Sheffield Floods

In a few days the public questionnaire and workshops re the new flood protection project will be over. Many groups associated with the waterways and the heritage around them, both man made and natural, have voiced concern at the lack of detail on offer.Sheffield is fortunate in that there are some well supported organisations who care for our waterways. Many prepared to wade out in rivers and pull out rubbish, and tackle the invasive Japanese Knotweed, neither being pleasant work. Groups such as Friends of Porter Valley, Rivelin Valley Conservation Trust and Blue Loop. For the most part these people are volunteers. My thanks to Helen Hornby for talking about what the Riverside Steward Company/Friends of Blue Loop have been doing recently.

               River Stewardship as a means of flood risk management

By Helen Hornby

corporate-team-building-day                                           Some corporate volunteers

Three years down the line and the Lower Don Valley Flood Defence Scheme is making great progress on its objectives.  As part of this large scale project, The River Stewardship Company (RSC), a local social enterprise, delivers the channel maintenance programme which includes invasive species control and minor tree works and also facilitates wider community engagement through the provision of volunteer days along the River Don.


From a practical point of view there are many things that can be done to reduce flood risk as a long term management plan for a major watercourse.  The RSC empowers local people to help look after their river.  Its volunteers are out on the River Don every Tuesday removing large items of litter and debris from the river – items that would block bridges and culverts, creating a dam and potentially causing flooding to nearby properties.  Everything from industrial wheelie bins, to commercial freezers, sofas and warehouse doors have been removed from the water.


Volunteers also help by removing Himalayan balsam whilst trained staff treat Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed with a specific herbicide tailored to use by water.  These plants spread like wildfires, out-competing our native plants and reducing biodiversity but they also contribute to increased flood risk. In winter banks are destabilised due to a lack of native perennials holding the soil in place, and therefore should a flood occur these banks can be eroded away leaving property and other structures at risk.


Larger willow trees and vegetation growing out of flood walls have been removed, and where possible replanted with smaller trees and shrubs that do not easily crack and cause blockages. It is a difficult business balancing the needs of riparian landowners and that of recreational users and the River’s resurgent wildlife but one that can be achieved if all sectors work together.20160830_113447

Historic Floods

By Joyce  Bullivant

The lay of the land in Sheffield  means that there is always a chance of a major flooding incident. Sheffield has several rivers and tributaries that come down the hills to feed the principle rivers of the Rivelin, Loxley, Porter, Don and the Sheaf. Contrary to popular opinion Sheffield does not have only 5 rivers, there are considerably more, some are hidden in the city drainage system but others are easy to find if you know where to look.


Sheffield’s Lost Rivers

The huge flood that happened recently in  2007 was not a common event for Sheffield in that the previous big flood happened in 1973  when 119 mm fell in just one day (and which incidentally led to severe flooding despite much less development on the flood plain. Present improvements in flood protection will give the city a one-in-200 years level of protection, meaning the measures will theoretically defend the city against all floods except the kind of freak floods which have a 0.5 per cent chance of happening in any given year.

That of course doesn’t mean flooding events will only happen once in 200 years. Also with the change in climate the previous measures and assessments may be insufficient, as along with climate change is the increase in severe weather conditions. New flood protection has been suggested which hopefully will mitigate any future extreme weather events that could endanger the city. Organisations such as Blue Loop can help cut down flooding from smaller events, but additional measures are needed for the more extreme events. These extreme events are beyond city drainage, or dredging measures. Previous flood reports, when there were fewer houses and more fields to soak up the water, did not prevent these 200 year floods.

In 1729 such a flood was reported in the Papers.

On Tuesday morning between 5 and 6 it began to Thunder, Lighten,  and Rain at the Town of Sheffield in Yorkshire, and continued with such Violence ’till 2 in the Afternoon , that the River Dun in a most dreadful Manner overflowed its banks, and by the torrents of water vast trees were borne down, bridges broke in pieces, part of the Duke of Norfolk’s hospital destroyed and all its furniture washed away, as was that belonging of the chapel, which was 2 yards deep in water, and the pulpit filled with Mud and sand; Tis computed that the waters must have risen near the Hospital (where the River Sheaf, and Sheffield Brook , empty themselves into the River Dun), 4 yard perpendicular in half an hour’s time; a team and 4 horses were carried down by the stream many people had much ado to escape with their lives, however only one man and one woman were drowned and some children were washed away in their cradles.

Throughout the 19th century many floods were reported especially in the area where the Sheaf joins the Don and in Brightside. The floods caused major disruption to the Railway at Bridgehouse and to the forges and wheels along the Don. The worst flood however would seem to have been in 1875 some 11 years after the infamous flood caused by the breach of the Dale Dyke reservoir. The flood in 1875 covered the whole of Sheffield city.

