TAKEN AT THE FLOOD – Joyce Barrass

 “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

Wardsend Cemetery taken by the author 12th August 2005

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.


Davenport’s saws of Rockingham Street advertisement from an 1834 Sheffield Trade Directory

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!

Wardsend pathway taken by the author 12th August 2005

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.

My great grandfather James Wallace (1859-1952)
in his (slightly!) mellower twilight years

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.

Seagrave Road Gleadless
Seagrave Road, Gleadless, named after my twice great granduncle Solomon Seagrave (1824-1892) Sheffield nurseryman and market gardener

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 Seagrave Wallace and her son James Victor c 1922
Alice Jane (Seagrave) Wallace (1856-1933) pictured with her son James Victor c1922

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.

Mexborough Monument to victims of Great Flood
Memorial to three unknown victims of the Great Sheffield Flood, a man of 60, a woman of 45 and a 2-year-old male child,  in Mexborough St John the Baptist Churchyard (author’s photo)

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.

My maternal grandparents, Elsie Wallace and Christopher Mamwell pose together before Chris went away to the Great War with the Northumberland Fusiliers c1914

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.

Yours truly at Solomon Seagrave’s headstone, Christ Church, Gleadless

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.

Wardsend cemetery on the hillside 12th August 2005 (author’s photo)




“You cannot beat the best” (but illness and misfortune can have a good go)

(Picture Sheffield link)

(Picture Sheffield claims this image is from 1910 but there are no overhead wires. So the rails are for horse trams and the date must be before 1900)

Advertisements are designed to catch the eye and these are still catching my eye more than a century later. They are like the pages of a trade directory pasted up on the facade of an urban landscape. And when they are in places like this – the gateway to a suburban commercial centre – the majority were put up by local people and businesses. They want to tell you what delights, what bargains you will find if you enter…


Harry Green owned the Don Bakery on Crookes Place (now Proctor Place). The bakery survived up to at least the 1960s.


Leigh Peat, butcher, had shops in both Middlewood Road and Langsett Road, and a later generation (1966) were in Wadsley Lane…

(Picture Sheffield link)

The natural question (for an obsessive like me) is, can I link any of these advertisers to Wardsend?

Consider T (Thomas) FRANKLIN, top right, (pausing for a moment to consider also the difficulties for the sign writer, who could have been Mr Franklin himself, teetering over the river to paint the words). It is difficult to read at this resolution but it includes…

88 Langsett Rd

Thomas Franklin’s bold words were matched by a thriving business judging by the frequent newspaper advertisements seeking skilled workmen. Here are some examples, almost all giving the address in Langsett Road…

[tradesmen required]
20 Oct 1894 good joiner SDT
11 May 1896 4 or 5 good brush hands and paperhangers, first-class grainer SDT
26 Aug 1896 6 good bricklayers SDT
21 Sep 1896 good bench hands and fixers SDT
21 Nov 1896 3 good joiners; first-class shop-front fixers SDT
30 Nov 1896 good joiners, bricklayer, slater SDT
9 Apr 1898 4 good wallers SDT
10 Jun 1898 joiner wanted SDT
28 Apr 1899 good joiners wanted SDT
12 May 1899 smart lad or improver to painting trade wanted SDT
15 Jun 1899 15 good brush hands SDT
31 Jul 1899 3 or 4 good decorators and 6 Plain Brush Hands SDT
[SDT=Sheffield Daily Telegraph, SRI=Sheffield and Rotherham Independent]

But misfortune can strike at any time:

FRANKLIN fire 1899-04-01 Ind
(1 Apr 1899 SRI)

Fate can be cruel. Away from this public loss there was private tragedy. Within weeks of the financial loss inflicted by this fire, two children were buried at Wardsend…

Burial register, 1899
FRANKLIN Thomas (jun) 1899 burial
FRANKLIN Lily May burial 1899

Thomas listed death, fire and sickness as factors in his bankruptcy two years later. In the meantime he had become landlord of  a pub called the Grapes in Lock Street.

FRANKLIN Bankruptcy 1900-08-16 SET
(16 Aug 1900, Sheffield Evening Telegraph and Star)

Another child was buried in the same grave in 1901.

A hint at a change in direction and perhaps fortune comes from the baptism of a child, in Dinnington. This is the only reference I can find to Thomas as a market gardener…

FRANKLIN baptism Dinnington 1906

By the time of the 1911 census the family were back at 102 Langsett Road. Thomas wasn’t at home on census night (I can’t find him elsewhere) but the 1911 directory lists him as a painter. The census shows that Julia had had six children, of whom only two were living – Gladys Julia and Charles Edward (who was born c1902).

In 1917 Julia and her daughter are mentioned in a court case after a burglar stole a pair of gloves and a bangle from their house (then in Ash Street),

FRANKLIN 1917-11-01 Star court case

Gladys was listed as a health visitor and midwife in London in the 1939 register. She never married and died in 1980, her death registered in Hastings. Charles E married Dorothy Langley in 1930. They were still in Sheffield in 1939 and had two children. If there are descendants of Thomas and Julia today they must descend from this couple. (but note that Thomas had been married before and a daughter of that earlier marriage was also married with children in 1939)

The kerbstones for grave CA7 in Wardsend list only Thomas and Julia. The CA graves are in a favoured and prominent position – two rows of eight graves lining one side of the path that directly connects the drive to the sexton’s house. You can see the taller  gravestones just peeping over the hedge on the right in this well-known picture of the chapel…

chapel from the east

Thomas was buried in 1927 and Julia in 1939. I don’t know the date of this photograph but it must be earlier so even if we could see over the hedge there would be no memorial.

