William Whitehead – “Ye generation of vipers”


This open bible  is on the gravestone of William Whitehead, scripture reader for St Philip’s parish, who died in April 1910

Open bibles are common motifs on Wardsend gravestones. There are several just in the immediate surroundings of this grave. But these other examples are all similar to each other in design. The lettering in each case closely resembles that recording the family details.

bibles on stones

The overall design of these stones would have been chosen from a catalogue – Victorian catalogues survive though I have not seen one – and they probably arrived at the local monumental mason’s workshop with the pages of the carved bible blank. On all these other examples there is a single phrase of text which is from the familiar and some might say limited repertoire of quotations and verses which are found throughout the cemetery.


The bible on William Whitehead’s gravestone is very different. The lettering does not match the professionally carved family details and in fact looks amateurish. But the chapter headings were clearly chosen for a purpose and that purpose must be to spark our curiosity and persuade us to find those chapters of scripture and read them. How fitting a device to continue the work of the scripture reader buried here!

There are two chapter headings and these chapters are not two halves of a single story or episode so perhaps there are two distinct messages to be read from their presence here.

Matthew chapter 23
(click to open text in a new tab/window)

Matthew 23 has the repeated refrain “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”. Jesus admonishes them for being more concerned with their position and the outward embellishment of the temple and the altar than with what they represent. He doesn’t mince words…

“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers”.

If this message was important to Whitehead, who, for him, were the modern day Pharisees? He was a scripture reader for St Philip’s for 38 years so I hope his parish was not the target of his own righteous anger but he might well have been critical of other parts of the established church. Or the lesson may refer to the wider vainglorious and hypocritical world.

Matthew chapter 24
(click to open text in a new tab/window)

In Chapter 24 Jesus talks about the end of the world and his second coming, warning against false signs and prophets. His message is that all should be ready. One phrase appears on many gravestones in this cemetery

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh”

Whitehead William

(© British Library via Find My Past)

Who decided to decorate the gravestone with this image and its crucial annotations? Did the scripture reader himself in his last illness plan this last stone-carved expression of his work? Or was there someone within his family who was confident enough in their reading of him, his views and his wishes to instruct a mason to add these details?

And was it a mason who made these marks? The contrast in quality between the chapter headings and the crisp carving of names and dates might suggest otherwise.

But I must not be tempted to see only the outward show rather than the inner message, which is so effectively communicated.


Cousins at War

The many connections, by blood and by marriage, between the crowned heads of Europe are well known. Here are three grandsons of Queen Victoria: Tsar Nicholas II, King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II.


But at all levels of society the countries of Northern Europe were linked by migration and naturalisation. When these countries went to war, cousins were likely to find themselves fighting on opposite sides.

A British Tommy remembered

Albert FS Mills was mobilised in October 1916 as a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment. He was promoted to Lance Corporal before he left England and passed through the 3rd and 2nd Battalions before arriving at the front in France in the 10th (service) Battalion. Within a month, on April 21st 1917, he was posted as missing in action, presumed killed.

Albert is commemorated on the Arras memorial and on a family gravestone in Wardsend Cemetery…

Arras and wardsend


Wardsend grave NP700 – monumental inscription

In loving memory
who died Jan 2nd 1932 aged 62 years
Also FREDERICK son of the above
who died Aug 31st 1921 aged 16 years
Also L/Cpl 37480 ALBERT F S MILLS 10th Y&L
who fell in action April 21st 1917
aged 19 years

The pages of Albert’s service record (in images at Ancestry.co.uk) are charred and sooty and clearly fragile. The building where these records were stored was damaged by bombing in London during WW2 and many were destroyed. Painstaking work has saved a proportion of them, teasing apart the charred and fragile remnants, which are now known as “the burnt documents”.

30972_176503-00046 edit

We can see that Albert was only 18 when mobilised in October 1916.

His full name can be read on this document: Albert Frederick Schwabe Mills. Another page gives his weight as 120 lbs and lists two vaccination marks on each arm. His occupation was ‘pawnbroker’s assistant’.

His mother, Emma Mills on the gravestone, had an even longer name: Emma Ernestine Marie Augusta Mills, and her maiden name was Schwabe. (Albert’s father George Frederick had been married before and is buried with his first wife in Norton).


Came to cook, stayed to marry

Emma was born in the city of Schwerin in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. She had at least seven siblings. This part of Germany is traditionally a poorer area, partly because of its inferior agricultural land. Her large family, and life in a poor region might have been a factor in Emma’s move to England before 1891. There is no sign of other family members in England. In the census Emma was working as a cook in the household of another German emigré family, in Lewisham in London.