In the vale of the Porter a great amount of damage was done by the flooding of the low-lying lands. This stream has a large gathering ground on the moors above Ringinglowe, and the incessant rain of 48 hours duration could not do less than cause a great volume of water to descend the stream. The first effect of the inundation were felt at Whiteley Wood, where at an early hour yesterday morning the stream was swollen to a considerable extent, and swept through the dams and over the weirs in an increasing volume. Gathering force as it entered Endcliffe Wood the river now increased to a torrent, and in spite of the use of shuttles filled the dams to the bank edge and overflowed so as to cause them considerable damage  to the earthworks and apprehensions in the minds of those who were in charge of the grinding wheels. The fields on the borders of Endcliffe wood were completely flooded at an early hour yesterday morning and as the water kept rising considerable damage was, especially in the fields where Autumn wheats had been sown. At the grinding wheels the men were prevented from working owing to the accumulation of back waters, and the result was a large loss in the matter of wages alone. At one time it was feared that some of the embankments of  the Endcliffe dams would give way, as the water was overflowing them and it was currently reported  in the district yesterday that such had been the case. On an enquiry at a late hour last night we found that such a casualty  had not taken place  although there were apprehensions of such a disaster of that description owing to vast amount of water that was coming down the river. In the lower portion of Endcliffe Wood the water assumed the proportions of a torrent, and at Hunter’s Bar, where the stream divides itself the roadway was more like a large brook than a thoroughfare. About this particular district there were many cottage gardens and the occupiers must have sustained much damage on account on the weight of the water which was passing. The produce of these gardens intended for winter gatherings was swept away for the most part and last night when our reporter left the stream had in no way diminished, it was rather increasing. The water was diverted by means of shuttles from entering the dam-in an undue quantity belonging to the Hardy Patent Pick and Engineering Company, Limited. but the force of the current was so great that it forced itself through these barriers in more than the usual quantities, and it was feared that the embankment supporting the lower snuff mill would be endangered. Several Homes near Hunters Bar had the cellars flooded to the depth of a yard or more. Last evening the pathway both in Ecclesall Road and that leading from the Cemetery-road to the bar were almost impassable, the water draining down and running across the highway to such a depth to render it almost impassable. Passing from Hunters Bar towards Sheffield Ecclesall Road became a deeper in water and at the bottom of Broomgrove a singular sight presented itself. The water here draws itself from Broomhill and the upper part of Glossop- Road into Ecclesall Road, where it accumulated in a field which we believe had been rented by a butcher. This field is surrounded by a wall, which served the purpose of stemming the water, and made a temporary reservoir. The water poured through these walls and bursting through the interstices in a series of jets, completely covered Ecclesall- Road. At the lower entrance to the Cemetery the waters appeared to have gathered in an extraordinary degree, accumulating throughout the day to a depth of over a foot and a half. From this point, down Ecclesall road, the highway bore more the appearance of a canal than anything else. The ordinary channels which convey the water were completely choked up, and the stream washed down both sides of the street in a current of almost a foot and a half deep.  In the centre

The flood filled many of the rivers and spread throughout the city putting out forges and steam mills, but miraculously no one seems to have been hurt.

As is corroborated by most of the people who have lived for many years past in the the locality, we can have no hesitation to saying that the flood is the most formidable one which has been seen in Sheffield for the last few ten years; and the scene as viewed from one of these cellar windows of the Tower Wheel, with the lamplights from the Blonk Street Bridge and from the Station road, high up above, casting their vague shadows upon the black stream, had in it something of the picturesque.”

Shepherds Wheel 1

Shepherd Wheel

The wheels on the rivers have left Sheffield with a number of Dams on the River, made to control the flow of the water into the wheels. Rivers were harnessed from an early date, possibly introduced by the monks who came with the Normans and brought with them new technologies. Early wheels were used for corn milling and treating woolen cloth. In the 16th century water power was used for powering the furnaces and hammering the iron and steel, as well as powering the grinding wheels. It has been estimated by 1637 there were around fifty water powered industrial sites. By the 18th century there were an estimated to be 130 such sites. Wheels can be seen still in Sheffield, at Abbeydale  Hamlet, Shepherd Wheel and Mallin Bridge. Many old mills and remnants exist throughout the city. Some has been left untouched for years and are overgrown and already are cause for concern as potential important archaeology may be lost.


Rivelin Valley

Along with the obvious industrial remnants along the rivers are the ancient woodlands, managed since medieval times to supply charcoal and wood for the metalworking industries and house building. Many have been found to have traces of earlier times and indeed within Ecclesall woods lies stones with neolithic cup and ring markings. Because the woodland was necessary for Sheffield’s industry the city has a large area of ancient woodland though some pieces are quite small and divided by later roads nevertheless Sheffield’s ancient woodlands are unique and of international value.

Many of our rivers pass through our woodlands. This was a great advantage to those who ran smithies and forges as the raw material was to hand. Early steel and iron workers needed charcoal as coal has too much sulphur to produce good steel. Later coal was processed to become coke. Also in woods like Ecclesall woods clay called Gannister was mined to make the crucible pots.  So our woodlands have indications of mining and charcoal making  along with the earlier signs of human activity.

Lastly because of the age of the woods and the now cleaner waterways and visible rock forms from quarrying and the power of the rivers there is within the rivers and river areas many rare plants and wildlife that are rare or unique. Flood control therefore is a complex matter.


Nature Reserves in Sheffield Area

The ideal of flood control is to slow the water coming into the city and speed it leaving the built up areas. It is about controlling the flow of water. The Flood protection scheme has suggested containing flood water in some areas, but it cannot be purely letting certain lands flood. Even though it could be 100 years before the flood protection actually came into use, it could also be next year or even next week. We do also have to live with those measures, and protect the sensitive areas from damage.There will have to be all these factors taken into consideration,  preserving precious ecology and heritage and leisure facilities , but keeping our city safe. There is no simple answer to this.

The Blue Loop

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph October 21st 1875 courtesy of British Newspaper Archives

Newcastle Courant 21st June 1729   courtesy of British Newspaper Archives.

Scheduled monuments.png

Scheduled Monuments in Sheffield Area


All our Yesterdays


William Bullivant born 1814 in Lincolnshire, died 1893 in Sheffield

On the 19th of October Joined up Heritage had a 2nd Smaller conference. In it we looked out how we could make Sheffield’s heritage all inclusive, and relevant.

