Mystery of South Yorkshire cemetery catacombs to be revealed

Investigations are taking place into one of Sheffield’s most fascinating locations – the catacombs at Sheffield General Cemetery, where several members of the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC are buried.

Investigations are taking place into one of Sheffields most fascinating locations  the catacombs at Sheffield General Cemetery. Photo credit: Sheffield City Council
Investigations are taking place into one of Sheffields most fascinating locations the catacombs at Sheffield General Cemetery. Photo credit: Sheffield City Council

The catacombs at Sheffield Cemetery have been opened up to allow a team of specialist engineers to understand more about how they were built and carry out repair work.

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Situated in the city's general cemetery, the 19th Century structures were partially repaired in the 1930s, but now Sheffield City Council wants to ensure their long-term conservation.

Pictured, Coun Mary Lea (Left) and Project Officer Claire Watts on site at the catacombs. Photo credit: Sheffield City Council.

Coun Mary Lea, Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure at Sheffield City Council, said: "We are delighted to see this long-planned project now actively safeguarding the special heritage of Sheffield General Cemetery.

"The catacombs are a fascinating and unique part of Sheffield’s history, and this activity is a crucial part of our conservation plans."

A focus for the team will be investigating the loading impact of the 1930s concrete addition onto the original 19th Century stone vaults in detail. This process will allow specialist engineers to discover the internal construction of the catacombs so that detailed plans for their long-term conservation and repair can be finalised.

The council said there is very little risk of disturbance to burials, however an archaeologist has been supervising the work, which started this week.

Sheffield General Cemetery, which tells a rich story of the city's Victorian times. Photo credit: Dean Atkins

The project is part of a four year £3.75m programme of Lottery funding,awarded in 2018, to safeguard Sheffield General Cemetery Park, and will run up to winter 2022.

Coun Lea said the project will safeguard the cemetery as a heritage asset and protect its biodiversity.

She said: "It allows us to enhance and protect one of the city’s finest historical assets and will enable more people from a wider range of communities to discover everything that makes Sheffield General Cemetery special."

She added, as a public park close to the city centre, the works will ensure that it can be enjoyed and cared for by current and future generations.

The Sheffield General Cemetery opened in 1836 as a response to overcrowding and poor conditions in Sheffield’s churchyards.

It was one of the earliest commercial cemeteries of its kind in the UK, conceived at a time when Sheffield was at the cutting-edge of cultural reform and technical innovation.

The cemetery charts the fascinating history of the city’s growth, through those who are buried there, such as Mark Firth (1880) the highly successful Sheffield industrialist, benefactor of Firth Park and founder of The University of Sheffield.

Several members of the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC are also buried there including William Prest, co-writer of the first rule book, whose funeral procession in 1885 saw the roads lined with several thousand mourners.

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