The Lost World of Wardsend Cemetery

7389937988_724f00b70f_oOn the overgrown hillside overlooking Hillsborough in Sheffield, known in the 11th century as ‘Wereldesend’, lies the now near forgotten Wardsend Cemetery. Victorian monumental headstones loom out of woodland and dense ivy undergrowth. Rusted wrought iron railings and the tombs to which they are attached, tumble back into the earth to join those that lie beneath.

The land on which the cemetery now stands, was bought in 1857 by Rev. John Livesey when the churchyard of St. Philip’s Church on Infirmary Road (since demolished) closed for burials. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave, on the 5th of July 1859. The first burial being a two year old girl, named Ann Marie Marsden. She is, in keeping with tradition, the ‘Guardian of the Cemetery.’ A small chapel and Sexton’s house were included, only the ruined footings of which remain today.

The cemetery has a close association with the nearby Hillsborough Barracks and an obelisk commemorates the soldiers of 6th, 19th, 24th, 33rd, 51st, 55th Regiments of Foot, Victorian Army, who died whilst at Hillsborough Barracks during the period 1866 – 1869. There are graves of several soldiers, killed during both World Wars as well as some of the 240 victims of the Great Sheffield Flood of the night of 11th/12 March 1864, when the Dale Dyke reservoir at Bradfield collapsed.

Local legend has it that of the four clock faces on the old St. Philip’s Church tower, one was never lit at night. This, it was said, was to allow the bodysnatchers at the nearby Wardsend Cemetery to carry out their grisly work, unable to see when the witching hour had come.

7389936400_f6df3f8372_oNefarious deeds came to light in 1862, when a labourer named Robert Dixon accused the sexton, Isaac Howard of disinterring newly buried bodies and selling them for dissection.

Dixon had moved into the sexton’s house in the cemetery and in his own words, “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 20 coffins – some of persons about 15 and 16 and 10 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 shelf near the house four or five sides and lids of coffins.”

The suspicion was that Isaac Howard was supplying the Sheffield Medical School with corpses for dissection. Also that money supplied by the medical school for the ‘decent burial’ of remains legally obtained from the workhouse, was being kept by Howard and the bodies disposed of in a less than respectful manner.

As the news broke, it caused revulsion amongst the occupants of Sheffield, many of who would have had family members buried at Wardsend. On the evening of June 3rd, what became known as the Sheffield Cemetery Riots of 1862 took place when a crowd gathered at the cemetery to find a large hole containing coffins, with and without bodies, one of which had clearly been dissected. Underneath the coffins was said to be several feet of human remains. Many of the crowd began to disinter the coffins of their relatives and a number of graves were found to be empty.

The crowd forced their way into the sexton’s house demolishing the windows and doors, before marching to Howard’s home half a mile away in Burrowlee. Howard learned a mob was on the way, fled and went into hiding, eventually being found in Bakewell, Derbyshire. The crowd set fire to his house, which was completely destroyed.

7389939922_63439c5149_oIt emerged that the law had been breached by both the medical school and the town’s workhouse. The workhouse had sent bodies to the school in sacks and the school, after dissecting them, had allowed Howard to convey them to Wardsend in plain wooden boxes. The law required that coffins should be used.

It appears that the medical school, nervous of its reputation as a school for bodysnatchers, were trying to hush up its activities.

Now the grim tale took a sensational twist as suspicion began to focus on the Rev. John Livesey. It was revealed that he had made a false entry in the burial register, having failed to check that the body of a boy named James Greatorex had been interred.

On June 11th, a public meeting of parishioners at the Peacock Inn, Hoyle Street, severely criticised Livesey. The next night a crowd of 3,000 Sheffielders gathered in the Temperance Hall, Townhead Street, and demanded Livesey should be suspended until he had either been cleared or condemned.

On June 23rd, Livesey was committed to York Assizes, charged with making a false entry in the burial register. Isaac Howard made a statement implicating Livesey. He said that he had removed bodies from their graves, but only on the instructions of the Vicar. Howard was committed to York Assizes, charged with unlawfully disinterring the bodies of two children, William Henry Johnson and Charley Hinchliffe.