Many years ago when researching my husband’s family tree , despite his family having been in Sheffield for generations I had to tell him that his family had its origins in Lincolnshire.  His family had hit hard times in rural Lincolnshire and like many others had gravitated to the big cities in the 1850s in search of better paid work. Sheffield like many industrial cities expanded rapidly with the rise in new technologies. One new technology that was developed a century before was crucible steel developed by Benjamin Huntsman son of German immigrant parents.  Henry Bessemer’s father made his fortune working in France and Germany.  Stanley Tools an American company in origin.

Sheffield’s history is like many cities, a story of people coming in and settling, right from the Bronze Age, but it is a story that has many gaps, so how fitting that Joined up Heritage is looking at how to join up the different threads.  It is looking  at the answer to the question that is  “What made Sheffield the Sheffield it is now?” Not just the rivers, the geology, the buildings, the innovations, but the people, whether they come for a short time as a student, have lived here for generations, or just moved here. Or whether they came centuries ago as Roman conquerors.  They all make Sheffield.

I’m not from Sheffield. I have lived in Sheffield for 17 years and I find Sheffield’s history fascinating. It links me to a whole host of fellow history enthusiasts and also links me to the people who have lived in Sheffield all their lives, and others like me who have just come. I don’t know anyone who has my background, born in Lancashire, brought up in Newcastle and Glasgow. Sometimes I feel distant because it’s hard to explain what life as an English child in a Scottish school was like, and the fact that I don’t really understand the Church of England, and had to learn a lot of early English history, because it wasn’t taught in my Scottish school.  It may not be as drastic change as moving from Africa or Pakistan to Sheffield but it is still a story of migration and disassociation.

Inclusivity is not about doing a piece on Pakistani Steel workers and then forgetting it. It’s about collecting the stories about Sheffield, and some of those stories will be about steelworkers who weren’t born here.  It’s looking at the history of the people who made, and are making Sheffield, with no historical apartheid. DNA collected from ancient bones in Cresswell crags has proved migration from outside the British Isles goes back a long way. We know Romans settled in Stannington to farm there, though we don’t as yet know where the particular centurions came from.  In Weston Park museum there are flints that certainly didn’t come from local stone. Where did they come from? How did the local people acquire them in an age before metal working? What did they have to trade?

A Museum curator said that British history tends to be harking back to some so called golden age and misses out some of the hard realities. Maybe that’s why it has been so difficult to get the history of Northern cities told and the archaeology of the area preserved. Commentators described Sheffield time and time again as a city without culture or Art, but the culture was and is there. As for Art you only have to look at the silver smithing and Sheffield plate to see that Sheffield had and has plenty of artists. John Ruskin recognised it and wanted to help them expand their minds even further. Sheffield’s history isn’t grand stately homes and thatched cottages, though there are some grand  homes such as Endcliffe Hall, and pretty little Tudor houses such as Bishops House, it’s about hard work, survival and ingenuity. Its dirty and sometimes ugly but it is real and relevant. Without Sheffield there would be no stainless steel. So many tools invented and refined in Sheffield from scalpels to saws. Sheffield helped make the world and is still doing so, and it  was the Sheffield people that made it happen. All of them.


Sheffield, Yorkshire’s most important city.


Whirlow Farm dig has confirmed what has been known to a wide variety of historians and archaeologists for a long time that the area of Sheffield was historically the most important area in the history of Yorkshire and England. From before Roman times. Much of the concentration on the narrow period of 18th and 19th century has ignored Sheffield’s strategic importance.

It is no accident that the area has hillforts & many signs of Ironage settlement or before that of even earlier settlements. Sheffield was important place even before the discovery of metalworking, but the discovery of metalworking made the land around worth defending and fighting for. Sheffield became the heavily contested border between Roman and Brigantes, Mercia and Northumberland, Derbyshire and Yrokshire. England was born at the treaty made in Dore. William the Conqueror put his righthand man William de Busli in Charge. Time and time again Royalty placed their best men in Sheffield and nearby. Its no accident that a small place in Norton produced two Bishops. One chaplain to Henry V11 and the other defending Henry V111’s  interests in the Welsh Marches. No accident that Mary Queen of Scots was sent to Sheffield or that one of England’s biggest castles was built here. The land was important and only the Royals best loyal supporters had lands here.

Sheffield Castle

Sheffield Castle

Sheffield was never a backwater. The Talbots as earlier had strong connections with the Royal Court. The Fifth Earl was in charge of Henry V111’s household, the sixth in charge of Mary Queen of Scots. Sheffield was always well informed at what was going on in the seats of power. Money from the nearby Lead mining  funded much of the Elisabethan explorations.  IT was only with the shift in the Talbot’s power and influence in the civil war that changed the Royal links.

That does not mean Sheffield lost its importance to English History more that it became the place for innovation both in manufacturing and in radical and religious thought, which to some extent still exists with Sheffield.

So why aren’t we celebrating Sheffield’s long history? Why are we looking at a short time in history where Sheffield developed its mass production of cutlery as if that was the heyday of Sheffield and that is all there is and ever was of Sheffield? Beats Me.


Civil War Sheffield

Napoleanic Wars Sheffield


Muddy Waters

DSCF4199Today I went to a workshop at Sheffield University. The title of the workshop was “What do urban rivers mean in the 21st century. We heard of a rivers in India and Portugal and throughout Europe. We then went on to explore what our urban rivers mean to us.

