Hillsborough Barracks is a name long associated with Wardsend Cemetery, its military connection is well established with over four hundred soldiers, wives and children buried there. But after the army left the barracks then what? From 1930 to the present day the fortunes of the barracks have taken several turns. In 1930 the 29th Howitzers left the barracks ending eighty two years of active service that saw several well known regiments founded there including the Warwickshires who became the South Wales Borderers, who made history at Rourke’s drift winning 11 Victoria crosses in the Boer War.
The years following start with two years unoccupied before in 1932 the site was put up for auction by the war office and auctioned by Eadon and Lockwood however when the bidding stopped it had reached only £12,000 and was withdrawn from sale. Later that year the site was bought by Burdall’s, manufacturing chemists, they were run by Herbert Moses Burdall and are best known for their gravy salt but made many other goods besides. Alongside him was his son Herbert Alonzo Burdall. They opened there in 1935 after a fire at the Gibraltar St. works. They let out other parts of the old barrack’s site to others including Sheffield Insulations, the site became known as Burdall’s buildings and the housing section as Burdall’s tenements.
The man himself was born in Lincolnshire in 1857 and was described in Sheffield as a dry salter. Dry salting concerned the making of dyes, varnish, wallpaper paste, paint, soap and glue. In the same year he bought the barracks he was elected to the council representing Hallam where he served until the 1940’s. One habit of his was that he had two hats a straw boater he wore in Spring and Summer and a more serious hat he wore in Autumn and Winter, changing from one to the other on certain dates each year regardless of the weather!
The works was sold in 1976 and closed. After a spell where the site was mainly empty the site was sold in the 1990’s to Morrison’s supermarkets and is now the thriving commercial centre that is part of Hillsborough’s fabric. Morrison’s used the old parade ground as their supermarket covering it over, inside the supermarket are the frontages of the buildings that once looked out on the open parade ground, the outside was now inside. Here we should mention that Morrisons have thoughtfully and genuinely kept the barrack’s character and history in a conserved state. The old Burdall’s door sign is still there behind the offices that run down to Morrisons from Llangsett Rd. on one of the turrets. Also by the Llangsett Rd. entrance is the old Burdalls painted sign on the stone wall by the car park.
Herbert Alonzo took over after his father’s death and was in charge when the firm closed. Their best known product was gravy salt, it contained no gravy! It was caramel and salt combined! If you had a cough you could take their syrup of squills (sea hyacinths). Clean your teeth with their carbolic tooth powder or use their denture cleaner. Rhuematics, no problem they had salts for that and ointment for your chilblains. They supplied eczema and dermatitis paste, fuller’s earth ointment, Glauber’s salts (no idea what that was for!). You could if you wish clean your hair with soapless shampoo powder or use their hair cream on it. They made suntan oil and perfume. Your stomach could be eased by carbonate of magnesia or Dr Hugh Maclean stomach powders (does anyone remember trying the good doctor’s powders?)
They had products for making ginger wine, get rid of insects with DDT, use their bath bricks, bake with their bun flour mixture and if you are really in trouble use their Castorvims chocolate laxative. There were many more products they made, too many to mention. As one of Hillsborough’s biggest employers they hold a special place in our local history employing lots of local people, mainly female. They and Bassetts have had a big impact on the area’s commercial and personal outlook.How many of Hillsborough’s residents past and present have been employed there? How many ex workers are buried in Wardsend?
Hillsborough barracks have played a big part in our lives locally from 1849 when the army moved in up to Morrison’s supermarket its large and characterful edifice has overlooked the lives of many local people. What next? We shall see.
For more wonderful photographs from Sheffield’s past please visit Picture Sheffield http://www.picturesheffield.com/
Picture Sheffield is provided by Sheffield City Council’s Archives and Local Studies Service.
A big thank you to Don Catchment Rivers Trust and everyone else who made this another special day and strengthened Wardsend’s reputation as a home to a wide variety of plants and as a haven for wildlife.
Wildlife organisations, experts and scientists came together on Saturday 11th of August to survey, identify and record the wildlife at Wardsend Cemetery, with the aim of counting as many species as they could within one day. This year’s grand total was he grand total at the end of the day was an incredible 190 biological records, counting 131 different species of plant and animal (click here for the Bioblitz species list). Check out last year’s blog to compare our finds!
Photo credits: Kinder Kalsi
What is a biological record? A biological record documents the sighting of a plant or animal, in a place and at a time. A record includes four bits of essential information: the name of the person that saw the species, what the species was, the location it was found in and the date it was seen – the Who, What, Where and When.
I have a feeling that Luke would have been more than happy with the title of this blog post. Having read a little about him in the newspaper archives he strikes me as a modest man who loved his sport, a man who gained satisfaction from imparting his knowledge of the game and encouraging young talent. A man too who never realised just what an impact he had made on those who were fortunate enough to have made his acquaintance or been coached by him.
In an obituary in the Sheffield Independent – Tuesday 05 July 1892 Luke was described as ‘One of the best of fellows that ever donned the flannels.’ It is one of my favourite quotes about anyone buried at Wardsend.
A big thank you to Joy Bullivant for this guest blog post which tells us more about Luke Reaney, another of Wardsend’s, and possibly Yorkshire’s, unsung heroes.
