The final resting place of those who shaped Rotherham — the story of the borough’s oldest cemetery

The final resting place of those who shaped Rotherham — the story of the borough’s oldest cemetery

By Gareth Dennison | 29/05/2020

The final resting place of those who shaped Rotherham — the story of the borough’s oldest cemetery

 

LOFTY Moorgate Cemetery looks down over Rotherham’s industrial landscape — and is the final resting place of many prominent figures who helped shape the town.

Iron and steel barons who became part of our local history canon are among the familiar names still visible on the gravestones there today.

After cholera hit the borough during the 19th century, it became clear that a bigger burial ground was needed with the land at the parish church full and no space for expansion.

Bodies went half-buried and there were reports of medical students from Sheffield taking advantage by stealing corpses for research purposes.

A group of top businessmen saw the size of the problem, formed the Rotherham Public Cemetery Company in 1842 and bought three acres behind Boston Castle for £499.

There were 12 directors — six Anglicans and six non-conformists — from a variety of trades. Within five years, there were 88 shareholders.

Local architects Samuel Worth and John Frith designed the cemetery with a symmetrical and formal layout, with the chapel at the centre — complete with separate entrances for Anglicans and non-conformists.

Jacobean-style lodges were built at the cemetery entrance, on the road now known as Boston Castle Grove.

Janet Worrall, secretary of Friends of Moorgate Cemetery, said: “Both the chapel and the burial ground were initially used only for non-conformists.

“However, in 1846, the first western extension to the original old ground was created and one of the chapels was consecrated by the Bishop of Ripon for use by Anglicans.

“The first burial, which took place in 1841, had been that of Robert Beatson Nightingale, the youngest son of Mr C Nightingale, one of the cemetery’s directors.

“Robert, who had entered the Wesleyan ministry, contracted a cold while at college at Hoxton and never recovered.

“His grave was watched over for some considerable time for fear of body snatchers.”

The directors sold the cemetery in 1855 for £2,500 to the Rotherham Burial Board, which held meetings at the Feoffees’ school — now the Bluecoat pub.

Janet said: “During my research, I looked at the old burial board minutes and they were like black comedy, with coffin lids coming off and dynamite being used to blast graves.

“It made me go cold. I thought about how lucky we are, when you think what we have now.”

There was further expansion to the west in the late 1860s, when the Earl of Effingham’s price was £320 per acre.

To the east, three acres cost the board £2,000 from the estate of George Haywood in 1884.

The board borrowed an extra £800 to add a boundary wall and decided part of the plot would be retained for Roman Catholics.

On January 18, 1897, the burial board received a letter from the town clerk’s office, advising that their duties, property, debts and liabilities would be taken over by the council, under the Local Government Act 1894.

“It’s been extended considerably,” said Janet (left). “By the late 19th century, it already covered seven acres and there were more extensions in 1913, 1937 and 1944.

“It has been hailed as an architectural gem by English Heritage but, in common with many Victorian cemeteries, it remains in a state of neglect and has suffered considerable vandalism.”

A project in the early part of this century was a link-up with the probation service to put people sentenced to unpaid work to helping the upkeep.

Janet said: “They used to come every week on Saturday mornings to clean graves, take ivy down, sort the old workshop, tile the floor and rebuild walls.

“They did quite a lot of work here. Once you begin talking to people about paupers’ graves, they appreciate what they have. Everyone’s got a soul to them.”

The chapel was still used in the 1980s but there are fears it could be condemned in future over safety fears, and lost.

But the listed cemetery remains popular with visitors — the best part of two centuries since coming to the  rescue and preventing a literal pile-up of bodies.

“It’s loved by a lot of people, and it’s given me a lot of pleasure over the years,” said Janet. “People describe Moorgate Cemetery as very tranquil. They love to read the inscriptions on the graves and it’s a place for quiet reflection.

“I’ve done hundreds of grave searches for people. The requests for information about relatives always go up after Who Do You Think You Are? has been on the television. It’s really rewarding.”


Some of the families and figures who count Moorgate Cemetery as their final resting place...

JAMES Yates, born in 1779, was the great nephew of industrialist Samuel Walker.

