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Sheffield General Cemetery - catacombs in Yorkshire

The Catacombs at Sheffield General CemeteryEcclesall Road is one of my favourite areas in Sheffield. A little bit trendy to be sure, but it has the Botanical Gardens (recently refurbished), the quaintest little museum in Yorkshire and that wonderful park that follows the River Porter all the way out into the Peak District. Add in some great health food shops and that wonderful Greek Deli and who could want for more. Well, so I thought until I discovered Sheffield General Cemetery hidden away down a side street among all the terraced houses. 

I suppose, the clue is in the street name "Cemetery Avenue", but it's still stunning to be walking down a street of nondescript terrace houses and suddenly find yourself confronted by a massive Egyptian Style gate house. That marks the entrance to the cemetery, conceived by the Victorians as the solution to the overflowing graveyards in the rapidly expanding city during the height of the Industrial Revolution. It opened in 1836, with the buildings in the in-vogue Egyptian style so popular throughout the Victorian era - Marshall's Mill in Leeds was built at the same time (1840-43) in the style of the Egyptian Temple at Edfu, Cleopatra's needle arrived about 1876, and the Rosetta Stone was acquired by the British Museum in 1802. At the time it was a distance from the city along the valley side with panoramic views across open countryside, rather different to today.

The Chapel at Sheffield General Cemetery Today, it's a beautiful oasis in the heart of the city. About half of it was flattened in the 1970's, as was the vogue at the time for flattening anything old and replacing it with jerry-built crap. Much like were doing now with schools, destroying wonderful Victorian buildings which are deemed "unfit for purpose" and replacing them with rubbish that will have to be demolished again in fifty years time.

Anyway, the good news is that the Council were stopped in time and half the cemetery survived. It's obviously too costly to maintain properly, so it's pretty much being allowed to run wild. And very pretty it is too. What a contrast to those fools in council chambers and church committees up and down the land who are currently flattening gravestones in the name of Health and Safety.

Sheffield General Cemetery What survived, is fortunately some amazing monuments and some even more amazing buildings. Top amongst the buildings has to be the double-tier row of catacombs (top photo). Yes that's right, catacombs in Yorkshire, and built above ground at that. What a weird idea. And strangely enough it didn't catch on; only a handful of the vaults were ever sold and the rest were eventually bricked up.

In the middle of the cemetery is a lovely nonconformist chapel in the style of an egyptian temple, and around it the graves of the nonconformists separated by a small wall from the "proper" Christians. This quite unexpected arrangement is because the cemetery was originally built for nonconformists by nonconformists, and then was later expanded to allow Anglicans.  Not from altruism, but because much of the cemetery's income came from burying paupers in shared graves at five bob a shot. In 1845, the law changed such that paupers could no longer be buried in unconsecrated ground, and so the Anglican section of the cemetery was built.

To go with the Anglican section, a C of E church was built at the top of the hill, and remarkably ugly it is too.

But the great beauty of the cemetery is the great Victorian monuments from some of the great industrialists of the time. Take some time to have a good look round and savour this gem in the heart of the city.

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Comments (12)
what a wonderful thing to know that sheffield has managed to retain such an old cemetery with the history that it as
posted by s.nicholls 05/03/2009 19:22:26
Absolute treasure trove of hidden wonder - many prominent Sheffield figureheads buried amongst the 87,000 as well.

Mark Firth - Master Cutler & Lord Major. He established the largest steel industry in the city which must be akin to being Mafioso Don.

