Grade II* Sheffield General Cemetery is one of our greatest yet underrated assets and in spite of a recent £3m restoration grant, which was way overdue, it is now under threat from two most unwelcome development proposals.
Adjacent to the Cemetery Office at the Cemetery Road entrance stood a stonemason’s yard which evolved over the years into a kind of gravestones showroom, but after the cemetery closed it became rather redundant. It was unfortunately then built on and is currently in use as a garage and car-sales pitch. An application has now been made to demolish this range of modern buildings, which is a good thing, but not so good is their replacements. A 4/5 storey block is proposed, to create 22 apartments in a contemporary design which does very little to complement the adjacent Cemetery.
When Cemetery Road was first laid out curves were introduced along its length to reveal views from either direction of the Anglican Chapel, the top entrance gate and the Cemetery Office. The Cemetery itself had been bought for £1,900 by the Sheffield General Cemetery Company which was formed in 1834 after the 1832 cholera epidemic. Designed by Samuel Worth the Cemetery itself had by 1836 been hewn out of a quarried hillside site. Now known as Montague House the Office was designed by Worth in the Egypto-Greek style and it complements his Non-Conformist Chapel which sits further down the site.
Further down Cemetery Road stands one of the Cemetery’s two main entrances which was also designed in the Egypto-Greek style and has a winged sun motif (a behudet) on the cornice. It would be nice to think that this development site could revert to being part of the Grade II* listed Cemetery but in this day and age we fear it is far too valuable for that.
The Cemetery has two distinct areas, and most of the magnificent monuments erected to the great and the good were on the original west side and were for Non-Conformists. In 1846 the site was extended by landscape designer Robert Marnock to include Anglican burials and in 1848 the Grade II listed Anglican Chapel, designed and built by William Flockton, was constructed. Then in 1850 the new burial ground was consecrated by Thomas Musgrave, Archbishop of York.
This division of religions was so strong in those days that the two sections were divided by a wall called the Dissenters Wall, however it no longer exists and now the two sides are linked by a terraced walkway. By 1979 over 77,000 bodies had been interred there and the site was closed by The Burial Act 1857 which regulates where and how deceased people may be buried. In the early 1980’s the Anglican section was cleared of most of its gravestones and turned into a public park.
There have been numerous objections to this gross development scheme and Historic England commented that it would be harmful to the historic character of the Cemetery and the setting of three listed buildings. Yorkshire Gardens Trust have also objected to potential damage to trees and to the fact that some will be lost purely to gain better views from the new apartments. We presume that this will enable the developer to charge more for them! Another comment was that the new block would be a dominant structure when viewed from within the Cemetery and from across the valley.
Could things get any worse? – yes they can, so let’s move to the other side of the Cemetery.
The main entrance, which most people use, is on Cemetery Avenue and this magnificent Classical gateway with Greek Doric columns and flanked by two lodges is obviously Grade II listed.
Deceased Victorians would pass between two obelisks (removed in 1926) as they made their way from Ecclesall Road onto the rowan tree-lined Cemetery Avenue where their journey through the gateway would take them over the River Porter and up the sweeping paths to their final resting-place.
However this historic setting looks set to be ruined if developers get their own way.
Just to the left of the gateway at 67 Stalker Lees Road stands a not particularly pleasant industrial building known as The Rifle Range. Those of a certain age will remember it as a factory for local soft drinks firm Eardleys. It then became a shooting club and, after the top floor burnt down, permission was granted in 1991 for an indoor rifle range in the basement. There have been several schemes to redevelop the site including apartments and town houses but the latest application was for 10 x three storey houses all with private gardens. Unfortunately the site is just outside the Porter Brook Conservation Area but it is uncomfortably close to the Cemetery which is our city’s most important designated landscape and one of the most important in South Yorkshire. Furthermore it has been reported that there is a hidden ramparted driveway lurking somewhere under the surface in this vicinity and also a second bridge buried beneath the highway which once allowed water to run into the nearby Stalker Dam.
If the new development goes ahead there will be the inevitable loss of trees but none of any particular merit and by the sound of things some dead and dying elms on the riverbank which need to come out anyway. The Environment Agency do not like dead or dangling trees in rivers due to flood risk, although the risk here is only 1/100 to 1/1000 which is very low. The logistics of removing these trees would be quite difficult but much easier if done post demolition. There will be some replanting done and it is proposed to put hawthorn and blackthorn hedges on the riverside behind the new housing.
When this scheme was first proposed there were objections from Historic England and the Yorkshire Gardens Trust who suggested that the two units nearest to the gateway should be omitted and the next two reduced in height. The plans have now been tweaked, reduced by one unit and the corner plot turned into a garden. Not quite what we wanted but both organisations have now withdrawn their objections. Hmmm.
Last year the Sheffield Telegraph published one of our articles which likened Sheffield’s General Cemetery to London’s famous Highgate Cemetery and hailed it as Sheffield’s very own Highgate. Follow this link http://www.hhbs.org.uk/?s=Cemetery . We wonder if the pincer movement of these two new developments would be allowed or even contemplated by the powers that be down there in the Capital?
PS. Perhaps the headline should have read Triple Whammy due to the ongoing saga of the Anglican Chapel where the stop/start mode of the developer seems to be stuck on STOP again. There have been several near prosecutions here owing to his lackadaisical behaviour, but as there’s still a considerable time left on his lease the Council cannot or will not repossess the building. In view of the £3m grant which is being spent elsewhere in the Cemetery perhaps it is time to read him the riot act before the Chapel becomes a bigger blot on the Marnock landscape than it is now. A long-term boarded-up and derelict Grade II listed building does little for Robert Marnock’s memory or the City’s image.