tank in the “Hole in the Road”, otherwise Castle Square, when it opened in 1967. 

(The Hole in the Road was filled in to make way for Supertram in 1994.  The well-worn joke was that the last fish in the tank was a piranha.)

Proposals for Coles to move to the Meadowhall Centre when it opened in 1990 and later plans to move into a new flagship John Lewis store in the aborted Sevenstone development alike came to nothing.

Now the only manifestations of the Cole brothers’ place in Sheffield’s history are a plaque on the site of the original Coles Corner, the Sheffield-born musician Richard Hawley’s eponymous 2005 album and John Coles’ eye-catching obelisk in the General Cemetery.

The ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour includes a guided tour of the Sheffield General Cemetery. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Zion Graveyard 3

Zion Graveyard, Attercliffe, Sheffield (April 2021)

Until last weekend, I hadn’t set foot in the Zion Graveyard – Attercliffe’s only historic site regularly open to the general public – since September 2019, the last time I was able to run a heritage Bus Ride Round Attercliffe.

A great deal has happened in eighteen months, not least at the Graveyard where, despite the constraints of lockdown and social distancing, the Friends have restored the place so that it once again looks like a graveyard rather than a jungle.

The difference they’ve made to a long-neglected, significant historic site is impressive.

The Friends of Zion Graveyard was formed in 2017 by the group who look after Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel, a couple of miles away.  They wanted to locate the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887), an energetic anti-slavery campaigner and social reformer, and found it deep in the neglected burial ground of the former Zion Congregational Church, which was burnt down in 1987.

The Friends purchased the graveyard site from the Yorkshire Congregational Union in January 2018.  The events that followed are chronicled at FoZGA End of Project Photo Report final.pdf (windows.net) and come alive in Jon Harrison’s excellent video:  Zion – the Forgotten Graveyard – YouTube.

They’re a small, energetic group who’ve achieved a great deal through their enthusiasm and their ability to secure funds from such organisations as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the J G Graves Charitable Trust to supplement the donations of individuals and small businesses associated with the Lower Don Valley.

There’s been much talk about celebrating the historic heritage of Attercliffe and Carbrook.  Carbrook Hall has been restored and converted from a pub to a particularly fine Starbucks.  The Hill Top Chapel is used for worship by the Sheffield Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  And Attercliffe Library has become a promising coffee shop, wine-bar and restaurant.

There are other buildings in the Valley that deserve to be put to use.  Some, like Tinsley Tram Sheds and the Adelphi Cinema, have given conservationists cause for concern while others, such as the imposing Banner’s former department store and the former Bodmin Street Wesleyan Reform Chapel are earning their keep in new ways.

The Graveyard has remained closed to the public during the pandemic, and its reopening is publicised on their website:  Friends of Zion Graveyard – Events (btck.co.uk).  It’s a delightful and fascinating place where visitors are made very welcome.

The Pumping Station

Former Cropston Pumping Station, Leicestershire

For most of the nineteenth century, demand for water supply in the borough of Leicester and its surrounding area left the waterworks company – and its successor Leicester Corporation – constantly chasing demand by increasing capacity.

The Leicester Waterworks Company was founded in 1846 and the following year secured an Act of Parliament to build a reservoir and treatment works at Thornton, to the west of the town.

The company struggled to attract capital until the Corporation promised to invest £17,000 of the required £80,000 in return for guarantees of a dividend of 4% per annum until 1883 and all the company’s net profits over 4½% for ever.

Thornton Reservoir began supplying up to 1.6 million gallons in 1853, but within ten years Leicester suffered two serious water shortages, in 1863 and 1864, and Leicester Corporation took shares in the company to finance the reservoir and pumping station at Cropston which opened in 1871.

When the Waterworks Company proposed to increase its capital further in 1874, the Corporation decided to purchase the company outright by means of an enabling Act in 1877.

The water level of Cropston Reservoir was raised to increase capacity in 1887, and in 1890 parliamentary powers were sought to establish another reservoir at Swithland. 

A further severe water shortage in 1893 was relieved only by taking an emergency supply from Ellistown Colliery which customarily supplied Coalville, and construction of the new dam began the following year.

Swithland Reservoir was built at almost the same time as the Great Central Railway line to London, which crosses it on two viaducts.  This stretch of railway now forms part of the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) heritage line.

In preparation for the opening of Swithland Reservoir in 1896, the Cropston pumping station was extended to pump water between the three reservoirs.

No sooner was this system in place than Leicester Corporation went to Parliament for powers to extract water from the Derbyshire River Derwent.  Other authorities had similar ideas and were obliged to collaborate by forming the Derwent Valley Water Board and building the reservoirs at Howden (1912), Derwent (1916) and Ladybower (1945).

The Leicester legacy of this race to build reservoirs includes three reservoirs and two former pumping stations.