On 28th June 1892 they buried Luke Reaney, a table blade hafter. He left four daughters and an invalid wife living in the court where he had lived and worked for over 30 years. Buried in the same graveyard as his 28 year old only son was buried 4 years before. The papers said that they stopped the local cricket match during the funeral. Reaney’s obituary in the paper said,
“Luke Reaney was a great favourite with all who knew him, and the Yorkshire County Committee thought very highly of him not only as an admirable judge of the game, but for many good personal qualities, and his excellent character.”
So why did a lowly table blade hafter have an obituary in the paper? Luke was a player. In cricket there were Players and Gentlemen. Gentlemen were amateurs and Players were the paid professionals. There weren’t many gentlemen in Sheffield who could afford to take time off work to play. Most of the players were working men like Luke.
Luke started out in a club called Broomhall. For a while it was the Reaney brothers John and Luke. It became pretty obvious that Luke was a much better cricketer than John. In 1864 he hit the headlines playing for the MacAlister club as best batting average for the season, and man of the match. He was called a promising player He was 27 years old. That’s when he really started picking up professional cricket work. Luke was a great all rounder and his bowling and his fielding saved many a match.
Sheffield was once the centre of Cricket outside Lords in London. Cricket really took off in Sheffield when Me. Steer built the first purpose build stadium on a piece of Darnall Common. Thousands came to the matches which would last all week The great counties came to play Sheffield and wrote complimentary articles about the great ground at Darnall. Two local clubs also played on the grounds on a Wednesday and a Friday and became known as the Wednesday club and the Friday Club. Steer brought in a trainer to improve the playing and Sheffield’s reputation for cricket was born. But after a few great years the Darnall cricket ground was gone and was made into a graveyard and the Wednesday club moved to play at the Sheffield Park ground.
Every works had a club and practically every pub and church. Due to the demand for better facilities in 1855 seven cricket clubs raised funds to build a purpose build stadium next to the sporting grounds of Sheaf House on Bramall Lane. The clubs were Mackenzie, Broomhall, Collegiate, Milton, Wednesday, Caxton, and Shrewsbury calling themselves Sheffield United. Wednesday eventually became Sheffield Wednesday and moved to Olive Grove to play football and later to Hillsborough.
In 1863 the Yorkshire County Cricket Club was founded as a funding idea to raise more income for the Bramall Lane Ground. In 1867 Yorkshire were declared champions and again in 1870
In the early days of cricketing Professionals were often only booked per match. The programme of matches could be pretty haphazard too and the cricket season could have matches at any time of the year. Luke was paid about 2 guineas a match and no payments during the winter. Nor was he paid any travelling expenses.
However he started getting booked by clubs per season. In 1874 and 1875 he was booked as Otley’s first professional appointment, and he contracted to serve the club from April 24th to September 11th (20 weeks) for two guineas a week and whatever his benefit match was worth. On every day, except Sunday, he was to be on the ground from two till four and five till dusk, was responsible for the good order of the ground and club equipment, to be present at every Otley match, and he signed that he would use his “best endeavours at all times during the said term to promote the success of the club.”
Over the years Luke is played as professional in Kendall, St Helens in Lancashire and a wide variety of Sheffield clubs. Luke became one of the Sheffield X1 and was based at Bramall Lane. He played for a variety of local clubs.
By 1883 the Yorkshire team was often described as “ten drunks and a parson”. At the end of the 1882 season, they appointed Lord Hawke as captain who made several improvements in the team and in the pay and conditions of the players. The Yorkshire County Committee gave Luke captaincy of the Yorkshire Colts, the junior team which was created to bring in new young talent and in 1883 he was engaged as coach and instructor to instruct 2 likely hopeful young players from each of the local clubs. The basic problem was that the older players were past their peak and younger replacements were taking longer than expected to bring in high scores. Fielding was especially poor. Something that Luke was very good at.
From 1888 Luke was also umpiring games for Yorkshire and umpired two Yorkshire versus Australia matches. Pay was not great and in December 1891 there was a request for an extra guinea payment by the umpires but their request was turned down.
In June 1892 Luke umpired several matches at Old Trafford grounds in Manchester. His last match was a County Championship on the 23rd June which was Lancashire versus Surrey. He came home feeling unwell due to an infection and died within four days.
Yorkshire improved during 1892, making a good start to the season by being undefeated until mid-June but fading badly to finish sixth. The Yorkshire team began to improve from that year. It is sad to think that the players Luke Reaney trained were not able to share their triumphs with Luke, and that Luke’s contribution to what became a great Yorkshire team is now forgotten.
This excellent piece of work by Dan Eaton was recently shared by Jim Lambert on Pictures of Sheffield Old and New. It documents the soldiers whose names are inscribed on the memorial as well as family members who, at the time of writing, were known to have a ‘Barracks’ address. It explores possible causes of death of those whose names are on the obelisk as well as other stories associated with this simple but very special memorial.
The obelisk is situated on the site where the chapel once stood and, being the only significant monument in the cemetery, and despite not being a war memorial, provides a focus for our memorial services.
In marked contrast to the vast majority of the hidden or unmarked graves at Wardsend the obelisk stands tall in a clearing. The fine stonework has ensured that the names of the soldiers stand out clearly and that they will never be forgotten.