Quite possibly the most interesting conversations was with River management and local voluntary groups. The complaints may start from a different angle from those who are looking to preserve old buildings or woodlands or parks but the complaints are the same.

There were aspects I hadn’t thought of, I admit. The Don, Porter Brook, and the Rother are DSCF5312

all names for muddy brown waters. Not because of pollution but because of the peaty moorland they come from. One River manager said that the breaking up of weirs and other modern river management had cut down the variety of fish and amphibians that preferred the darker water. For rivers to be clean it doesn’t mean they have to be transparent. It brought into focus that not only had we to look at the uniqueness of our buildings and our Green Spaces how important it is also that we talk with those who know about what is needed to preserve the ecology of our waterways.


If the planners allow high buildings by the river they could cut the light to the water as well as make the area busier and nosier.  Too much activity in some areas will scare away the wildlife. We need areas of calm the River manager said.

What we want, they all said is for a discussion with all interested groups, heritage, developers, ecologists,  communities, and the Council. “Have you spoke to any councillors?” I asked . “We’ve tried.” they said but no one’s prepared to listen.” And there is where we all share the same problem. There is no debate, or discussion with the Council. No consultation.


Whatever decision the Council makes re development matters to the city as a whole. Yet decisions are made without considering all aspects. As the River manager said you can’t just divert a river because its looks better for the houses by the waterside, there will be a knock on effect elsewhere.


Likewise if you build a new shiny shopping centre it is more than likely you will drain the shopping areas nearby as Meadowhall has done in the past. If more people come from Tinsley Stocksbridge Dore Tortley whatever to shop in the city centre that means more traffic and more pollution. If we shift people into housing in the city the pollution will go down as fewer people will need to use cars or busses. We could build new inner city communities who would need shops and would also work locally. We would have a lively vibrant centre that would not shut down at 6pm.


But our Council is determined to sell our city centre to a National developer to make a city centre like every other city ripping out our heritage and throwing it on the rubbish heap, and at the end of it the outside developer will keep all the profits and control our city centre. If any of the backers pull out we will be left with a big hole in the middle of the city that we have no control over and gaps in the nearby Fargate and the Moor as shops either move there or close down. How will that improve our city? We need to talk and yet no one is really listening.

Shepherd Wheel

Shepherd Wheel

Suggested Reading

How can we save our town centres?

The Blue Loop

The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban regeneration. Eleventh report of Session 2003-2004 Volume 1 report. House of Commons ODPM: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Region’s Committee.       Heritage Counts 2014

Heritage Lottery Funding – strategic framework 2013-2018 A lasting difference for Heritage and people.

Lose or Reuse. Managing Heritage sustainability.  by Lydia Wilson published 2007 Ulster Architectural Heritage Society 66 Donegal Pass, Belfast B17 1BU

New Ideas need Old Buildings Heritage Lottery Fund. April 2013.




My thoughts on Heritage and recent Election Hustings

Castle House

Castle House

Last week I went to an election hustings to ask candidates what their policy was on heritage not because I was expecting instant answers but because not one manifesto I had read really seemed to consider heritage at all. Given the Council policy on heritage is a mere two paragraphs that wasn’t really a surprise. Nor is this a recent thing in Sheffield or dependent on what party controls the council. Likewise the idea of tourism for anything other than festivals or the great outdoors doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda.

Albyn Works

Albyn Works

After hearing 5 minutes of each of the six candidates talking about their hopes and dreams for Sheffield it was obvious that none of them had heritage on their mind either as a matter for neighbourhood pride, green policies or economic regeneration. In the end there were 3 of us asking questions about heritage, myself about how with the new planning laws coming in we can protect our heritage against fast track planning decisions and speculative developers. A second questioner asking how we preserve our parks and keep them as a community asset , and a third questioner asking how we can keep our old buildings and develop an improved retail centre which fits in with Sheffield’s unique character and keeps finance within the city and not going to outside developers.

Ecclesall Woods

All six candidates stated they felt Sheffield’s heritage was important to them and spoke quite stirringly in favour. However I was left with the thought that whereas every candidate thought it was the right thing to say, they didn’t really understand the reasons why they should.  There was mention of Castlegate and the Old Town Hall and how they saw this as a place for re-development but the idea would seem to be bring in developers and that would generate knock on funding for the Old Town Hall and the other old buildings round about. To me they had it the wrong way round. A beautifully restored Old Town Hall and a Castle Park are what would regenerate the area and bring in useful investment.  We have around 10 hotels within walking distance of Castlegate. Are they going to come to tall office blocks and student accommodation blocks or to see the ruins of a medieval castle, and a historic building central to Sheffield’s growth as a city?

Old Town Hall Waingate

Old Town Hall Waingate

How would a concentration on office blocks and student rooms help link the other parts of Sheffield’s history together such as the Victoria Quays which is fast approaching its bi-centenary, the unique fire and police station of Westbar, Kelham Island Museum, Cholera Monument and Manor Lodge.  Linked together we present a package like no other package in any other city.

Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

Butchers Works once cutlery works now apartments , gallery and workshops

We had a candidate talking about saving  buildings as a charitable exercise or a rare flash of grassroots involvement. Indeed there was a lot of talking about grassroots involvement but not connected to our heritage. A lot of talking of bringing in new jobs and investment too but not a mention of tourism.  There is money in our heritage and passion from the “grassroots” which is just as marked in Sheffield as it is in the rest of the country but has yet to be part of any local politician’s ideas for a “vibrant city” People like old buildings and feel passionate about it to sign petitions in the thousands. The majority of small to medium businesses are in historic buildings. Many rely on the historic character to attract customers, others starting new businesses gravitate to the old buildings because of cost, proximity to similar businesses  they have is a unique building that stands out from the rest, and easier to fit into the local community. The vast majority of startup businesses start within listed building.

