So long and thanks for all the fish?

When I started Timewalk project I said I would give it 5 years and that 5 years is up now, so time to take stock. I have enjoyed myself and sometimes ended up way beyond my comfort zone giving interviews and talks and writing reports. There are a lot of amazing people out there, but I knew that when I started as that was my main aim was to champion them. There has been some great achievements and some great things in the pipeline but are the powers that be really aware of the great unique  heritage that is round every corner in this city?


Sheffield Rotherham Canal 200 years old in 2019.


I started looking at ways of promoting heritage after reading a letter sent by the Arts Council that stated Sheffield wasn’t interested in Heritage or Culture. I couldn’t understand how they reached that conclusion,  but looking at the Council’s website gave me a clue, as well as looking at Google maps. According to Google Cannon Hall was in Meersbrook Park, and Bishops House not even in the park and somewhere  along the road. This wasn’t  helped by the fact that the Council website listed Bishops House as being in Derbyshire.  Of the Top 10 places to visit on the Council website 3 were not in Sheffield. The information suggested too that the Peak District National Park started outside Sheffield Boundaries not that part was actually within city boundaries.  Manor Lodge despite its brand new Discovery Centre and craft workshops was not even mentioned.

Manor Lodge Tower

Manor Lodge Banqueting Tower.

I remember asking a Councillor why the Council didn’t promote places like Manor Lodge and was told they were short of money. I asked how much money it took to add an entry to their website.  I didn’t get an answer so maybe that is why the Arts Council felt Sheffield wasn’t interested in Heritage.

Advertising for Heritage events was poor partly due to the fact that many organisations didn’t have an online presence, or if they did it was frequently a website that someone forgot to update. The list of organisations was also problematic as some that were still listed had closed and others had formed but weren’t listed. The only way to get any idea was to go to the Central Library and pick up leaflets and then either scan them in or write out an add. As I found more leaflets it got really time consuming as so much had to be typed in to a calendar of events. It was a great relief when more groups started on Facebook and on Twitter.  As I could just click and forward to my page or retweet.


Art Deco relief on Central Library

When I started not only did people not know of events in the city centre, they didn’t know of events in their neighbourhood.  As we started mapping old buildings across Sheffield and researching them it became obvious that Sheffield history books miss out a lot, and are downright wrong in some places. Even some of the listed buildings are dated wrongly and often older than Historic England says they are. Many pubs that are listed as Victorian are Georgian. Many important historical buildings have gone because there was not enough research into their importance or consideration for the historic character of an area.


Le Grand Depart, Le tour de France Meadowhall

The Grand Depart in 2014 was a game changer for Sheffield’s heritage in a variety of ways. The  Yorkshire Festival which led up to Le Tour meant many organisations got funding and advertising. Organisations such as Friends of Porter Valley, Friends of Wincobank , Sheffield Cathedral and Museums Sheffield.  But what also occurred  to everybody was the lost opportunities to market Sheffield to the world that could have happened if Sheffield had been more coordinated. A chance meeting with a Council officer from marketing led to an offer of a meeting room where several heritage groups could get together. This was the birth of Joined up Heritage, which is now a Consortium .


The Council has a Welcome to Sheffield site which lists some of the Heritage sites and events. It also recently began to list some Heritage venues suitable for conferences. There is more to be done but things have really moved on in 5 years though sometimes when you think of the distance still to go it’s easy to forget the triumphs.

We have the beautiful  restored Samuel Worth Chapel at the general cemetery, Grenoside Reading Room, significant Roman  archaeology at Whirlow Farm, the buying and restoration of Zion cemetery, the restoration of the Wheel at Abbeydale plus new visitors centre, the opening of the WW2 farm at Manor Lodge, Lyceum Theatre upgraded, both Cathedrals, the Fire and Police station now a National Museum with hugely expanded visitor numbers, and the amazing Wadsend Cemetery which from unknown is on every Councillor’s lips.   Events that used to have a couple of people and a dog now have to ticket events because otherwise they are over capacity.

Bluebell Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery in Springtime.

Heritage Open Day,  that previously had one entry if we were lucky, has turned into the biggest HOD event in the country. It has brought together businesses grassroots heritage the Civic Society and the Universities in one great collaborative expression of our heritage. It has also had an impact outside Sheffield in that not only does it bring in visitors it has inspired other places to organise their own HOD. Sheffield’s heritage is very definitely back on the map.