The obelisk’s iconic shape and position in our hidden cemetery somehow captures the essence of Wardsend and could be said to symbolise the intentions of the Friends group to bring in to the open the names of nearly 30,000 people buried there and to tell their often extraordinary stories.
You can read Dan’s work in full by clicking on this link:
The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery have two fixtures tomorrow, home at Wardsend for The Riot Tour and away at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club for the Sheffield and District Family History Society Fair.
Below the posters for these events is a suggestion about how you can enjoy them both while also having a walking tour of the area and appreciating the wider links with the communities located in the Parish the cemetery served from its opening in 1857.
Suggested itinerary for tomorrow:
10.30 Wardsend for the Riot Tour.
12.00 Cuppa and a chat.
12.15 Walk up Livesey Street past Owlerton Stadium built on Birley Meadows where Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show visited twice. This was also very nearly the location for Sheffield Wednesday Football Club.
Crossing Penistone Road walk up through the lovely and historic Hillsborough Park (You might want to take a picnic or head up to the Riverside café for lunch).
1.15 – 1.30 Family History Society Fair at SWFC South St and suites. Come and say hello to us at the Wardsend stall to hear more about the cemetery and our links with Sheffield Wednesday, nearby Hillsborough Primary School and the wider community. We have some great news about the memorial for Wednesday’s first superfan Tom Wharton thanks to the generosity of the Wednesday fans.
From then on times are flexible to suit you.
You may want to visit the beautiful Hillsborough Walled Garden and the headstone of Louis Bacon who was ‘so ruthlessly disinterred’ that you will probably have heard about on the tour in the morning.
Walking towards town through Hillsborough you will cross the Loxley which runs down from Dale Dike Reservoir. It was the breaching of the dam wall in 1864 that resulted in the devastation and over 300 deaths in what was often referred to at the time as The Inundation but is now better known as The Great Sheffield Flood. Some of the flood victims are buried at Wardsend.
Carrying on up Langsett Road you will come to the barracks where George Lambert VC died. George is buried at Wardsend along with several hundred other soldiers and their families.
Continuing on Langsett Road you will come to a row of old buildings which includes Andy’s Carpets near the old Burgoyne Arms (The name Burgoyne also features it the early days of Wardsend) It was here that local photographer W. T. Furniss, buried at Wardsend, produced countless photographs of the local area as well as team and individual player photos of the successful Wednesday side of the early 1900s.
From there on I would recommend dropping back down to Penistone Road via Cuthbert Bank and Bamforth Street turning right on Penistone Road and crossing Hillfoot Bridge (the other end of Club Mill Road to Wardsend Cemetery). On Neepsend Lane Walk past the historically important (in terms of The Flood) and recently purchased Farfield pub and make your way along Neepsend Lane to the Gardener’s Rest, or Head Office as we call it. Here you can partake of your preferred beverage (I like the Five Rivers) looking over the wonderful River Don and watch the trout rising as the sand martins fly up and down the river.
From then on you can enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening at Peace in the Park on The Ponderosa which coincidentally isn’t very far from the site of the now demolished St Phillips Church where the whole Wardsend Cemetery story began.
It was only while writing this as a bit of fun for our Facebook group that I realised that part of it might make a nice guided tour starting and finishing at The Gardeners Rest taking in Club Mill Road and the riverside walk up to Wardsend.
I would appreciate any comments as to whether or not you think this is a good idea and please feel free to add suggestions regarding other locations or alternative routes.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.” – Shakespeare
As we approach the anniversary of the tragic events of the night of 11th March 1864, I’ve been dipping my toe back into the tides and currents of my own family history. My maternal ancestors connect me to Sheffield, and it was with an awareness of the Great Sheffield Flood that I stepped off the beaten track to Wardsend one August morning in 2005.
I’d lost my great great great grandmother, you see. Careless, I hear you say! I’d lost her behind one of those brick walls so notorious to family historians. I’d chased her through history, through census returns, certificates and directories, record offices and repositories. But as to her grave site, I’d lost her completely. Now I’d come to Wardsend, one last hit and hope chance to find her final resting place and run her, quite literally, to ground.
Her name was Elizabeth, born in 1788 into the Davenport dynasty of Sheffield saw makers. Their premises were situated along Rockingham Street, manufacturing ‘circular and all other saws’ as well as those saucy-sounding staples of the nineteenth century lady’s wardrobe, ‘elastic steel busks’ among other specialist steel items.
An incident at the Davenport factory was even reported in the Illustrated London News in 1851, when a horrific steam-engine accident occurred, involving a faulty bolt that gave way and fatally scalded engine tenter Richard Robertshaw and his co-worker Daniel Wilkins, and left a third man, John Crookes, with life-threatening injuries from the blistering hot steam. Bizarrely, Robertshaw’s four-year-old son had also died on the Davenport site, by drowning in a reservoir used for the steam-engine machinery. Just over a decade later, the power of water unleashed, not as steam but as spate, was to prove fatal to at least 240 souls in Sheffield, and the shadow of corporate culpability, amid an outpouring of grief and outrage, would fall more widely across the whole city.
