Talking To The Dead – Wardsend Cemetery – History and Sightings
By Charlene Kemp
Wardsend Cemetery was opened on 21st June 1857 as the burial ground for St. Philip’s Churh on Infirmary Road which is now demolished. The Rev. John Livesey, the vicar, had, at his own expense, bought five acres of land at wardsend when the churchyard was closed for burials. He paid towards building a small chapel and a sexton’s house.
The Cemetery has a distinct military influence due to its close proximity to Hillsborough Barracks. The obelisk monument commemorates the soldiers of 6th, 19th, 24th, 33rd, 51st, 55th Regiments of Foot, Victorian Army, who died whilst at Hillsborough Barracks during the period 1866 – 1869.
There are also memorials to several soldiers who gave their lives during both World Wars. Some of the 240 victims of the Great Sheffield Flood of the night of 11th/12 March 1864, when the Dale Dyke reservoir at Bradfield collapsed, were laid to rest within the cemetery.
Other epitaphs of interest are dedications to a number of Bible readers, one a member of the Philadelphian Wesleyan church; the Secretary of Sheffield Angling Association, widows referred to as relicts, and a reference to a 15 year old boy trgically killed at work in a colliery accident.
By the turn of the century, some 20,000 burials had taken place and in 1901, a further two acres of land on the other side of the railway were added. Its the only cemetery in England with a railway running through it.
The final burial took place in 1977, when the re-interment of remains from a building site close to Sheffield Cathedral took place and the cemetery was officially closed in 1988.
Wardsend cemetery has been neglected over the last thirty or so years and following the demolition of the chapel and sexton’s house, was more or less abandoned by the parish and church authorities up until recent times as it appears a group named ‘Friends of Wardsend cemetery’ have given the site abit of TLC.
Nefarious deeds came to light in 1862, when a labourer named Robert Dixon accused the sexton, Isaac Howard of disinterring newly buried bodies and selling them for dissection.
Robert had moved into the sexton’s house in the cemetery and said in his words, “I observed a curious smell in the room above the stable. I thrust some knots out of the deal boards, and looked down into the stable. We had then been there two or three weeks. I saw about 20 coffins – some of persons about 15 and 16 and 10 years old – others were those of stillborn children. None of them appeared to be the coffins of grown-up persons. I had seen Howard lock and unlock this door, and knew he had the key. The coffins were not covered over with anything, and were lying on the ground, piled in heaps on the top of each other. I saw some broken-up coffins piled in a corner by themselves – the wood appeared to be new. Those pieces are there now. The day I flitted (last Monday) I and several other men saw in the stone shelf near the house four or five sides and lids of coffins.”
The suspicion was that Isaac Howard was supplying the Sheffield Medical School with corpses for dissection. Also that money supplied by the medical school for the ‘decent burial’ of remains legally obtained from the workhouse, was being kept by Howard and the bodies disposed of.
On the evening of June 3rd, the news broke, what became known as the Sheffield Cemetery Riots of 1862 took place when a crowd gathered at the cemetery to find a large hole containing coffins, with and without bodies, one of which had clearly been dissected. Underneath the coffins was said to be several feet of human remains. Many of the crowd began to disinter the coffins of their relatives and a number of graves were found to be empty.
The crowd forced their way into the sexton’s house demolishing the windows and doors, before marching to Howard’s home half a mile away in Burrowlee. Howard learned that he was wanted and fled and went into hiding, eventually being found in Bakewell, Derbyshire. The crowd set fire to his house and destroyed it.
It came to light that the law had been breached by both the medical school and the town’s workhouse. The workhouse had sent bodies to the school in sacks and the school, after dissecting them, had allowed Howard to convey them to Wardsend in plain wooden boxes. The law required that coffins should be used.
It appears that the medical school, nervous of its reputation as a school for bodysnatchers, were trying to cover up what had happened.
The suspicion began to then focus on the Rev. John Livesey. It was revealed that he had made a false entry in the burial register, having failed to check that the body of a boy named James Greatorex had been interred.
On June 11th, a public meeting of parishioners at the Peacock Inn, Hoyle Street, severely criticised Livesey. The next night a crowd of 3,000 Sheffielders gathered in the Temperance Hall, Townhead Street, and demanded Livesey should be suspended until he had either been cleared or condemned.
On June 23rd, Livesey was committed to York Assizes, charged with making a false entry in the burial register. Isaac Howard made a statement blaming Livesey. He said that he had removed bodies from their graves, but only on the instructions of the Vicar. Howard was committed to York Assizes, charged with unlawfully disinterring the bodies of two children, William Henry Johnson and Charley Hinchliffe.
Although there was little evidence against Livesey, the jury found him guilty. The judge showed what he thought of the verdict and sentenced the clergyman to one week imprisonment. Howard, also found guilty, was also treated leniently and was given a three month sentence. Livesey was later pardoned, after Howard came clean about his crimes.
Said to have witchcraft assoicated with the graveyard since being abandoned some of the graves appeared to have markings upon them leading people to believe some of the graves are cursed.
One of the sightings is that of Issac Howard and John Livesey.
Another one is that of a football fan, a young lad that died on the railway track after his ball fell on the track and he went to collect it and was hit by a train.
Other sightings are of children at the top end near the railway bridge and strange like creatures believed to have been created by rituals that have suppose to have taken place in this area.
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