George Mills, a joiner and later a builder, was born in Spalding in Lincolnshire but was in Sheffield by 1881. It is not clear how he and Emma might have met, but they married in Sheffield in 1896.

Height, weight, chest expansion in deutsch

Here is another military document. It is from a bound volume which has not been charred or soaked. The measurements in the right hand columns are in metres and kilograms:

German military list short

In Germany, in peace time, all young men between the ages of 20 and 22 were liable to be called to give two years military service. This might only mean being away from home for a small part of those years. After that they were reservists up to the age of 45. The document above is from a ledger which consists  entirely of a list of men born in 1894 who were coming up to military age in 1914. It comes from the city of Bremen.

Converting the figures, here is a comparison of these two young men:


                                  Otto          Albert
born                         1894         1898
height                      5’4½”        5’8½”
weight                     125½ lbs   120lbs
chest expansion   32”-35”      30”-35”

Not so different.

But this is not an idle comparison. These young men were cousins*.

Otto’s father Franz was Emma’s sister.

Both Otto and Franz were tilers. The notes at the bottom of the entry say that Otto, who had completed an apprenticeship (perhaps with his father) had moved for work and was transferred to a different military district in April 1914. This Bremen ledger, therefore, does not show that he was called up to fight in the war, but he will have registered in his new home and quite possibly was in uniform during the war.

He could have been involved as early as August 1914 when mobilisation swelled the German army from 800,000 to 3.5 million men in just 12 days.

(*not by blood since the German document notes that Franz was Otto’s “adoptive father”. It doesn’t say that Adelheid was his adoptive mother so I assume he is her son from a previous relationship.)

“No Germans wanted here”

It is not clear from census records whether Emma was a naturalised British subject, but no record of naturalisation can be found in the National Archives. In any case anti-German feeling, particularly after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7th 1915, led to calls from some to deport all those with German links, whether naturalised or not. This did not happen, but public anger spilled over into riots throughout the country.

On May 14th thousands of rioters wrecked and ransacked German-owned businesses in Attercliffe. The stock of pork butchers were looted. Some Germans were said to have asked the police to intern them for their own safety.

It is not possible to say how Albert’s family was affected, but the uncertainty and climate of violence must have been of concern to them. Workers with German names or known German family  could be driven from their posts by the hostility of other workers. If Emma was still a German citizen she would have been required to register and report regularly to the police or other lawful authority. A son in the British army would have been seen by many as proof of allegiance to their adopted country.

Other Germans anglicised or changed their names – not necessary when you have the common England name of Mills but it is noteworthy that Albert’s brother Herman kept his first name throughout his life, and Albert himself is listed with his full name in the British military records.

So they didn’t have to follow the lead of the middle of the three cousins in the photo at the top of this page, who issued this proclamation three months after his loyal subject Albert Mills had laid down his life for his country  in France:

proclamation 17 Jul 1917
(17 July 1917)

monarchs:                         Getty Images
Arras memorial:              CWGC
British Military Record: Crown Copyright (National Archives) via Ancestry.co.uk
German military list:      Bremen Archives via Ancestry.co.uk
Proclamation:                   British Library via FMP

“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.


What is this ‘Virtual Map’?

Map logo1

Hello! I’m Beth, yet another student of Public Humanities MA who has been working with the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery over the last term. I have been in charge of creating the virtual map, which will feature on the website and be launched at our event on May 12th at the University of Sheffield.

The map will be a collection of the research we have done on a few of those buried and remembered at the cemetery.

Why a map? Well, as a group we wanted to showcase our research in a form that was more exciting than an article. Alongside this, we wanted to help FOWC increase awareness of the actual cemetery in Sheffield. So we hope that creating a map will bring the site to life, and inspire people to go and visit for themselves.

On the map you will find the stories of a small number of those buried at the cemetery, their lives and perhaps their deaths. There will also be tales about the site as a whole that will help to give background to the cemetery, and also to organisations and future projects that FOWC are involved in.

It is worth mentioning that there is not an image for every gravestone on the map. This is because the cemetery is currently not 100% passable, and we have not reached the headstones of everyone we have researched. At this point I would like to add a disclaimer: we do not suggest you venture too far off paths upon your visits to the cemetery, and if you do choose to; be aware of your surroundings and possible trip hazards, don’t rely on any headstones to be firmly in the ground and be wary of railings and loose stones. Large parts of the cemetery aren’t accessible at the moment, but FOWC are hoping that this will change in the next few years and then everyone will be able to explore and find out stories of their own!

What next? You need to visit the site for yourself!