However some of the same problems remain. Arts and Lottery funding is lower for Sheffield than elsewhere. Developers are still being allowed to encroach on Conservation areas with disastrous results. Some ancient buildings have been lost, an old farm cottage in Tinsley, an old barn in Walkley, the old dairy farmyard and cow stalls  at Norton, Loxley Chapel, Travellers at  Wadsley Bridge, to name but a few. Many more are planned  to be cleared, facaded or totally eclipsed by the plans for retailing in the City Centre, even though Major retailers are failing every week or abandoning  their presence in the high street. Community assets are being sold by the Council and others are being left to rot by absentee owners from outside the city.


Old Town Hall

There has to be a plan drawn up to protect and conserve and utilise our unique heritage, and an understanding by Sheffield Council and businesses why it is important to the economic and community health of the city. It isn’t about a group of elderly men grumbling in the corner about how things used to be, or turning every old building into a museum. It’s about a pride in our history and the way our city developed. It’s about walking round the corner and seeing an unusual building and having a great coffee there. It’s about  a tourist or a worker feeling what’s special about the city and being literally in touch with the past. No tourist wants to visit a brand new skyscraper that blots out the view of what’s unique, or go shopping in shops that only have the facade left. They want to feel what it was like to be a shopper there in the past.  Give them a bland shiny interior and it is just the same as they get at home in a thousand other cities.


There has to be a plan on how we present our history to locals and tourists alike, but no point having a plan, if an important landmark  that tells so much of the story is demolished to make way for empty office blocks or empty student flats.  No point in saying that is where it used to be, before they put a shop on it and then knocked that down, and now there is an empty building that no one uses or particularly likes. Let’s think about what the place will look like after it’s gone and realistically whether losing it will help or hinder how we market our city. Let’s not replace that which has lasted for 100s of years with something that will be demolished in 30 after many years of crumbling to bits. Let’s use the old buildings to tell our city’s story past, present and future.  It’s a history to be proud of. Not hidden or swept away. Yes it looks messy and has several different styles of architecture and many buildings have changed use several time over but that is how city’s grow and evolve, keeping the useful older buildings, and adding in new to the mix.


Cambridge Street, Bethel Sunday School

So do I stop now and leave it to others and go back to my research in the various archives? It’s very tempting as my life has been very busy over the last few years. I certainly need to change my website as it has developed a contrary life of its own. As for filling out the events calendar with over 2’000 events a year I am finding it hard to keep up. Photographing historic sites is a bit like painting the Forth Road Bridge in fact even worse as before I have got to the end places that I photographed at the beginning need updating.  Entries to my blogs are spasmodic  and don’t have as many guest posts as I would have liked. Likewise the photos on my Facebook pages now featuring a proto Timewalk Rotherham site. Recent research into the owners of Meersbrook Hall has proved fascinating and I’d like to do more.

Samuel Shore by Chantry

Samuel Shore Meersbrook Hall

But despite my original promise to myself to give it 5 years and walk away there is so much to be done re promoting Sheffield’s heritage and the communities it is important to. Plus I don’t think the Council and the National funders have got the message yet. I  think that all the heritage lovers in our city still need to have their voices heard so for now I will continue passing on their messages.

Happy New Year


Losing Heritage damages your health.

Birley Spa

Birley Spa Community owned building due for sale in 2019

Losing publicly owned heritage buildings is not only economically damaging but also damaging to the health and well being of a community. Heritage is part of the anchorage of a community when the upheavals of factory, pit, or farm closures have left communities with a feeling of loss. 

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant Sharrow. One of Sheffield’s most prestigious buildings sold by SCC to private developer despite alternative community scheme.


English councils are selling off 400 publicly owned buildings a year. To add to that are closures of churches, working men’s clubs, and local pubs. For those on lower income public spaces and buildings are the only places they can afford to use. In the case of historic buildings and sites it also incorporates a history of ordinary people like themselves that goes back generations.

Civil War mix Manor Lodge

Manor Lodge, after decades of struggle now a popular destination.


Children growing up in social housing are more likely to suffer from depression and poor self esteem than children from families in same income and same hardships who live elsewhere. Research has found that lonely elderly people have a 31% higher  risk of death, and that each older lonely person costs health and social care services up to £6,000 over 10 years. They are 1.8 times more likely to visit their GP, 1.6 times more likely to visit A&E and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority-funded residential care. But it is not just the elderly who suffer from loneliness, 40% of 16-24 years olds say they feel lonely. 400,000 children and young people are in contact with the health service for mental health problems. The number of “active referrals” by GPs is a third higher than two years previously. There is a sharp increase in children seeking help for depression and anxiety.

