Sheffield General Cemetery - catacombs in Yorkshire
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.
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
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.
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
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.