We three didn’t get any real answers to our questions. I didn’t expect any. What I got from the experience is that we have a long way to go to any local politician seeing our heritage as an economic asset or anything we should be worrying about when money is in short supply. It is seen more as a vanity project when there is money coming in rather than something that can generate money. That needs to change.


Hallam University Owen Building

Why Now?

Today history was made. To some it would seem merely a conference on Heritage but to others like me this was a significant day. Our theme was Making History for a Successful City. Cohesion and Community Pride.


Manor Lodge

Today was both inspirational and daunting. Seems that the keynote speakers were quite blown away with the huge numbers at the conference. I was thinking not that many, considering how many I know there could have been there. I suppose after years of being told people weren’t interested in Sheffield’s culture part of me believes it. But the truth is that Sheffield have been always interested in their culture but they haven’t shouted as one voice before about it. Now they have.

The people and organisations were wonderfully diverse. From a couple from Rivelin Valley desperate to find ways of preserving their local heritage to National Trust North. All have their own view of what Heritage is, and everybody’s view equally valid. There are many different views but not at odds with each other. Despite their particular interests whether it be brutalist architecture or digging an Ironage site, or running a business, they are all in agreement Sheffield Heritage matters.


Bishops House Museum

There was in amongst this massive Heritage army a dissenting voice, not from a Heritage organisation, saying “the pot of cash is smaller now. You will all have to fight for it.” As if we were roaming packs of historians tearing each other apart for HLF funding.  No one in any case was there to talk about money. They know about money and no one involved in heritage expects instant pots of money. Some of the most successful organisations have taken between 10 and 20 years to get to this point. You need an incredible thick skin and dogged determination to be involved in preserving local heritage.


That doesn’t mean we couldn’t do with money but in Sheffield the pot has always been small and we have learnt to use what we have with great care. Sheffield has the most volunteers of any city. Our heritage economy is kept going by the blood sweat and tears of the volunteers. Travel round during Heritage Open Day and talk with the people and their stories are of hard work and struggle, and often against the local authority. Our city has many great historic buildings that were planned for demolition and now lauded as a part of what is good about Sheffield. It is true they are monuments to what is good about Sheffield but it wasn’t done with a ready pot of cash and pretty often despite the local Council.


So why Now? Why were we all together? Because our heritage is under threat and has been for some time. It is not the lack of money that worries us. We are used to that. It is that in the race to encourage investors and build more housing we are worried that the very things that are part of what brings and could bring more investment to the city are the most likely to be lost. No good 5 years after you have torn out the historic area of a city coming to the conclusion that you should have kept it. No good building huge housing estates without a distinctive neighbourhood that gladdens your heart as you approach your home after some time away.  We all need a sense of collective identity. That is what heritage gives us whether it is a Carnegie library, an iron age hillfort or the local pub.


Walkley Carnegie Library


If you have ever been in the habit of using a budget hotel you know there is the initial confusion, when you wake up as to where you are, as the hotels are all fitted out the same. It is only when you get up and look out the window that you know where you are. The landscape gives you your bearings. Ask directions to somewhere and it will not just be turn right and turn left. They will point out historic buildings and features in the landscape. Likewise our heritage gives us a sense of place and to incoming people a connectivity.

Ecclesall Woods

Sheffield is branded as the Outdoor City as if that was all there is on offer. It is a great green city with ancient woodlands and amazing public parks and part of the National Park is within Sheffield’s city boundaries. But people that like the great outdoors can go to Derbyshire and get much of that without ever crossing the city’s boundaries. There’s the Sport from Football to athletics, from cycling to climbing. Sport is a big part of the city’s economy and Sheffield is the birthplace of Soccer, ice skating, Yorkshire Cricket and so much more. You can’t talk about anything in Sheffield without ending up talking about the history behind everything.

Wincobank Hill view

Our nightclubs and pubs and high class eating establishments are in heritage buildings. Our theatres, all nine of them are all in listed buildings. Many of our hotels are. Our heritage is not disengaged from our day to day life, not our work or our leisure.

The dissident voice speaks of great shopping centre bringing in new retailers and having to sell the city to make them come, so that we do not lose the richer shoppers to another city but won’t we lose the shoppers we have who will find the city centre no longer theirs? And will we be able to bring in the shoppers from that other city when our centre is just a clone of all the other cities. Shouldn’t we be marketing what is distinct and unique about our city instead of hiding our identity under a glossy new shopping centre  as if we are ashamed of who we are, and the history of our city that has both formed and  still influences our day to day lives?

City Hall Barkers Pool

Is that important? Research would say so but even more convincing is the 100 plus at the conference spending their Saturday in a University lecture theatre, and seminar rooms. Can we change things? Can we bring together all aspects of Sheffield and market it as the Sheffield experience? The pubs, clubs, theatres, music venues and the creative industries, the manufacturing, the high tech and the low tech, the Universities, the parks, the woodlands, the waterways, the ethnic diversity, the radical history, the farms, the innovators, the buildings from medieval to brutalist, the ancient hillforts and Saxon crosses. Why not?