Cropston Pumping Station, built for the Leicester Waterworks Company in 1870 and extended by Leicester Corporation Waterworks in 1894, was stripped of its engines and boilers in the 1950s and has been sensitively converted, retaining what was left of the internal installation, to a restaurant, wedding and conference venue by the current owners, Simon and Liz Thompson in 2015: https://www.thepumpingstation.co.uk.

The bar and restaurant space is in the former boiler house and the adjacent 1894 engine house retains the overhead winch which serviced the machinery below.  The 1870 engine house is now a private residence which includes the spiral staircase up the truncated chimney to an observation deck.

Visitors park their cars among the ornamental filter beds, below which is an underground brick reservoir which, in time to come, could become an exciting visitor attraction.

Water supply engineering has the happy advantage of enhancing local amenities.  People are resistant to having their land flooded, but the end-result is attractive, from Derbyshire’s spectacular lakeland to the quieter landscape of the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire.

The Pumping Station, Cropston is a lunch stop on the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Swithland Pumping Station is not accessible to the public.

The Great Sheffield Flood

Dale Dike Dam, South Yorkshire: marker ‘Centre Line Old Bank’
Dale Dike Dam, South Yorkshire: memorial

Sheffield has a poor track-record for civic monuments.

Apart from the statue of King Edward VII standing in recently spruced-up surroundings in Fitzalan Square, most of the other monuments that once graced the centre have been shipped off to suburban parks or, in the case of the Crimea Monument, dismantled:  https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/sheffields-missing-crimean-war-monument.

Indeed, until recently there was no monument of any significance to those who lost their lives in the most dramatic incident in the history of Sheffield, the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864.

The Sheffield Waterworks Company, desperately trying to keep up with accelerating demand from the rapidly growing steel industry and the expanding population, devised a scheme to capture the waters of the Loxley Valley, north-west of the town.

The first of three planned reservoirs, Dale Dike, was begun in 1859 and, after its alignment had been altered to avoid unexpected disturbed strata, it was completed and filled by early 1864.

No sooner had the waters reached within two feet of the lip of the dam than cracks appeared and, within a day, the dam collapsed at 11.30pm on March 11th 1864, sending 700 million gallons of water down the Loxley Valley at a speed of around 18 miles an hour.  At least 250 people were killed, including 27 whose bodies were never recovered.  Around 800 houses were destroyed or abandoned and well over 4,000 flooded.

There was no firm agreement over the cause of the disaster, at least partly because of the Coroner’s intemperate handling of the inquest.  Among the possible contributory causes were –

  • slippage of unstable strata beneath the embankment
  • poor construction of the embankment surrounding the clay core
  • inadequate thickness of the clay core
  • settlement or undue pressure leading to fracture around the outlet pipes and consequent leakage

The jury’s verdict was that “there has not been that engineering skill and that attention to the construction of the works, which their magnitude and importance demanded…” and they went on to propose that “the Legislature ought to take such action as will result in a governmental inspection of all works of this character;  and, that such inspection should be frequent, sufficient and regular…”

Such legislation was eventually passed – the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act (1930). 

Although designed in the same way as the failed dam, Agden Dam was resumed and its 629,000,000-gallon reservoir completed in 1869.  Further upstream, the Strines Reservoir (513,000,000 gallons) was finished in 1871. 

The new Dale Dyke Dam, a quarter of a mile upstream from the site of the original, was completed in 1875, though the reservoir was not brought fully into use until 1887.   It holds 446,000,000 gallons.

The final Loxley valley reservoir, Damflask, which holds 1,158,000,000 gallons, initially intended for use as compensation water, was constructed in the late 1870s but because of leakage through the strata at one side was not fully operational until a wing-trench was completed in 1896.

For many years the only physical memento of the original Dale Dyke Dam was a marker stone inscribed “CLOB” – Centre Line Old Bank – indicating the alignment of the 1864 dam.

For the 150th anniversary of the disaster, the Bradfield Historical Society cleared a trail around the reservoir and put up a memorial to the victims of the flood.

The Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (August 25th-29th 2022) tour follows the course of the Great Sheffield Flood from the site of the original Dale Dike Dam through to the Lower Don Valley downstream of the centre of Sheffield.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Rivelin Valley cemetery

Cemetery of St Michael, Rivelin Valley, Sheffield: chapel interior

On the north-western outskirts of Sheffield, a short walk up the Rivelin Valley from the Supertram terminus at Malin Bridge, a gateway leads to the Roman Catholic cemetery of St Michael, opened in 1862 and still in use:  https://www.saintmichaelscemetery.org.

After the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the first parish church in the area was St Bede’s, opened at Masborough on the then outskirts of Rotherham in 1842.  It was followed by the parish church of St Marie in Sheffield (1850), now the cathedral of the Diocese of Hallam, and another large church, St Vincent’s (1853 onwards) was started in The Crofts, an overcrowded area north of the town centre where Irish Catholics settled after the Potato Famine.