The tumbledown nature following vandalism, theft and neglect is part of its overall charm. Live just up Frog Walk on Sharrow Vale Road and saunter through for some self-reflection on mortality everytime i get the chance. Cheers for posting
posted by Baron Von Kill-a-lot 01/04/2009 17:30:27
remember 'playing' in the cemetery as a young teenager about 35 years ago.went under the chapel as there was access at that time and also went in the old gothic church.as kids we scared the life out each other but we loved the place.visited again recently and the place hs lost non of its appeal or charm and its more interesting now that i'm an adult.Nice to know there are people which care for the old pace too.I'll be visiting again-soon.
posted by Steve Payne,12-06-09 12/06/2009 22:05:28
Ex pat Sheffielder (left 45 yrs ago)recently discovered the General Cemetery, was taken to it by a cousin. What an amazing place. Am pleased to see there is a Trust set up possibly to do something about it.What a job.( We are just starting to do something similar here in Newbury with a much smaller Newtown Road Cemetery founded in about 1856). Upon my return south I spoke to my aged Mother (93) late of Walkley, about it & she can remember going by it with my Grandmother (born 1870, yes she was 45 yrs old when she had my Mother!) down the spooky Frog Lane tunnel like footpath. Incidentally in Cemetery Ave near the magnificent Cemetery entrance lodges I noted a traditional Sheffield Corporation road gully grate with the date 1899 on it. I used to be in highways engineering/maintenance & it impressed me that it had survived 110 years. I KNOW I should get a life, haha. 4th Oct 09
posted by Derek Oldfield 05/10/2009 00:58:44
I used to live just around the corner on Grange Crescent Road after graduating from Sheffield University. Fond memories of it, but I wouldn't want to go back and live there now.
posted by lemonstudios 08/11/2009 00:15:24
I have just tacked down via th Usa cousins that great grandfather has a memorial in a Sheffield cemetary. name EDWARD EDWARDS HEWETT. he was a engineer and worked with the railways. I am trying to track whereabouts.
posted by Carole Hewett 07/09/2010 15:43:35
I did a three year 'sandwich' course in arboriculture from 1979 to 1982 at Merrist Wood College in Guildford, Surrey. My middle or 'sandwich' year was spent working for Sheffield City Council with their arboricultural staff. On day one (August 1980) I was sent to General Cemetery to start clearing elms that had died due to Dutch Elm Disease. I was fascinated by the place and worked in the cemetery on several occasions, pruning trees as well as felling them, during my year at Sheffield. There were a lot of 'job creation' people working in the cemetery at the time, converting gravestones into paving and creating shrubberies and lawned areas. I think that the concept was to create a more formal municipal park type landscape within the cemetery, but it appears that the idea was abandoned. My favourite story about the cemetery concerns the impressive monument to the cutler Mark Firth, which is a column fronted by a heavy stone slab covering the family vault. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve each year the family gathered at the grave and labourers slid back the slab, allowing the living members of the Firth family to gather around the void and sing carols to their departed forebears below! It could be a spooky myth, but I found it a charming tale. I now live in my hometown of Bolton, but this site has inspired me to travel to Sheffield soon and revisit this lost necropolis.
posted by Derek G. Austin 22/10/2010 13:45:50
When I was about 12 I used to live at Nether Edge and had to walk past or through the cemetary in order to get to school. Terrifying on those dark and fogggy winters morning I can tell you. 35 years later I can still remember the fear of it.
posted by wokewy 01/12/2010 21:21:29
Have visited the Cemetery for the 1st time today 29/12/2010. Whilst it was extremely interesting it was incredibly disappointing to see so many famous Sheffield people buried there in such an overgrown and messy state. We should be proudly showing off the graves of people that made Sheffield great in Victorian times. It seems the city council does not seem to care what state it gets into.
posted by Sue W 29/12/2010 16:01:16
We just did a tour guided by Mick, from the Sheffield General Cemetery Society. The tour of the cemetery is on the first Sunday of each month at 2pm, meeting at the Gatehouse off Cemetery Avenue. This is an excellent tour and literally brings "alive" (!) the history of the cemetery. After a fascinating and engaging tour there is even tea and biscuits to follow! Another Sheffield "treasure" right in our own back yard!
posted by Jane 06/02/2011 16:20:34
I visited the Cemetery a couple of years ago and was upset to find the grave stones of my Grandparents and other family members had been removed. These were supposed to have been laid alongside a path but could not be found. Still wonder if the coffins were also removed. Disgusted with whoever did this.
posted by D 14/06/2011 21:03:21
Was born on Grange Road,bang opposite the main Cemetery Rd gates in 1947.Lived there for first 12 years of my life.What great adventures we had in the old cemetery as kids,climbing trees,cobbying etc.It was a magical place to have as a playground,although in those days,they were still using it for burials.Been chased out a few times by the gravedigger! Used to go to Pomona Street school,so used to go through the cemetery,climb over the wall at the bottom on to Stalker Walk,then cross the river Porter,over the shale sportsfield fence & into school.Back home the same way.Also used to use the same route going to the Star "flicks" on Ecclesall Rd,back home the same way,often in the dark.Rambling my way home through the old gravestones,never frightened.Ah those were magical days!
posted by DAVE 21/06/2011 20:01:28
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