I think this counts as looking over the hedge. The CA graves seen just above the chapel in 1947…
Chapel and CA Br from above 1947 image
(a murky image because it is much magnified from a much wider view)

In those two rows of graves of different shades of grey the very white kerbstones near the right end are not the Franklin grave, but the space behind them, as yet unfilled, is where the Franklin family are buried.

The Franklin grave kerbs, seen in the image at the head of this blog, are made of a fine but grainy granite which is very difficult to photograph. The words chosen for the foot of the grave, facing the path and therefore most easily read by passers-by, were chosen, perhaps, with those lost children in mind…

Her children shall rise up
and call her blessed

Colour-Sergeant Newell: buried at Wardsend?


The memorial to Colour-Sergeant William Newell stands in an isolated position just inside the main gates (now lost). From here the drive climbs up to the chapel site.

NEWELL - stone and drive

Newell Stone detail

The stone is scuffed and chipped, and sometimes difficult to read in the dappled shadow of the trees. Here is a transcription…


This is not an area of graves. The sexton’s house and its garden separate this stone from all others on the site. So this is a carefully chosen spot.  Colour-Sergeant Newell’s carved stone is the first meaningful symbol of remembrance passed by anyone entering the cemetery through the main gate. To the soldiers who had the stone inscribed to the memory of their lost comrade he might be thought of as a sentinel, or a sentry.

But is he buried there? Or anywhere in this cemetery? The evidence is not at all clear.

A death and a funeral

William Newell’s death is a matter of record…


Death certificate 1868 crop
(Thanks to George Proctor for this copy of the death certificate.)

The manner of his death may have dissuaded the press from covering the death and funeral of this popular soldier in detail. A short item appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph four days later, reporting a funeral on May 18th.

NEWELL William funeral SDT 1868-05-20
Missing from the register

According to the burial register the only two interments that took place at Wardsend on May 18th (Monday) were those of a child called Benjamin HEWITT,  and of John ARNOLD, a corporal in the same regiment as Newell.

A burial on the 19th May is listed between these two from the 18th, showing that the register was not brought up to date after each interment. This might allow for errors such as the omission of a burial, though  I would think that this was rare.

burial register May 1868

I have searched the register pages for the whole of May in the hope of finding a misplaced entry for William Newell, but without success.

If these two soldiers were buried in the same cemetery on the same day you would think they would be buried at the same time, with the same escort and military ritual. Is it likely that the newspaper, even in a brief report, would fail to mention that two men were buried?

Both men are listed on the military obelisk at Wardsend…

IMG_8982 Newell with Arnold

However, inclusion on this memorial does not necessarily mean that an individual was buried in this cemetery. Investigation shows that at least six soldiers listed here are buried in other cemeteries.

Woodside Cemetery?

I do not know of any ‘Woodside’ Cemetery in the Sheffield area. Could this be a mistake for Wardsend? Certainly, though Wardsend had been the centre of attention only a few years before, with bodies dug up from graves and the Vicar and sexton in prison. Reporters (and type-setters and proof-readers) would be expected to know of Wardsend, unless they were completely new to their jobs or from outside the town.

A Scottish Connection?

The only Woodside Cemetery I know to have existed at this time was in Paisley in Scotland. That might have some relevance, as a Scottish connection is suggested by the following brief notice:

Glasgow Herald   (Friday 22 May 1868)NEWELL death notice Glasgow Herald 1868-05-22

Noting his previous service, I think this may well be the same man in the Indian Mutiny Medal Roll (transcription from Find My Past):

Indian Mutiny Medal Roll 1857-1859

First name: William
Last name: Newell
Year: 1857-59
Service number: 2987
Rank: Sergeant
Regiment: 79th Foot (Cameron Highlanders)
Clasp: Lucknow
Notes: Discharged
Medal type: Indian Mutiny Medal, 1857-1859

Two errors?

Taking each on its own merits, the two possible errors (omission from the Wardsend registers, ‘Woodside’ for ‘Wardsend’ in the newspaper) are certainly possible. It does seem a great coincidence if we consider them together. But I do not have another solution to suggest.

Just in case the newspaper was describing an event in Paisley I wrote to the Paisley Cemetery Company which now runs the Woodside Cemetery and Crematorium. They could not find William Newell in their registers.

Elusive in life as well as in death

I cannot positively identify William Newell in any census record. The newspaper report of the funeral implies that he enlisted before he was 20 and so may well have been overseas in both 1851 and 1861. There are a number of possible census entries in 1841, in Scotland and elsewhere.

A visitor to our recent 160th Anniversary event showed me a family tree which appeared to show that he was descended from William Newell. However, I found records to suggest that this was not the case. This was a disappointment as it would have given me names of other family members. Researching them might have suggested a burial location for William. As it is, I don’t even know if William Newell was married or had children.

Denouncing an impostor

An odd sideshow in the last few weeks of the life of William Newell is provided by the following news reports:

Sheffield Daily Telegraph (7 Apr 1868)
NEWELL 1868-04-07 SDT impostor charged at Doncaster

Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Apr 1868)NEWELL William 1868-04-08 SDT name

It was a long wait for the Assizes. The real Sergeant Newell was not around to know the outcome.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph (12 Aug 1868)1868-08-12 Wed SDT Fraudster jailed Leeds Assizes


I do not know if William Newell is buried at Wardsend. If he is, I don’t know if the memorial by the gates marks his resting place. I have not considered here the possibility that the stone has been moved from an original location elsewhere, whether at Wardsend, or somewhere else entirely.

What is certain is that William Newell and the service he represents was important to those who caused the memorial to be made and then placed in such a prominent position.