Although there was little evidence against Livesey, the jury found him guilty. The judge showed what he thought of the verdict and sentenced the clergyman to one week imprisonment. Howard, also found guilty, was also treated leniently and was given a three month sentence. Livesey was later pardoned, after Howard came clean about his crimes.

By the turn of the century over 20,000 interments had taken place and in 1901, a further two acres of land on the other side of the railway were added. Wardsend Cemetery remains the only cemetery in England with a railway running through it!

The final burial took place in 1977 and the cemetery was officially closed in 1988. Since then it has been virtually abandoned by the church and despite efforts by the council and the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery, it remains one of the few truly lost romantic spaces in South Yorkshire.

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Wharncliffe and the Dragon of Wantley

From the Hobb Stones, across Brownlow Rocher towards Wharncliffe Lodge

From the Hobb Stones, across Brownlow Rocher towards Wharncliffe Lodge

“In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. The remains of this extensive wood are still to be seen at the noble seats of Wentworth, of Warncliffe Park, and around Rotherham. Here haunted of yore the fabulous Dragon of Wantley; here were fought many of the most desperate battles during the Civil Wars of the Roses; and here also flourished in ancient times those bands of gallant outlaws, whose deeds have been rendered so popular in English song.”

Walter Scott, Ivanhoe.

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The stables of Wharncliffe Lodge

Wharncliffe Chase is an area of wild upland above the southern end of Wharncliffe Crags, north of Sheffield. Prehistoric human settlement is evidenced by a Mesolithic camp near Deepcar and a settlement at the northern end of the crags. Over 2000 quern stones have been found along the crags, dating back to the Iron Age. There also seems to be some evidence that the Romans passed this way too. Following the Norman Conquest, Wharncliffe was one of the many ‘chases’ in the area set aside as a royal hunting park for the Lords of Hallamshire.

The Wortley family have had a home on the site of Wortley Hall, probably since Norman times. It was Sir Thomas Wortley that built the first lodge at the top of the crags in 1510, there have been two other Wharncliffe Lodges since, the current structure being a Victorian rebuild. Some features of the original lodge still remain.

The Wortleys seem to have had a rare talent for annoying the locals, especially by enclosing land for their deer park. Two hamlets were destroyed when the chase was extended, Stanfield and Whiley and it was the actions of Richard Wortley in 1589 that led to bitter conflict with locals and the creation of the satirical ballad, ‘The Dragon of Wantley.’ In 1591, eleven people were charged with hunting deer in the park and vandalising walls and fences. They are also said to have hung the body of a deer from gallows and nailed it’s head to Wortley Church door. In 1603 George Blount of Moore Hall disputed Wortley’s attempted increase in tithe payments and won his case. It maybe that the character of More of More Hall in the tale is based on him.

All sorts of cattle this dragon would eat,
 Some say he ate up trees, 
And that the forests sure he would
 devour up by degrees: 
For houses and churches were to him geese and turkeys;
 He ate all and left none behind,
 But some stones, dear Jack, that he could not crack,
 Which on the hills you will find.

One of the many twisted, long dead trees on Brownlow Rocher

One of the many twisted, long dead trees on Brownlow Rocher

The tale of the Dragon of Wantley tells how a dragon, living in a cave in the crags (there is still a cave known as ‘Dragon’s Den’ near Wharncliffe Lodge), terrorised the locals by preying upon their children and cattle. The knight, More of More Hall takes on the dragon in battle, wearing a suit of spiked armour, waiting in a pond for the dragon to come and drink. More kills the dragon either (depending on which version you read) with a blow or by allowing the dragon to coil around him and squeeze, thus impaling itself of his spikes.

His son Francis Wortley, seems to have continued the family tradition of antagonism and fought a duel with Sir John Savile (of the Saviles of Tankersley) in 1626. Wortley, along with the Wentworths, sided with the Royalists during the English Civil War. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1644, his estates confiscated, to be returned upon payment of a fine.

The lodge is still in the ownership of the Wortley family. A later resident stocked the deer park with North American Bison and occasionally, the odd bison bone still turns up around the chase.

The Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher

The Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher

Different views of the Hobb Stones

Different views of the Hobb Stones

Loxley Common: Legend & Murder

Sunrise on Loxley Common

Sunrise on Loxley Common

The village of Loxley sits on the very edge of the Peak District National Park, to the west of Sheffield and now almost swallowed by urban sprawl.

Loxley Common lies between the villages of Wadsley, Worrall and Loxley, near Hillsborough. Today a popular spot for dog walkers, there are few clues now left to it’s somewhat dark and grisley past.

Roman artifacts have been found on the common and it is said that Mary Queen of Scots used to ride here, during the period that she was imprisoned at Sheffield Castle. The common was used to graze animals and collect wood for centuries and from the mid 19th century, ganister was mined here, for use in lining the furnaces of the local iron and steel works (1). Interestingly, recent discoveries have been made that could push use of the common back into prehistory.

The common is also home to the sword in the stone, a rock that bears the lightly incised carving of what looks like a broadsword. Little is known of the origin or date of this, but it will be interesting to hear of any future advances on this or the possible prehistoric remains.

Robin Hood’s supposed birthplace on a hillock at Little Haggas Croft (Loxley Firth), lies close to Loxley Common. It is near here where outlaws were said to wait for travellers between York and Peveril Castle (owned by the Sheriff of Nottingham), on their way to the hunting grounds of the Royal Forest of the Peak.

First mentioned in the Sloan Manuscript, dating from around the end of the 16th century, it is said that he was born around 1160. A survey by John Harrison in 1637 describes the Haggas Croft site as, “‘the foundacion (sic) of an house or cottage where Robin Hood was born’ (2). The ‘Gest of Robyn Hode’ (originally possibly dating from around the early 1400’s) certainly places Robin Hood in Yorkshire.

As well as the Robin Hood legend, the common is also the scene of other stories, including murder and gibbetting.

In c.1740, Thomas Halliday built the supposedly fire resistant Cave House on Loxley Common, over the entrance to a cave. The house was occupied by the local game keeper.

It was the evening of 30th December 1812 when Mary Revill was murdered in Cave House, stood lonely on Loxley Common. Her husband Lomas Revill, a game keeper, hadn’t come home that night. He had been seen in the local inn and was found the next morning in the gamekeeper’s cabin. deep in the woods. The night has seen a storm cover the common in deep snow and footprints leading from the cottage seemed to enter a cave on the brown of the ridge and disappear.

As time passed, Lomas Revill is said to have become a strange man and prematurely aged. As another New Year’s Eve approached, someone at the local inn remarked that the gamekeeper hadn’t been seen for a few days. A party of men went up to the cottage on the common and there in an outbuilding, found his body hanging from a rafter. The spectre of a white lady is said the haunt the area still.

Loxley Common, close to Cave House

Loxley Common, close to Cave House

Frank Fearn is a name that will be for ever associated with Loxley Common, for it was here where his gibbetted body hung in chains.

Frank Fearn was hung in 1782 (probably in York) for the murder of local watchmaker Nathan Andrews. He lured Andrews with a story of a pocket watch club (where customers would save weekly towards the cost of a pocket watch) at the Old Horns Inn at High Bradfield. En route to the Old Horns Inn, Fearn clubbed and stabbed Andrews to death on Kirk Edge Road and hid his body in a nearby copse.

Following his execution, his body was returned to Sheffield and gibbetted on Loxley Common, close to the scene of his crime. There it hung until Christmas Day 1797, when Frank’s bones finally fell from their chains. The land on which the gibbet stood, was purchased by Thomas Halliday, owner of the Robin Hood Inn as a tourist attraction. The land was later bought by John Payne, who’s descendants donated the land (Loxley and Wadsley Common) to the people of Sheffield in 1913.

In 1792 the body of Highway Man Spence Broughton was gibbetted at Attercliffe in Sheffield. His accomplice, John Oxley escaped from prison and hid out on Loxley Common. When spotted on the common, he committed suicide rather than face the same fate as Fearn and Broughton.

(1)  Wadsley & Loxley Commoners: http://www.wadsley-loxley.org/history.html

(2)  Quoted in Addy, A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Sheffield, p. lxxiii.