From St Philip’s to Wardsend 1855-1857 by George Proctor

St. Phillips Church, 1850
St. Phillip’s Church, c.1850

It is only a short distance from the site of St Philip’s church to Wardsend cemetery. A mile and a half at most, but it took two years from 1855 to 1857 to do the same journey from a legal and organising prospective. Most people know that Wardsend is the extension to the burial ground at st Philips but few know about the two years that were hard fought and at times problematical to achieving the move.

The circumstances and conditions that led to the move are varied and reflect the social conditions of the time. The burying of the dead in Sheffield was a very disorganised and chaotic mish mash of solutions that were sought as and when they were needed. We had a private cemetery from 1836 in Sharrow but that meant if you didn’t bury in the churchyards then you had in some cases to go all the way across the town to perform the burials. In the 19th century, Sheffield, a major industrial town, was suffering from the plight that affected all industrial cities and towns, population overcrowding, disease and insanitary conditions.

The prospect of typhoid, cholera and other diseases was always prevalent. That and the total lack of health and safety at work leading to horrendous deaths and injuries at work, for example a grinder was lucky to live past his mid thirties, the job was well paid but the risks of pneumoconiosis or silicosis, better known as grinder’s disease was great and lots of grinders died a lingering and painfully short breathing death. The town was a pall of black smoke over the industrial regions which affected the health of everyone living in those areas. Add to that infestations of vermin and such like it is no surprise that the three ‘D’s’, dirt, disease and destitution caused a high mortality rate from infants to adults. Building laws were virtually non-existent as regards sanitation.

Reports at one time condemned the parish church, now the cathedral, with instances of the dead meant to be buried underground actually buried above ground covered with the clay like soil with a perpetual miasma of effluents and smells that were very unhealthy.

St Philip’s churchyard like others in the town was filling up and it was not ideal to be carrying the dead across the cities and town areas. In response to this  in 1848 the government brought in the ‘the nuisances removal and disease prevention act’. This was followed by the 1852 (for London) and 1853 burial acts, the closure of burial grounds and churchyards acts.  But let’s stay with St Philips. Rev Livesey and his churchwardens knew something needed to be done and in 1855 called two meetings at St.Philip’s  to discuss the matter..

The first meeting in April of that year was cut short by protests over the lack of publicity given to the meeting. By law all that was needed was a notice put on the vestry door. Very few people turned up. Those that did complained that it was too important an issue to discuss at such a small meeting especially when the intention was to pay for it from the poor rate, ratepayers money. Sheffielders even then did not like to see their rates put up! It was said that Sheffielders ‘were for the gainest’  That shouldn’t always be assumed to be a compliment. The second meeting in October of that year saw a full anteroom of the church with others unable to get in. Listed as among those attending were several councillors, Crowley,  Ashberry, Harvey, Robson and Wood and among those also listed was James Ball (later of Burgon and Ball), Mr  Hudson (a druggist of West Bar), George Hides (table knife manufacturer), George Ramsden, James Radcliffe, Mr I.Ironside and a stonemason named Heathcote (a stonemason buried in Wardsend has that name and has a freemasons symbol on his footstone).

The meeting was chaired by Rev Livesey. He proposed a burial board for the St Philip’s chapelry and the creation of an extension to the churchyard to be paid for out of the poor rate or general township rate. He stated that the boundaries of the parish begin at Green Lane works following the Don up to where the Ecclesfield parish starts then southwest to Malin Bridge where the rivers Rivelin and Loxley meet then to the bridge on the Stannington Rd and on to Steel Bank and Barber Nook along Crookes Valley Rd, down Watery lane to Meadow St, Hoyle St, Burnt Tree Lane, Dun St and back to Green Lane Works. An argument ensued about the rights of ratepayers to vote if they lived outside the parish. Mr Hudson wanted to know where the money was coming from.  Replying Rev Livesey stated that it should come from the poor rate. Such was the tone of the meeting with ratepayers complaining about being taxed for something that some of them thought the town didn’t need. Rev Livesey answered that under the 1853 burials act the churchyard would be closed to all except those with vaults or enough space in earthen graves for the burial. Those for the idea stated that it wasn’t right that people should have to  have to take their dead across the town for burial complaining that it would cause hardship for people. They cited the widows who had taken in washing to pay for a single grave for their late husbands and then not been able to pay for their own. Inevitably the question was raised, ‘Why don’t you raise the money yourself?’ Livesey had been looking at three possible sites one at Somerville Terrace, known as Cundy’s farm, 12 acres at £300 per acre, a site on Penistone Rd near the New Barrack Tavern and a site on Club Mill Rd past the Old Park Mill. Cundy’s farm was rejected as being too near the town and the meeting was adjourned.

The act to which they referred was the 1853 burial act designed to remove burial sites away from town and town centres on the grounds of the removal of nuisances and prevention of diseases under the act of 1848. This act was in effect the first public health act in Britain and covered everything from sewer installation to highways, and amenities such as a water supply and toilets on housing sites. The act lasted five years, due to it being unpopular with certain interested parties and was replaced by another version in 1858.

Notice was duly given that St Philips along with other Sheffield churchyards was to close under the burial act (In the case of St John’s, Park it took thirteen attempts to close their churchyard due to resistance from the parish). In 1857 the third meeting was held, this time in the vestry. Rev Livesey announced to a very full audience that he was offering land at Club Mill Rd to the parish for a burial ground. The site got the full approval of Dr Holland the Government inspector on all counts. Reverend Livesey had bought it from Mr Montague George Burgoyne of London, an owner of lots of land in the area. There was a donation of £100 from Miss Rawson of The Hawthorns, a regular benefactor to causes,  and industrialists such as George Dixon of Hillsborough Hall. It cost Livesey £2000 plus the donations to buy the land formerly known as Stacey Spring Wood.  The cost of outer fencing and buildings would cost £700. Burgoyne under the agreement provided a road and bridge from the main road to the cemetery for a fee of an old 6d per funeral that crossed the bridge by the 1920’s this was a shilling.

The act of 1848 had been passed in response to the growing cholera epidemic that was spreading across Europe and by that year had reached Germany from Russia. The Government was desperate to stop it affecting Britain hence the Nuisance Removal and Disease Prevention Act followed by the Public Health Act. The act is still in effect today as modern churchyard closure law still has the original 1853 date on it.

So finally in June of 1857 St Philip’s churchyard closed to all but vault and some earthen burials. On the 21st June of that year Wardsend Cemetery saw its first burial. The rest as they say is history, the colourful and at times scandalous, story had begun. The churchyard is no more having been removed during super tram construction in 1991. if you want to visit the remains of most of the churchyard burials then a trip to Abbey Lane cemetery is in order (section H the rough ground near to the front trees). The church was destroyed by enemy action during the Sheffield Blitz.


One thought on “From St Philip’s to Wardsend 1855-1857 by George Proctor

  1. A very interesting read. Thanks for that.Hopefully one day I will get to Abbey lane to check if any of my family are resting there.


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