Of these, only St Bede’s had a burial ground, until in 1862 the priest at St Vincent’s, Father Burke, purchased eight acres of steeply sloping land in the Rivelin Valley from the snuff-manufacturer Mr Wilson, whose family had also provided the land for the General Cemetery nearly thirty years before.

The cemetery, with a temporary chapel, was dedicated on Michaelmas Day, September 29th 1863.

The present chapel was built in 1877, financed by a gift of £2,000 from the Sheffield tailor and gents’ outfitter, George Harvey Foster, and designed by the father-and-son practice Matthew Ellison and Charles Hadfield.  This new chapel is 72 feet long and 22 feet wide, built in the Early English style.  It has an apsidal east end, a sixty-foot-high bellcote above the west door, and the south-west porch is embellished with a statue of St Michael slaying Satan as a dragon.

The interior, restored in 2005, is distinguished by the work of an impressive group of contemporary artists.  The marble and alabaster altar, with its figure of the dead Christ, is from the Cheltenham workshop of the sculptor Richard Lockwood Boulton. 

Further decorations were funded by a gift of £430 by the Foster family in 1884 – wall paintings by Charles Hadfield and Nathaniel Westlake, who also designed the west window, and the three east windows, designed by John Francis Bentley who later became the architect of Westminster Cathedral and manufactured by Nathaniel Westlake’s stained-glass company, Lavers & Westlake.

The two most prominent monuments in the cemetery stand above the family vaults of George Harvey Foster (1829-1894), and the department-store proprietor, John Walsh (d1905), respectively gothic and neo-Classical and constructed within a decade of each other. 

The sharp gradient makes exploring the cemetery a strenuous activity, and visitors are advised not to stray from paths because gravestones may be unstable.

Higher up the valley side are two more burial grounds, a very small Jewish cemetery and the Church of England Walkley Cemetery, both opened in 1860.

Chris Hobbs’ local-history website has a feature on Walkley Cemetery:  https://www.chrishobbs.com/sheffield/walkleycemetery.htm.

The Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (August 25th-29th 2022) tour includes a visit to St Michael’s Cemetery.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Steel workers’ resting place 3

City Road Cemetery, Sheffield: Catholic Chapel of St Michael (2014)

When the very last Sheffield tram came off the streets in October 1960 an assiduous member of its load of enthusiasts made sure that, as the gates of Tinsley Tram Sheds closed behind it, its destination indicator showed ‘CEMETERY GATES’.

The cemetery gates at which Intake trams sometimes turned back was City Road, established by the newly-formed Sheffield Burial Board on a site east of the town-centre purchased from the 15th Duke of Norfolk in 1881. 

The original buildings – Church of England and Nonconformist chapels, a gateway and lodge on Manor Lane and a gatehouse and offices on City Road, all in late Perpendicular style – were designed by the Sheffield architects Matthew Ellison Hadfield & Son.

The initial apportionment of land was between the Church of England (slightly over 20 acres), the Nonconformists (13 acres) and the Roman Catholics (7 acres), leaving 9 acres to allocated as required in future.

There was no Roman Catholic chapel at the cemetery until 1898, when the Duke of Norfolk commissioned a design with a hexagonal sanctuary and a central lantern above the altar, 60 feet long, by Matthew Ellison Hadfield’s son Charles.  Dedicated to St Michael, the foundation stone was laid on July 22nd 1899, and it was consecrated on October 11th 1900.

A subsequent resolution by the Burial Board allowed the space in front of the chapel to be used for burials of Catholic clergy, and it became known as the Priest Vaults.

In 1901 Sheffield Corporation, having taken over the functions of the Burial Board the previous year, gained legal powers to construct one of the first municipal crematoria in Britain, and commissioned Charles Hadfield and his son Charles Matthew Ellison Hadfield to design an octagonal structure alongside the Nonconformist chapel, based on the Abbot’s Kitchen at Glastonbury so that the steel exhaust from the cremator could pass through the Gothic lantern which provided light and ventilation to the space below. 

Charles M E Hadfield’s bronze catafalque was constructed by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts and installed in the chapel, and a columbarium was installed in the south side of the City Road entrance range.

The crematorium opened on April 5th 1905.  The first cremation was of Eliza Hawley of Upperthorpe, on April 24th 1905, in the presence of her family, the architect and the Town Clerk.  A further six cremations took place in the following six months to November 1905.

The Church of England chapel was demolished in 1982, having been made redundant by the construction of a modern chapel to the north of the crematorium.  All the other original buildings on the site remain, though the Catholic Chapel has been derelict for years.

City Road Cemetery is included in the itinerary of the Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (August 25th-29th 2022) tour. For further details of the tour please click here.