Cornish Works

Watch Tower Bradfield

Grave Business

Sheffield Cathedral

Sheffield Cathedral

It started in the late 18th century when the Reverend Wilkinson at Sheffield’s Parish Church (now the Cathedral) sold off part of St Peter’s graveyard, so they could widen the street round  the church. Bodies were dug up and the local people protested. A local songwriter called Mather wrote a rude song called Black Revolution about it. People were shocked at the fact that the dead were not left in peace.

Things got worse over the years as the population in Sheffield rose and with that the number of burials. Churchyards were getting full, and in some churchyards all sorts of measures were taken to squeeze a few more bodies in.  And if that wasn’t bad enough the Anatomists came to Town.  In 1828 a school of Anatomy was started in Sheffield. In fact at one time there was 2 schools. The anatomist used newly dead bodies to show medical students how the body was made. As more and more students started coming to learn the bodies,  those of hanged prisoners, which was the only supply was not enough. And besides not as many people were being hanged either as at one time you could be hung for stealing a loaf of bread, now they were sent to jail. So new ways had to be found to get bodies for the schools of anatomy. If someone died and no one claimed the body. chances are the body would be sold to the schools. Up to £10 per body. The anatomy school charged the medical students 10 guineas each for viewing a dissection. (£10.50)

People, including medical students started robbing graves. Times were hard, a lot of people were dying and a lot of money could be made by digging up freshly buried bodies. The penalty for removing a body from a grave was only a fine or imprisonment, so for many it was worth the risk for what was then a lucrative business.

Attercliffe Cemetery

Attercliffe Cemetery

Body Stealing at Sheffield- On Tuesday night last, between eight and nine o’clock, as Bland and Waterfall jun.. two of the Sheffield police officers were going their rounds, and when near to the wagon warehouse, in Arundel Street, their suspicions were excited by the appearance of a stout man,  carrying a large pack on his back, and they immediately determined upon watching his movements, and see to what place he would convey his load. They followed the man until he ascended some steps at the back of the Sheffield Music Hall, which leads to the lecture-room of the Medical Hall; and on Waterfall endeavouring to seize the man, he threw down the pack and ran away, pursued by Waterfall, and after a hard run he succeeded in taking the man, (whose name is Wm Lyons, a well known resurrectionist,) and immediately conveyed him to the gaol. On opening the bundle it was found to contain the body of a man, apparently about 30 years old; it was taken to the Town-Hall, where it remained all day Wednesday for inspection, when it was identified. An inquest was taken over the body on Wednesday evening, at the Town Hall, before Mr. Badger, coroner, when it appeared in evidence, that the name of the deceased was William Hopkinson, who died on Wednesday, the 16th instant, of the typhus fever, and was buried in Attercliffe church yard on the following day; that on searching the grave it was found to have been opened and to contain only the coffin and the grave clothes, and the coffin plate wrenched from the lid of the coffin, which bore the inscription “William Hopkinson, died November 16th, 1831, aged 33 years.” The above circumstance has excited a considerable degree of sensation in Sheffield, in which neighbourhood it is supposed the system of body-snatching has been carried on for some time past.    1831

One method the body snatchers used was to dig at the head end of a recent burial, digging with a wooden spade (quieter than metal). When they reached the coffin,  they broke open the coffin, put a rope around the corpse and dragged it out. They were careful not to steal anything such as jewellery or clothes as this would cause them to be liable to a felony charge.

To help prevent the body-snatchers grave diggers would mix straw and twigs in with the soil making the earth harder to dig. Raising the level of the churchyard wall and the addition of iron railings did little to deter body-snatchers. Other methods were to place a large slab or iron grill, known as mortsafes, over the grave which were removed when putrefaction had begun. However these were not always successful as the gangs would dig down by the head of the grave at an angle to reach the coffin and remove the body from the head of the coffin by dragging it out with a pair of irons.

Watch Tower Bradfield

Watch Tower Bradfield

In Bradfield the church people built a watchtower so they could watch for the Grave Robbers or resurrectionists.  In 1829 eleven graves were dug up in St Pauls graveyard for people to prove that no one had stolen their relatives bodies.

At the same time a National scandal had come to light of two Irish labourers in Edinburgh, Burke and Hare, who decided that it was much easier to murder people and sell their bodies than go digging graves in the middle of the night. In 1831 two policemen saw a man lurking near the Medical school with a large bundle. When they challenged him he dropped the bundle which proved to the dead body of a man. Later investigation found it to be the body of William Hopkinson a 33 year old who had died of Typhus and had been recently buried in Attercliffe Cemetery. The robber was apparently well known to the police.

A law was brought in to hopefully regulate the anatomy schools and make them record where the bodies they

Old Town Hall

Old Town Hall

dissected came from, giving them permission to take the bodies of unclaimed paupers and lunatics from the Workhouse and the asylums.   The idea was that it would stop the grave robbing

In 1834 Samuel Roberts started putting out leaflets to anyone in Sheffield who would take them and going round the pubs.

Have the rich, then, any right to doom those who are compelled by poverty to demand relief, on that account, to any species of punishment? Certainly not; any more than the other members of a sick club have to inflict punishment on the sick members. But the rich have done this !

Samuel Roberts

Samuel Roberts

He was accused of whipping up the crowd that burnt down the School of Anatomy but truth be told local people were already angry about the lack of respect for the dead. Things got a little out of hand when someone heard “Murder Murder” coming from outside the  school of Anatomy  and all the fears and anger exploded into a determination to stop the Anatomists.  Never mind that the original Shout had been a domestic quarrel between the caretaker and his wife the crowd grew till 1’000 people gathered and 30 angry people stormed the buildings and set fire to the building. By the time the fire brigade was allowed in there was very little that remained.