When I came looking for Elizabeth at Wardsend, though, I had no idea that another distant relative had been directly caught up in the fate of the Dale Dyke Dam, and that he too was laid to rest at Wardsend. I was travelling in hope of finding Elizabeth’s grave after sniffing up several blind alleys. Her husband, a cutler called James Wallace, had died young of liver disease in 1840, leaving Elizabeth a widow with eight sons. She can be seen on successive censuses, moving from the family home in Garden Street, first to Wheeldon Street, then to the slum housing of Pea Croft where her eldest son, Joseph, was cutler and publican at “The Barrel.” Later, Elizabeth moved in with another son, Henry, in Edward Street, where she eventually died of ‘old age’ in her early seventies.
I had read somewhere that the overflow of burials from St Philip’s, Shalesmoor, might mean that Elizabeth, who died on the third day of 1862, could be among the earliest burials at Wardsend. Her interment would have been only two short years before the flood surged past the gates of the cemetery itself. It was this haunting image that led me there in search of answers. As with so much that touches us deeply, I found myself with even more questions and some surprising answers I hadn’t been looking for!
Now, as an Owl, I’m no stranger to the Hillsborough side of town, but when I travelled from the far side of Rotherham, by bus, train and Supertram, discovering Wardsend was like coming across a little unsung plot of paradise. It has an atmosphere all its own. Some of the monumental inscriptions seemed so crisp, as if the stonemason’s chisel had not long left off chipping away the lettering of cherished names and the symbols of remembrance. I never did find Elizabeth’s plot, but I was reluctant to leave, wandering up and down the paths, marvelling at the beauty of the spot on the hillside, catching glimpses on every gravestone of the lives of many strangers and neighbours who might have touched fingertips with my own ancestors.
It was only years later, when to my delight I discovered the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery was a ‘thing’ via Facebook, that I finally had proof from the kindly expertise of Howard Bayley that Elizabeth Wallace is indeed buried at Wardsend, in Plot S230, exactly where I’d hoped she’d be. Armed with this knowledge, I hope to make a return trip one day!
Elizabeth’s grandson, my great grandfather James Wallace was, according to those who knew him, ‘a bit of a lad.’ From the merry dance he led me over the decades of playing genealogical hide-and-seek with him, I learned that ‘bit of a lad’ was a polite family euphemism for a bigamist, an incorrigible player and a bloke who was, by any standards, pathologically economical with the truth – a rogue, albeit a loveable one.
James had a colourful childhood, touring the hostelries and music venues of the Victorian North of England with his father Charles, a professional vocalist and sometime cutler, another of Elizabeth’s brood of boys. James was trained, in true Davenport family tradition, as a saw maker. After a stretch in the Army in India, where he seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time in hospital with malaria and the after-effects of being knocked out by a cricket ball, back in Yorkshire he had almost as many jobs as he did extra-marital moments. From engineer’s tool fitter to bicycle maker, from invoice clerk to spade and shovel maker, Lucky Jim Wallace, all six foot something of him, couldn’t or wouldn’t be pinned down.
James kept the law off his scent, not to mention myself as his baffled descendent, by bailing out from Sheffield to Halifax, knocking a few years off his age, naming his uncle Henry as father of the groom and giving himself the middle name “Maitland” on his bigamous marriage certificate in 1924. ‘Maitland’ was a false moniker which stuck with him till his peaceful demise at the age of 92. But it was James’ first and only legal marriage, to my great grandmother Alice Jane Seagrave, that had me shinning back up that parallel branch of my family tree towards the Great Sheffield Flood itself.
Alice Jane’s father was William Seagrave, a circular wood sawyer and earthenware dealer living on Thomas Street and then on Portobello in the shadow of St George’s Church. He had moved from Mansfield as a youngster with his eldest brother Solomon, a seedsman, nurseryman, florist, fruiterer and market gardener who founded the famous Seagrave Nurseries, was a leading light in the Gleadless Land Society, and who has several roads in Gleadless named after him, including the road where he once lived, Seagrave Road.
Alice Jane herself was a shy, long-suffering lady who, it’s said, “wouldn’t say boo to a goose,” – even when that goose was her serial adulterer husband. She was a buffer girl and sang in the choir of the renowned Dr Henry Coward, the pioneer chorus-master, while going home to the house on Gleadless Road she shared with James, their three children (including my grandmother Elsie), James’ mistress Annie, who was also their landlady, Annie’s grandmother, Annie’s best friend and the child James had fathered with Annie right under Alice Jane’s nose. After Annie’s early death from tuberculosis, Alice Jane adopted the child, always fondly loved by his step-sisters, if not by his step-brother, who emigrated to America soon afterwards, following a violent showdown with his father. Alice Jane continued to care for all James’ children even after he disappeared into the sunset to commit bigamy with another unwitting lass, also called Alice. Oh, to have been a fly on their wall!
Alice Jane’s mother was Emma Goddard, born in 1833 to table knife cutler Charles Goddard and Mary Bartholomew. Six days before Emma’s sixth birthday, on the 11th of May 1839 at their home in Green Square on Charles Street, her elder sister Mary, just nine at the time, was helping to make the fire by wafting the flames with her petticoat. As was upsettingly common in the days of open hearths, the material caught fire and Mary was so severely burned that she died shortly afterwards. The inquest brought in a verdict of accidental death. This had a profound effect on Emma and stayed in her mind all her life. I know it did, as although the incident was never spoken of, the tight tucking in of skirts around the calves became a precaution passed down through the maternal line for five generations in our family, to prevent such accidents with naked flames in future. This preventative hem-hitching was passed from Emma to Alice Jane, from Alice Jane to Elsie, and on down to my own mother and to me.