Herdings Heritage Centre

Herdings Heritage & Community centre. Originally farmhouse


If people have nowhere to meet as a community, people grow more isolated, more anxious. People stay indoors, and areas begin to show neglect and there is a rise in vandalism, racism and violent crime. Sheffield has a lot of great green spaces but in housing estates like Gleadless Valley

Since the removal of wardens and kids clubs the area has become litter strewn and prone to anti-social behaviour. 

Concorde Barn and House

Ancient cruck barn & farmhouse Concorde Park. Age unknown but medieval site. Barn not open to public as used as store

At Manor Top,  DeHood has taken over the old school as a community gym, and cafe, as well as  being a drop in centre for recovering addicts.  The crime rate is down 60%,  arson has halved. The savings to emergency services, social services and health services must be quite substantial  Yet the site is to be sold to create a new shopping centre. There is a suggestion that a new place could be found but part of the success of the club is the building’s strong historic links to the community.

High Hazels Hall

High Hazels hall. Once used as museum now in poor repair & only partially used in High Hazels Park

Public buildings that have a long history have an advantage that newer buildings without a history haven’t. It gives older people a chance to talk about their experiences to the young  and builds up trust. Most older public buildings are geographically as well as emotionally central to the community. The history and appearance gives the area an identity that is unique to their area.  

The loss of historic buildings matters to ordinary people. Over 11’000 people signed a petition about protecting the character of the Devonshire Quarter in Sheffield.  In Sheffield there are approximately 130 Heritage groups and organisations. Many organisations have several hundred members and have been around for over thirty years. Feelings run deep in Sheffield but finding a similar response from National heritage organisations and funders is prone to failure.


Our heritage and culture has the lowest level of funding in the country. It was found that for the north to get the same Arts Council England funding per head as the capital it would need £691m more in the 2018-22 funding round, and HLF funding is not only lower in Yorkshire than elsewhere it is lower in South Yorkshire than it is in the rural Yorkshire dales. Research would suggest that this is down to a National and local cultural snobbery.  Recently the Government granted £7.6m to Wentworth Woodhouse whereas most grants through the Heritage Lottery fund rarely reach the £1m level in South Yorkshire. It is hard to get funding for “working class” northern heritage. Perhaps that is why the Council had no active plan for protecting and utilising buildings like Birley Spa, or Meersbrook Hall, and the medieval Concorde barn is used as a store, and instead of accepting the community based plan for Mount Pleasant it was sold to a private developer. Most of our prominent heritage buildings are there due to pressure by local groups such as the Lyceum, Abbeydale Hamlet, Kelham Island Museum, Bishops House, Wincobank church, and the General Cemetery to name but a few.    

Abbeydale Dam with crucible stack visible

Abbeydale Hamlet, Gifted by Greaves to the city, after decades left to rot was restored.


Sheffield Council cut its preventative health budget by £880,000 for 2018/19.  In  January 2018 Sheffield Council predicted an overspend of £20m in their social care budget. All the community properties put together, sold  and put into the Council’s coffers would only make a slight dent in one year’s  required income. How many £m would they save over the years by transferring them to the community rent free?  Birley Spa has an asking price of £70’000. How much will it cost the community and health services to see it go, rather than put it back into community use?

Meersbrook Hall HOD

Meersbrook Hall, once home to Internationally famous Ruskin Museum


Friends of Meersbrook Park  have calculated that a community asset transfer of Meersbrook Hall  would save the Council £65m per annum by removing their need to maintain and heat the building, and further savings in staff time, administration and unforeseen costs such as damage repair.


The tenacity of heritage groups in Sheffield is amazing. It took 6 years for the Grenoside community to get HLF funding to fully repair and restore the 18th century reading room, but meanwhile they continued cleaning out the rubbish and landscaping round the building. As Grenoside’s 1st listed building it has brought back a sense of community and gave them space for their community. 

Grenoside reading room

Grenoside Reading Room now community owned and run.

Our communities have to be the primary focus of any Council’s planning decisions, especially if their decisions may result in the loss of our culture and impact on our health and well being.    

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 and burnt a house in Burrowlee 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