As soon as the website becomes live on May 12th, view the map! On there, choose a plot to explore, click on the photos, read the stories, and learn about the people buried there. But then be sure to visit the cemetery located in Hillsborough, near Sheffield, for yourself too!

View the map HERE!

Wardsend through an oil painting

A few weeks ago a few of us took a trip to Weston Park Museum as part of one of my other modules for my MA. Whilst in the museum we ventured into the Gallery where we stumbled upon several paintings of Hillsborough, a few of which featured Wardsend Cemetery from the 19th century.

I could not help but notice, and also appreciate, the different pictures of Wardsend portrayed in the images – such a contrast to the space we see now. The first painting, titled ‘Sheffield and the Valley of the Don’, was painted by Edward Price circa 1863. In the painting we can see a Wardsend Cemetery, surrounded by green fields and complete tranquillity. The original chapel is also in the picture. If I were to take a picture from the same location, say on my Iphone, we would now see Hillsborough College and the Owlerton Stadium, yet the cemetery still remains as part of this modern landscape – amazing.

The second painting, created by William John Stevenson, is an oil painting of the River Don at Wardsend. The painting is dated 1875, so almost ten years after Price’s painting, but still, the picture portrays the same tranquil demeanour. The scene displays a man looking over the River Don, with Wardsend in the distance.

Both images can be found by clicking on the artist’s respective name. Have a look and please feel free to share your thoughts on the paintings.

Edward Price

William John Stevenson

‘I Certainly Didn’t Expect To See That!’

It was Sunday the 9th of April, and the sun shone brightly as Sheffield’s temperature climbed into the 20s for one of the first times this year. It was a time for first ice creams of the year, sunbathing, a beer in a deckchair, and, of course, a day at Wardsend Cemetery.

Whilst much of the city was preparing itself for the half marathon, 37 of us made our way towards the sparkling and shimmering River Don, and Wardsend Cemetery. We could not be happier with the turnout, and want to personally thank everyone who came.

10-4-17 Pic 1

Image Credit: Howard Bayley, Facebook

The clean-up has made a big difference to the feel of the cemetery, and it is all thanks to the volunteers that Wardsend looks nice enough to match the weather!

Turnout was so high that we even ran out of images to pass around, so thank you everyone for sharing! From feedback we had on the day and on Facebook, it seems that everyone had a great day out, and hopefully learned a lot about the cemetery.

Not only was it wonderful to see so many people at our event, but it also meant that the donations we received were sizeable enough to cover our whole year’s insurance! So thank you everyone for your generosity!

If anyone wants to learn more (or perhaps recap) on Wardsend’s history, they can click this link

A final thank you again to everyone that came! And to anyone that wants to be more involved with the cemetery, you can join our Facebook page HERE

[Notice regarding images: The included image is taken from https://www.facebook.com/groups/wardsendcemeteryproject/, if you are included in this image and wish it to be removed, please email us at wardsend@gmail.com]

The Role of the Closed Cemetery

Hi. I’m Katy, another of the students studying Public Humanities at the University of Sheffield. I’ve also benefitted from the cemetery local to my parents’ house in Wiltshire since I was 15. Attached to the St. Denys the Minster, it provided me a place of refuge when my sister was watching rugby, somewhere to read poetry without interruption, and a place to think things through. It also bought me closer to my town when I discovered a WW1 grave, who’s occupant died 10 days before the Armistice was announced.

Why am I telling you all of this?

When we had our brief for the partnership with the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery, I was excited to find that we were focusing on a cemetery. This was a fantastic opportunity to be part of reclaiming the cemetery and turning it into a place of refuge, like my cemetery back home.

Many people consider my view of cemeteries as a place of refuge as a little bizarre, even a little gothic. However, in the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery, and the ‘Friends’ culture I hadn’t come across before moving to Sheffield, there is a different approach where the cemetery becomes a place of history, nature and community. From encouraging locals to get involved with clear up sessions through to working with heritage and environmental projects, the FoWC  is doing everything they can to bring Wardsend Cemetery back into the community.

So what will Wardsend Cemetery’s role be?

Obviously, a closed cemetery is not open for more burials. We are left with two possible roles. The local community can eventually abandon the cemetery and allow it to become overgrown and unused. This is what has happened to Wardsend. The other choice is to maintain the cemetery and turn it into an area that the community can enjoy and learn from. Essentially, to recreate the cemetery in the form of a museum, park and creative space. This is the route that the FoWC seem to be heading down.

In the renewed Wardsend Cemetery, the surrounding community has a space in which they can learn, create and relax. Who knows, maybe even a place for teenagers to seek refuge from sports-obsessed siblings.