It didn’t always quite do the trick, however. My grandmother Elsie worked as a young woman in a Sheffield corset factory where glue was heated over a fire. Elsie once briefly set her skirt alight, thankfully without the same fatal consequences as befell her great aunt Mary! So, fire brought tragedy to my Goddard ancestors. But it was the force of water that was to claim another member of the clan.
Joseph Goddard, a third great granduncle of mine, was a plumber, glazier and painter who travelled around for work. In 1841 he was in Arundel Lane and ten years later he had moved to the aptly named “Putty Cottage” in Swinton. But by the night of the census in 1861, he was living back in Sheffield with his son Edwin in Howard Hill, before his final fatal move to Malin Bridge. Edwin was a son from Joseph’s first marriage and worked as an engine tenter or stationary engine driver.
Joseph had remarried in 1856 to Sarah Bettany, a widowed pauper potter, as she is described on the census before their marriage. She had previously been married to a man called Samuel Edwards, by whom she had a daughter Mary who was with Joseph and Sarah when the Dale Dyke Dam burst in the bleak darkness above their cottage.
That March night, the sliver of waxing crescent Moon had already set, and the rain was lashing down in a south-westerly gale-force wind, so the darkness was deep indeed when the embankment cracked, and the dam finally breached. Dale Dyke flung its deadly torrent across the countryside, from the broad plains and meadows where the Loxley meets the deeper Don, along valleys, over fields, mills, grinding wheels, inns, gardens, homes containing sleeping families, pets and livestock, licking at the gates of Wardsend Cemetery with its grisly flotsam of masonry and machinery, churning with drowned souls and the corpses of stricken animals, to lap at the walls of Hillsborough Barracks and onward towards the town.
As it approached the row of twelve cottages known locally as Bower’s Buildings in Malin Bridge, Joseph was about to have a rude and terrible awakening. He had been in bed with Sarah, or, judging by what followed, perhaps scrambling to dress in the chaotic darkness. Also caught in the nightmare were Sarah’s daughter Mary, plus Sarah’s infant grandchildren, Mary’s youngest children, Rosina Yeardley, aged three, and John, aged two. All were swept away as the flood raged on, destroying the Stag Inn and ripping open the “The Cleakum” as the Malin Bridge Inn was known to locals.
Just below Hillsborough Bridge, the tide of horror burst through the village of Owlerton, where, as paper mills and public houses dissolved into the seething maelstrom of filthy water, a lodger in a nearby cottage was confronted by Joseph’s naked corpse, his sodden and ragged shirt still attached to his wrist by the cuff, helplessly buffeted at the mercy of the deluge.
In the following days, amid grief, shock and the inevitable recriminations, came the frantic attempts to locate missing loved ones, to identify the deceased, some swept into the debris against Lady’s Bridge or washed away as far as Mexborough in the Dearne Valley. Once the bodies of Joseph and Sarah were identified at Owlerton on the day after the flood, son Edwin had the death mask made from his father’s face and from that a memorial bust, viewable online here on Mick Armitage’s excellent website: http://www.mick-armitage.staff.shef.ac.uk/sheffield/photogal/artefact.html
Joseph and Sarah were buried at Wardsend, a fact I have only recently confirmed through the invaluable knowledge and help of the F.O.W.C. I understand the Yeardley family is buried at Moorgate Cemetery in Rotherham, where Mary’s husband Alfred lived. There is also a memorial stone for some of the flood victims in the churchyard of St John the Baptist’s far downstream at Mexborough, where I took this photo while searching for some of my ancestors from my father’s side, who were blacksmiths, farriers and wharfingers there.
You can take Sheffielders out of Sheffield, but you can never take Sheffield out of their hearts. My maternal ancestors didn’t leave Sheffield by choice, but by necessity. Tragedies and trials were witnessed and weathered until the Great War broke out and left their world unutterably changed.
My mum’s dad, Christopher Mamwell, had married Elsie Wallace, youngest daughter of ‘bit of a lad’ James and Alice Jane, in 1920 after the war ended. Granddad tramped nearly thirty miles northeast, all the way from 143 Derbyshire Lane in the days following the 1926 General Strike, to find work and a home for his growing family in Bolton-upon-Dearne. In the lamp room at Wath Main Pit, the acid used for cleaning damaged his skilled craftsman’s hands and fingertips, and this came to symbolise for him the loss of dignity and hope tied up with all he held dear in his life as a young man around Meersbrook, Heeley and Norton Hammer. Before the move away from Sheffield, he had been an artist and silver chaser who loved to walk out into the Peak District with its stunning views and clear horizons. Chris and Elsie always carried their Sheffield roots in their memory and in their hearts. The endless tributaries, meanderings and torrents of our family history lead us to where we are today.