No one was ever successfully prosecuted for the destruction of the school and this may be indicative of a certain amount of local support for the popular view. The dissection of the poor was profoundly unpopular, and contributed to the fear of the pauper funeral, and of dying in the workhouse.

As well as the body snatching there was also the rise in Anglican clergy charging large fees for burial that meant many had to walk for miles to find a churchyard that had low enough fees for the poorer worker to be able to afford a burial plot. Fees were unregulated and clergy often charged double for non conformists or refused outright to bury them. Many churchyards were scenes of arguments between the bereaved and the clergy and church officers.

Nonconformist Chapel General Cemetery

Nonconformist Chapel General Cemetery

” The rapidly dying population in Sheffield due to a cholera epidemic that started in the town during 1832  meant that the churchyards in Sheffield were becoming full to overflowing. The dead were often kept under the floor of the church, and sometimes in these places you could really smell death…   …it was not unknown to see bits of corpses sticking out from the overfilled graves.” (general Cemetery website)

The Burial Act was introduced and still applies today. The Act required that dead people are buried, even the poor who can’t afford to pay for burial, because of the health risk associated with their lying unburied.  The local parish is required to fund the burial of the poor:

“The General Cemetery was one of the first commercial landscape cemeteries in Britain. Its opening in 1836 as a Nonconformist cemetery was a response to the rapid growth of Sheffield and the relatively poor state of the town’s churchyards, but also to problems of burial in an Anglican churchyard. Lydia Shore of Meersbrook Hall was refused burial in the family vault at Norton Church due to her Presbyterian beliefs and was buried in the General Cemetery instead.

The General Cemetery has the largest single grave plot in the country, holding the bodies of 96 paupers

This was about making a profit for the private company shareholders, they did it by:“burying paupers for the Poor Law authorities. They charged five shillings (25 pence) for each pauper. Then they waited until they had a cartful of them and saved space by burying them all in a single plot

An advert was placed in the local papers 1834 by  Brunswick Chapel, in London Road (now demolished).

Safety Tomb The vault itself is guarded with planks to a considerable depth, which are well secured with iron into the frame or the surface, and the whole is lined with sheet iron. There are also other contrivances within, which it would not be prudent to describe, that any person having the temerity to attempt an entrance after the vault has been secured, would be exposed to very serious consequences.”  

In 1857 John Livesey, the Vicar of the nearby St. Philip’s Church bought the land that is now Wardsend Cemetery as

Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery

an overspill burial ground. In the same year  in Stoke Newington  a scandal broke out when it was found that the Workhouse master and the parish undertaker, Robert Hogg, had become profitable traders in corpses. The dead house in the workhouse contained bodies from the workhouse and elsewhere, as well as coffins containing dissected remains that had been removed from Guy’s Hospital for burial.  On the morning of a workhouse inmate’s burial, after a relative (usually a daughter or sister) had viewed the body, she was sent from the dead house to the waiting room while coffin lid was nailed down. She was then called and told to step into the funeral carriage, while the undertaker’s men lifted a coffin into the accompanying hearse. That coffin contained a stranger’s dissected remains. While the relative went to witness what she thought was her relatives burial, Feist filled in the notice that made that corpse available for dissection.

In Sheffield itself an argument broke out at St Johns churchyard Park which like Wardsend was becoming full and needed an extension. They had been allowed to continue however till they could buy some land to bury some people there, on the condition that old interments should not be disturbed, and that where in family graves more than one interment took place the coffin should be separated by earth to the thickness of half a yard (about half a metre) and that only one coffin should be buried in the same grave. However the owner of the adjoining cottages claimed that multiple burials were being made especially where young children had been buried.  He claimed that the child’s coffin was put to one side while a new burial was made and then the child’s coffin thrown on top.  Although he produced several witnesses the authorities decided there was insufficient proof.

Over the years Wardsend  graveyard filled up till one day rumours started up that a strange smell was coming from the Sextons Coach House.

Robert Dixon and his wife who had been living with the Sexton  had a row. Not sure what the row was about but Dixon started going round telling everybody there were strange goings on at Wardsend.

Shortly after I had gone there I observed a curious smell in the room above the stable. I thrust some knots out of the deal boards, and looked down into the stable.

We had then been there two or three weeks. I saw about twenty coffins- some of persons about fifteen and sixteen and         ten years old–others were those of stillborn children. None of them appeared to be the coffins of grown up persons. I had seen Howard lock and unlock this door, and knew he had the key. The coffins were not covered over with anything, and were lying on the ground, piled in heaps on the top of each other.

I saw some broken up coffins piled in a corner by themselves–the wood appeared to be new. Those pieces are there now. The day I flitted ( last Monday ) I and several other men saw in the stone shed near the house four or five sides and lids of coffins. they were in a dark corner of the shed. Did you ever really see a body, or only coffins in the shed?

I lifted up the lid of one coffin, in the shed, about six weeks ago. The night following the body had been removed from the coffin, but the coffin remained in the shed. I lifted the lid with my toe, and saw the face of the body. It looked very fresh, as though it had been buried a week or two. It looked like the face of a boy about fifteen years of age. I looked at the coffin the same night, after Howard had set off to Sheffield. Had seen him go. He put two corpses into a box. One appeared to be ten, and the other fifteen, I saw the same coffin empty in the shed the same night.