He trained as a model maker with the Walkers and moved to their ironworks in Staffordshire at 28, returning to Rotherham six years later and partnered Robert Sandford on a new site — fittingly called New Foundry — on Greasbrough Road. It later became the Phoenix Works.

It made smaller items like spades, shovels and frying pans as well as larger kitchen ranges and stove grates. Yates was also a specialist in creating colourful signs for shop fronts.

Yates Haywood and Co — formed in 1846 with George Haywood and John Drabble — made early gas cookers.

New land was leased for the Effingham Works, named after the landowner earl and boasting the biggest frontage in Europe at the time.

Indoor furniture included French and Italian-style ornamental tables, with festoons of flowers and scroll work, plus ornamental umbrella and hat stands, table ornaments and flower pot stands.

Yates retired in 1874 and died from shingles, neuralgia and exhaustion in 1881.

The grave is surrounded by blue iron railings made in the foundry he started nearly 60 years earlier.

JOINER William Henry Gummer and his son George began a partnership which eventually became the Effingham Brass Works, making water fittings, steam and oil valves and, during the Boer War, water filters carried to the front by mules. Munitions parts including depth charges were made in the First World War.

WH Gummer served as mayor on one occasion and George three times. The latter died in 1927, having been made a freeman of Rotherham.

 

GLASS-making in Rotherham began in the mid-18th century.

Businessman John Beatson was among the early names, setting up a business to be passed through the generations. In 1828, John Graves Clark joined the business. He married Ann Beatson.

Beatson Clark expanded and gained a reputation for fine pharmaceutical and cosmetic glassware, with a portfolio ranging from baby’s feeding bottles to ceiling shades.

A 200-year lease was negotiated with the Earl of Effingham in 1901 and the firm remains a prominent business in Rotherham.

 


WALKER employee Matthew Habershon leased the Holmes Works after the family moved out.

In 1829, he and sons Joseph Jones Habershon and Henry Habershon converted the premises into a cold rolling mill.

They made sickles for the Caribbean sugar industry and produced steel for the Midlands’ pen nib firms.

It continued as a family business, experimenting with Sheffield’s newly-invented stainless steel and producing girdles used to strengthen the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Habershons closed in 1981.

LOCOMOTIVE apprentice John Baker, from Nottingham, moved to Rotherham in 1870 to be manager of Owen’s Patent Wheel, Tire and Axle Co.

Four years later he entered into partnership with Thomas Burnett and moved to premises in Conisbrough, and then to Masbrough.

Baker bought his own steelworks at Kilnhurst and installed a forging press and disc wheel mill. He died while cleaning the site a year later, in 1904.

The company became a public limited company in 1920 and, early in the 1930s, the company took over Henry Bessemer Ltd and became Baker and Bessemer Ltd.

In the Second World War, it became a munitions factory producing not only shells, but aircraft catapult pulleys, amour-piercing nose caps, anti-aircraft rocket bodies and bogie wheels for the Churchill tank.

 

HISTORIAN John Guest, born in 1799, was the son of a Bridgegate tailor.

He was known for his fondness for alcohol but later became a staunch supporter of the temperance movement.

It was through this he met Richard Chrimes and entered into partnership. Setting an example, nothing stronger than tea was allowed on their work premises.

Guest was a member of Rotherham’s first town council in 1871 and became an alderman and was a chief magistrate.

He was also the instigator of Rotherham’s first public park Boston Park, which opened in 1876.

In 1879 he penned a series of papers called Historic Notices of Rotherham, one of his main legacies.

He died a year later, aged 80. He suffered a seizure at a Board of Guardians meeting, made a partial recovery but died while dressing for church.

The Chrimes family has been associated with brass founding in Rotherham from the early 19th century.

The patent for a screw-down high pressure water tap — the first leak-proof faucet — was filed in 1845.

CHARLES Stoddart worked his way through the ranks from office boy to managing director of the Parkgate Ironworks.

He was mayor three times and described as the town’s greatest benefactor.

He presented the mace to Rotherham Council in 1902, was appointed commander of the Rotherham detachment of the 2nd VB Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment and was the first president of the original Rotherham football club.

Stoddart was responsible for the tower and spire added to St Stephen’s Church in Eastwood in memory of his late wife.

He also bought the Chapel on the Bridge, which was a tobacconist in 1888. He intended to restore it to a religious building but died before the repairs were carried out.