So where do I fit in? I grew up as a railway child, in the Station Cottages of Bolton-on-Dearne on the LNER line from Sheffield to York at the start of the swinging sixties, a Dearne Valley lass born and bred. I love weaving echoes of the lives of my ancestors into my writing, including my first novel “Goatsucker Harvest” which was inspired by the lives of my dad’s waterway & railway ancestors, canals and Humber keels and the wilderness of lost fenland around Thorne and Hatfield Moors. Not surprisingly, Sheffield features in my second novel, a work in progress set again in the mid nineteenth century when shooting parties travelled from the inland cities to the Yorkshire Coast to bag seabirds and the “climmers” swung from the North Sea cliffs to gather eggs. Not without opposition, of course, or it would be a very short story! Sheffield sings in my blood – even though I’ll not plead that as an excuse for being a die-hard Owl – there are Blades too among my kin and ancestors for balance!
Over the years, I’ve walked most of Sheffield’s highways and byways in search of the places my ancestors lived and loved, mooching round cemeteries and records offices every chance I could snatch on the odd day off from my life as a Methodist minister. Two months after my unforgettable visit to Wardsend, I collapsed with a severe bout of autoimmune illness that left me bedridden and housebound. It abruptly ended that chapter of my gadabout genealogical adventures forever, but as one door closed, another opened, as my life was forced to slow down, on opportunities of sharing my lifelong passion, expressing my love for Yorkshire and its people, history, wildlife and wonders in writing, in poetry, prose, and fiction, and capturing it with my lens.
For those who lost their lives, homes and dreams when the Dale Dyke Dam burst its banks, whose blood runs through our veins, I think it’s so important to share their stories on this anniversary of the Great Sheffield Flood and on into the future. Let’s never stop celebrating them and telling their interconnected tales and tragedies. For as long as we do, they can never be forgotten.
Nathan Staniforth, picking up the trail in America. confirms William’s identity and his tragic end.
William Fish Groves, was born on the 11th December 1850 to Samuel Groves, a saw manufacturer, and Eliza Fish. Strangely enough, his baptism isn’t recorded at St. Philips until the 29th September 1872. Due to his baptism occurring when he was already an adult, his occupation is also included, he is an Engraver living at Watery Street, Sheffield.
A few years later William Fish Groves set sail on the S.S. City of Chester bound for New York in the United States, the immigration record states that he paid for himself, and the immigration date is 13th September 1875.
The next time we find mention of William, is two years following his immigration date when tragedy strikes in the town of Concord, New Hampshire. On August 5th 1877 it was first reported in the Burlington Daily Hawk Eye Gazette:
‘Henry Groves of Concord, New Hampshire while assisting in saving goods at a fire at Straw’s Point, on Saturday, was overcome by smoke and burned to death’
Henry Groves? This surely wasn’t Sheffield’s own William Fish Groves?
A few days later on August 8th 1877, the New Hampshire Patriot and Gazette featured an in-depth article on the event:
‘Fire At Straw’s Point
On Saturday night news reached the city that the cottage of B.A. Kimball, Esq. of this city and Dr. E.M. Tubbs of Manchester, at Straw’s Point, had been destroyed by fire during the afternoon of that day, and that Mr. W.F. Groves had been burned while endeavoring to rescue from the flames some of the contents of Mr. Kimball’s house. The sad news quickly circulated through the city and expressions of sorrow were heard from all lips. The dispatch stated that Mr B.A. Kimball had been seriously burned, but have meagre information of the matter. There was a universal hope among the community that the report might be wrong or exaggerated, but the telegraph on Sunday morning brought more details, confirmatory of the first melancholy tidings.
Various stories regarding the fire and fatality were reported during the day, but on Monday reliable information was obtained from the papers and from Mr. W.G.C. Kimball who came up from Rye Beach on the morning train. The circumstances in brief, were as follows: At Straw’s Point, one end of the great beach, a mile from the cottages and main settlement of Rye Beach proper, is a group of handsome cottages owned by gentlemen from Manchester and Concord. The ocean cable telegraph is near. Gov. Straw also has fine buildings here; then, on the other side of the road, which ends in a few rods at the seaside are the cottages of Dr. Tubbs of Manchester, Mr B.A. Kimball of Concord and others. The Tubbs cottage this season was occupied by Mr. W. G. Ladd’s family of Portland, Oregon.
At a quarter after two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, fire broke out in the stable of Dr. Stubbs’ cottage with a fresh breeze blowing; the house adjoining with Mr Kimball’s across the yard, were soon in a blaze, and all the three structures were wholly consumed. The cottage and barn of Mr. B.F. Martin of Manchester was in the greatest peril. The entire side toward the fire was charred like charcoal. Probably the force of the wind swept the flames from long contact with the wood, feeling mostly the intense heat. As soon as the alarm of fire was given a crowd collected, but nothing could be done beyond saving the furniture and apparel, most of which was got out.