I came home earlier than usual. I thought he looked very ***** and “sheepish” in my eye. I had had suspicion of him before. I saw him go in and out of the house and go up the burial ground. I went upstairs and looked through the holes in the floor, and waited till he came back into the stable. He appeared to be cutting off the leg of a child about ten years old.The child lay on two planks, and he had a carving knife in his hand. I saw him put the bodies into a box.

He put the lid on and went outside the door, and came in again immediately. He put the box on a barrow, and went to the river side. I saw him put two bodies into the box.  I once found the stable door unlocked, about three weeks ago, and saw about twenty coffins and twenty four coffin plates. I took the plates away and gave them to Mr. Oxspring  (who he worked for and who gave them to the Chief Constable)


Concerned parents went to the cemetery  and found a large pit. In several cases no trace of the coffins could be found, and this, of course, greatly increased the excitement. The most revolting discovery of all, however, was made in an unused part of the cemetery grounds, where was found a large hole, roughly covered with earth and planks, and containing about twenty coffins, and a box in which were the remains of a man who had been dissected at the Sheffield Medical School.

One parent claimed one of the bodies there was of their two year old son who had been buried nine months ago at the cost of ten shillings. She claimed the body hadn’t been buried that deep at the funeral and that the sexton had said they could have a better family grave if she paid a further twenty two shillings within the year.

Dixon wife couldn’t have helped the parents disquiet by saying.

I have seen the porter from the Medical School go up the burial ground. He came more than once. I first saw him there on the Thursday in the second week we went to live there, which would have been on the third of April.

I told the sexton that the man had been to see him, and the man came again on the Friday morning, but he did not see the sexton. I told the sexton again, and he said he had seen him, but he (the porter) had no money for him, and until he got some money he (Howard) should not let anything else go. I have seen a man named “John” who assisted Howard, remove coffins from graves, and put them in the open shed. The sexton afterwards put them in the stable”

The Rev. accused Dixon and Oxspring  for stirring up trouble and published a letter in the paper later saying.

“There is no doubt the sexton has acted in this instance in a matter which is highly improper and blameworthy, but it is the first offence which has come to my knowledge in 25 years; and he has faithfully promised not to repeat it.”  

There was a funeral in the afternoon and the crowd was silent, but anger was growing and the crowd now in the hundreds told the Sexton’s wife to get out and then burnt the Sexton’s house to the ground. One of the papers described it as a modified version of a lynch mob. But said in the circumstances was understandable.

It was later found that Rev Livesey  had made a false entry in the burial register, so he was charged and tried for that. He was sentenced to one weeks imprisonment.

The Sexton said that he had removed bodies from their graves, but only on the instructions of the Vicar. The disinterments were of children – whose small bodies would more quickly turn to dust – buried in 1857 and 1858. It was their bodies that were in the hole. He was charged with unlawfully disinterring the bodies of two children, William Henry Johnson and Charley Hinchliffe.  He was sentenced to three months.

Burngreave Cemetery

Burngreave Cemetery

Burngreave Cemetery was opened in 1861. The cemetery is situated in what was Medical.Plaque Burngreavethen Brightside Bierlow, one of the townships which made up Sheffield.  In the graveyard is a memorial stone to all the people who gave their bodies for dissection. It doesn’t say how many had willed their bodies or had the misfortune to be lunatics or unclaimed from the Workhouse.

In 1882 there was yet another scandal of a body being sent for dissection without consent.

 “Mr. Basil Cane, Poor Law Inspector held an enquiry at the Sheffield Workhouse yesterday concerning the removal of the body of a young man named John Wood which was taken by mistake to the Medical School instead of that of an old man named Ellis. Wood it appeared had been received into the hospital suffering from consumption and died within ten minutes of his admission. On the widow coming to claim the body for burial she was shown a coffin on which was a plate bearing the name of “John Wood age 36″. On the lid being removed however she found that the coffin did not contain Wood’s body but that of an old man named Ellis. Search was made and Wood’s body was ultimately found laid on a slab at the Medical School ready for the anatomical lecturer and his students. Mrs. Wood declared that when the body was brought back to the workhouse there were several cuts to the neck as if inflicted by a lancet. It was explained that the cuts had been inflicted by the porter at the school in the process of shaving. The mistake arose through the recent appointment of a new man to take charge of the dead-house, and the failure to put cards bearing the names and ages on the bodies”

Firvale workhouse

Firvale Workhouse

Unsurprisingly the residents of workhouses,  were not happy with the Anatomy act, particularly when “mistakes” happened.  Many evaded examination by signing a declaration that they did not wish to be dissected and the supply from workhouses dropped. Burial services and coffins were often rudimentary. Burial clubs became common – like a Christmas Club – pay so much a week for your funeral. Just before World War 1 ten percent of the income of women in Lambeth was set aside for ‘Industrial insurance’. The only change to the act, however, was in response to repeated failure of the anatomists to bury remains within the stipulated period: the period was extended in 1871.

Anatomists operated under the 1832 act until very recently. With the closure of the workhouses the supply of available bodies declined: there were shortages in the 1920s. The Inspector of Anatomy at the time suggested ‘a modest fee of five shillings’ to officials in mental homes – by then the main source of supply. At this point there was also a rise in donations. From almost zero before world war one, to 5% between the wars, then rising again after world war two to almost 100%. It parallels a rise in cremation rather than burial and perhaps tokens a change in our attitude to our bodies. Perhaps it parallels the demise of the paupers funeral and the idea that poverty and misfortune could qualify a person for dismemberment against their will. But now any bodies supplied to Medical schools are willed to them by the deceased.

General Cametery

General Cemetery  General Cemetery website