Mr. William F. Groves of this city, who lost his life in the flames, had for some weeks past been staying at Fosa’s Beach. Saturday morning he went from the hotel where he was living to St. Andrew’s Espicospal Church, in the musical exercises at which, he had during his stay at the seaside taken an active interest, to assist in the rehearsal of the choir. He had previously composed a musical score for the Litany responses which was to be sung on the following Sunday. On returning from the church he stopped at the house of Governor Straw to dine, in accordance with an invitation received. At the cry of fire, he rushed out and worked assiduously to rescue the contents of the houses from the flames. After most of the goods had been removed from the cottage of Mr. B. A. Kimball, he, with Hon. John Kimball of this city went into one of the upper rooms. Here they became alarmed for their safety and went into one of the lower rooms. The flames had made such rapid progress that they at once saw that their lives were in danger. They were entirely surrounded by the fire and Mr. Groves excitedly asked how they could get out. Mr. Kimball replied he was going out “this way” and immediately rushed out through a door, across the piazza, on the side from which the wind was blowing, and escaped into the air. His face was badly burned, his whiskers scorched nearly off and his hands were seriously burned. Mr. Groves did not follow Mr. Kimball, but instead attempted to escape over the piazza on the opposite side of the cottage. He jumped out of a window through which Mrs. B.A. Kimball who was ill had been taken. On this side of the house the flames were blowing and raging with great violence and it is probable that Mr. Groves was overcome and fell to the ground, as where he was found after the fire was some ten feet from the house and about two feet from the piazza.
About the time that he attempted to escape a lady saw the flames part for an instant when a black form, which she thought to be a bundle thrown from the window, shot across the piazza. That so horrible an accident had occurred was not known till all was over, when at the place on the lawn stated above, something thought to be the remains of a human body was seen. This was taken out by some gentlemen present, and by a watch in the pocket was identified as the remains of the unfortunate Groves. His arms were burned off, one at the elbow and the other between the wrist and elbow. The legs were burned off at the knees and the body and head were shockingly burned and charred. The remains were brought to this city on the morning train on Monday and were interred with funeral services at the First Baptist Church by Rev. Dr. Eames at 12 on Tuesday.
Mr. Groves was a member of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, this city, but the Baptist Church was kindly offered for the funeral, as St. Paul’s is undergoing repairs. The church was largely filled with people to pay their last sad tribute to the memory of their late friend and companion. A delegation from Straw’s Point came up on the morning express, and were present in a body, among whom were Capt. William Walker, Phinehas Adams, Wm Webster, B.A. Kimball, J.C.A. Hill, Harry Parker and Mr. Green. The Carwen Harmonic Society of this city, which was organized last January by the deceased, also attended in a body, as did the employees of W.B. Durgin’s silverware manufactory, where Mr. Groves was employed as an engraver. The floral tributes were very beautiful and profuse. The pulpit as well as the platform, contained elegant and choice bouquets of flowers, and the casket bore a great many wreaths and bouquets, placed there by loving hands. One of the most beautiful floral devices was a lyre, composed principally of white roses and green, and on a green background in letters of white were C.H.S. This was a gift from the Carwen Harmonic Society.
The service consisted of the beautiful and impressive burial service of the Epicospal Church. Mr. G. Prescott, the organist of the Baptist Church, officiated at the organ, and a select choir consisting of Messrs. Howard and Andrews and Mrs. W.G.C. Kimball and Miss Georgia Morse, sang, finely, “I heard a voice from Heaven” and “Dear Father, bear my prayers” during the services.
At the conclusion of the burial services, Rev Dr. J.H Eames who officiated, made some very beautiful and touching remarks in memory of the deceased. He briefly mentioned his introduction in this country and this city, the many and true friends he made by his gentlemanly bearing and affable manner, the connection existing between employer and employed, his musical ability and endowments and the peculiar tact which he had for imparting his musical knowledge to his pupils. Dr. Eames mentioned his dignified and pleasant address and genial conversation in society and his willingness to instruct and elevate his fellows. He spoke of his moral and religious character and pointed to his past life as one for young men to follow. Dr Eames said that prior to the advent of Mr. Groves in this country he was a member of the English Church and when he first came to our city he immediately took an active interest in the affairs of St. Paul’s as being the nearest approach of the English Church in the country. He remarked of his musical connection with the church. The last time communion was administered to him at St. Paul’s and his last meeting with him on the street. Dr Eames then graphically described the fire at Straw’s Point, the heroic and generous conduct of Groves, his sad and lamentable death and the effect that it would likely produce on his kind and devoted mother and grandmother. At the conclusion of these remarks the dead march from Saul was played and the remains were borne from the church.
As the funeral procession passed through the streets the dead march was played on the bells of St. Paul’s, the remains were taken to the old cemetery and deposited in a tomb with the usual committal services. The funeral was conducted by Horace A. Brown Esq. and the bearers were Messrs. F. Reed, F.W. Smith, F.E. Knight, W.J. Green, J.R. Saye and T. Woodward.
The home of the deceased, Mr. Groves, was in Sheffield, England, where he has a mother, grandmother and uncle living. He would have been 27 years old in December next. He came to this city four years ago last winter, and during his residence was employed as an engraver at Durgin’s on School Street. He was a man of exceedingly upright character, affable and agreeable in manner, of passing presence and always a thorough gentleman. His pleasant and gentle ways, charitable heart and generous impulses had gained for him large circles of warm friends in this and other places in the state. He was possessed of fine musical taste and ability and the many entertainments in the city of which he was the author will be a pleasant memory to many in this city who are called upon to deplore his terrible fate. His relatives abroad, particularly his mother, who is nevermore to look upon the face of her tenderly loved son, but must henceforth bear this great burden of sorrow, with no anticipation of a reunion on earth, will receive the heartfelt sympathy of our entire community.’
Finally, word must have reached home, as on August the 25th, 1877 the Sheffield Daily Telegraph posted the following report:
‘DEATH BY FIRE OF A SHEFFIELD MAN IN AMERICA.
A promising citizen, Mr. Willie Fish Groves (nephew of townsman, Mr. John Fish), has lost his life in New Hampshire, Concord, under very shocking circumstances. Mr. Willie F. Groves was native of Sheffield, and worked as an engraver at the silver-plate manufactory of Messrs. Bradbury, Eyre-street. About four years ago he went to America, going directly to Concord, and commenced work at Mr. W. B. Durgin’s Silver-ware Manufactory, where, New Hampshire newspaper informs us, “he was a genial young gentleman, ever ready to lend a helping hand to every good enterprise, and made many warm friends.” Mr. Willie Groves’ death occurred in this manner; — On the 8th inst. fire occurred at a villa at Straw’s Point, owned by Dr. Tubbs, Manchester. A stable connected with the house took fire, and communicated with ex-Mayor Kimball’s house. Mr. Kimball and Mr. Groves went into the second story of the house to get something that remained, and descended to a room on the lower floor, where they encountered sheet of flame. Mr. Kimball escaped creeping on his hands and knees: Mr. Groves made his way to a window, through which he had assisted to save the sick wife of Mr. B. A. Kimball. Mr. Groves then got through the window safely and struggled across tho verandah, where ha sank down from exhaustion and perished near to the house, which was burned down in about twenty minutes. The deceased was distinguished not only in commerce but in music. At the County Hall exhibitions on two occasions he obtained the gold medal for engraving on gold and silver ware. But it was as a musician (according to the lengthy notices which appear in the New Hampshire papers) that Mr. Groves excelled. It appears he was one of the finest tenor singers in Concord, and also a composer. He had recently composed an invocation to use in St. Andrew’s Chapel; on the Saturday he attended the rehearsal, on the Sunday assisted the service, which was conducted by Bishop Cox (who has since paid fitting tribute to his memory), and on the Wednesday following he was no more. The deceased was leader of the choir of the Universalist Society for a number of years; he formed a class for the study of music on the Curwen system, and was also a Sunday school teacher, in all of which offices was very popular. Mr. Willie Groves was accorded a public funeral, which was largely attended by leading local citizens, who formed in procession to the First Baptist (Episcopal) Church, where the service was conducted by Dr. Eames. The coffin was covered with an elegant floral cross, wreaths, lyre, and harp, and the platform and pulpit were adorned with flowers. Mr. G. D. Prescott presided at the organ, and the service was very impressive. Dr. Eames alluded in a touching manner to the character of the deceased—of his advent to the city and the useful and upright life he had lived there, of his love of music and devotion to it as an art, of his method of teaching it, his social qualities, his prominent moral characteristics, his fidelity to religions duties, and his readiness to assist in church singing. In his efforts in that direction at the little chapel by the sea-side where he was seeking rest, his chivalric soul (said Dr. Eames) was sent home to Heaven in chariot fire. The learned doctor concluded by expressing sympathy for deceased’s relatives and friends in England, and the remains were then convoyed to the Old Cemetery, where the service was concluded.’
In conclusion, researching this gentleman was a privilege despite the fact he met such a tragic end, the headstone in Wardsend Cemetery still remains in great shape, with the inscription:
‘William Fish Groves
Who died August 4th 1877
At Concord U.S. Of America
Aged 26 Years’
Although it was difficult to find mention of this man online, I felt like I was bringing a forgotten figure back to the forefront, and I am proud to be able to put this man’s story into words, one of many Sheffielders that travelled across the ocean and touched many lives.
The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery would like to thank Nathan for his assistance in following up this story from the other side of the Atlantic and for writing this blog post. He is currently making enquires about William’s last resting place in the old cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.
RSPB and FOWC committee member Elton Beale spent an hour at Wardsend Cemetery today as part of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Here’s what he found.
This weekend has been the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch. The idea is you record the largest number of each species of bird seen in a 1 hour window. So for instance if you see 2 blackbirds, then 10 minutes later you see 1 and then a group of 3 a few minutes later you would record the total as 3. Anyway, I decided to monitor not just my own garden, but also spend an hour at Wardsend (half an hour bordering the river, the other half hour in the old part of the cemetery up to the railway line. The list of species/ numbers seen within the hour were as follows:-
2 Carrion Crows
1 Blue Tit
7 Long tailed Tit
2 Wood Pigeon
3 Greater Black Backed Gulls
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 Grey Wagtail
2 Great Tit
Elton’s sightings of a wide variety of birds in just one hour along with recent sightings of kingfishers, dippers, cormorants, heron woodpecker and starling murmurations is further confirmation of Wardsend Cemetery’s role as a haven for wildlife. Look out for this year’s nature events and guided walks on our website, Facebook and twitter.
The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery are delighted to announce that we have been awarded a grant by The Don Network.
With Wardsend located on the banks of the Don the river is an integral part of the area’s cultural and natural heritage and this is reflected in the varied and increasingly popular events which make up our annual programme.
We are very grateful to the Don Network for their generous grant which will be used to purchase equipment and resources that will enable us to carry out volunteer days, events and guided walks, to promote the natural heritage of the area. Our diary of events will be released shortly.