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Grave finding

This is the building that was the2017-04-02 08.02.29 Zion Sunday School in Attercliffe.  Joseph Read had was a major funder when Zion Chapel in Attercliffe was rebuilt in 1802 and his wife Elizabeth Read was Sunday School superintendent with her five daughters as assistant teachers.   When they moved to Wincobank the children insisted on coming back to help at Zion and despite setting up a chapel in the coach house and Sunday School in the laundry at Wincobank Hall for the local people, the family continued to worship at Zion Chapel throughout their lives.  The newspaper report of Mary Anne’s funeral states that she was buried in the family vault at Zion Chapel, Attercliff with her parents and other members of the family.

2017-04-02 08.02.53Originally a very plan building, similar to the Sunday School only larger, the chapel was rebuilt in 1862 and gained an elegant angular spire , a beautiful interior and a fine pipe organ.  Click here for link to Picture Sheffield / Zion Chapel Attercliffe  . The chapel fell into disuse as houses in  Attercliffe were demolished. The area took on a more industrial character and the building was used as a warehouse until it burnt down in 1987 after soon after it was demolished. Eventually the land where the building stood was purchased by Riley’s Machine Tools who owned a nearby shop. The land was fenced in for security and over time became a small forest.

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Earlier this year the local paper reported that the graveyard was up for sale and so the trail started to hunt down the owners, key holder and finally the grave.  By amazing good fortune, heavenly guidance or the sixth sense of volunteer Dave Roberts, we found the Read family gravestone lying flat beneath four inches of dust and ground cover.

2017-04-19 11.50.24The inscription lists the family members interred in the vault beneath the two huge stones: baby daughter Julia Read who died 1818 aged 11 months, Sarah who died aged 23 in 1829, Joseph Read 1837, his wife Elizabeth 1865, daughter-in-law Sophie,  Catherine 1867, Emily 1883 aged 75, and finally Mary Anne in 1887 aged 85. The only son Edmund Read died abroad in 1873.  The only family member not buried here is Eliza Wilson who despite ill health gave birth to nine children before she died in 1851 at the age of 48. All the other Read children died childless, Mary Anne’s own daughter Lizzie having died in Capri in 1862 aged 33.

There are many other graves smoth2017-04-19 12.13.50ered in foliage.  Each of these people had an interesting and important life and deserves to be remembered, their resting place respected.  If you know of a relative buried there or are a descendant of any of the grandchildren of  Joseph and Elizabeth Read, descendants of Henry Joseph Wilson,  or John Wycliffe Wilson, please get in touch through this website even if you have contacted us before.  It doesn’t matter of you are far away we just need to be able to contact you to prevent the graves being built over.  Thank you.


What next?

So we have come back to the present day to think about the future.  What next?

Mary Anne Rawson said “Prayer without action is a mockery”.  At a time when women did not even have the right to speak in public, she and other women were actively campaigning on a one to one basis, talking to people, challenging views, explaining why they should not buy sugar grown in the colonies.  She felt that to spend time and energy on ampaigning for equal rights for women was a distraction when she was committed to drawing attention to the plight of the truly disenfranchised, those trapped in slavery despite new laws prohibiting both the trade and also the ownership of slaves in the British colonies.

We can see now that the suffrage movement was essential and the status of many women around the world has improved and with it the life chances of their children.  But slavery continues.  When she was 76 Mary Anne was still campaigning and today across the world others carry on that fight.

October 18th has now been designated Anti-Slavery Day.  What can you do to raise awareness and support those for whom the future seems without hope?

If you want to know more the Truth Uncovered website a good place to start    (If the link doesn’t work for you please copy and paste it into your web browser).


The last wishes of Mary-Anne Rawson

Last wishes of Mary-Anne Rawson 1887

Several days reading in Sheffield Archives has shed dazzling light on the distant and dusty years of the chapel’s history. Tucked amongst the papers of the Sheffield Smelting Company lie letters, documents, accounts and records, waiting for someone, one day to find them. Once pieced together with our working knowledge of the chapel, originally a school, it all begins to make sense.

Mary-Anne, in her will, leaves £400 to be invested to provide an income for the school. In a  handwritten note, written in 1885 she adds the furniture and stove from the chapel in the laundry for use in the room in the school building that will be “appropriated” for worship. This brief note helps clarify our confusion as to the original function of the building. It seems it was built as a school for multi-purpose use when Wincobank Hall and the outbuildings were sold off. What foresight – how modern!

In addition to the £400 left to the school trust that she had set up, Mary-Anne planned that the proceeds from the sale of Wincobank Hall should be invested in an annuity fund so that the school master and his wife would have a permanent income and so would never have to leave Wincobank. They were also bequeathed the rights to live in the School House for their lifetime. Mary-Anne estimated that the Hall was worth the £4,000 specified in her will, but by the time she died the building had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it could not be sold.

Despite the fact that they themselves, only received a quarter share of the sale of furniture from the Hall worth £59, her nephews, Henry Joseph Wilson and John Wycliffe Wilson seem to have honoured the commitment anyway. Records show that there were outstanding debts for the school and that it was at least temporarily closed while they sorted out what can only be described as a well intentioned mess.

Like her father before her, Mary-Anne had been ambitious, innovative and a compulsively generous risk-taker. It was just as well that her sister’s descendents proved to be people of great integrity and conviction who honoured their respected aunt’s intentions and acted as trustees of the charity well into the next century. Well done the Wilsons!

We should love to make contact with any direct descendents of HJ or JW Wilson and show you how hard we are working to carry on their good work.

A Little Bedtime Reading

As well as a wealth of information in the Sheffield and University Archives, there are some fascinating books that contain clues to the lives of the Read, Rawson and Wilson families and the story of Wincobank Hall.

For starters :

Sheffield Troublemakers – Rebels and Radicals in Sheffield History by David Price – they’re all in here, and just to bring it up to date, you will also find our good friend Rev Dr John Vincent – still fighting for Burngreave and still a guiding light for the Chapel Congregation.

The History of the City of Sheffield 1843 – 1993 , Vol II: Society.  Editors – Clyde Binfield, Richard Childs, Roger Harper, David Hey, David Martin, Geoffrey Tweedale.  A must for anyone trying to understand what makes Sheffield tick.

Two Hundred Precious Metal Years: The History of the Sheffield Smelting Company Limited 1760 – 1960 by Ronald E Wilson.  We all know about Sheffield Steel but what about the left overs?  Where does all the dust go? This inspiring story of early recycling leads to the Royal Mint in the Tower of London and back to Royds Mill by the River Don

The Civilising Mission and the English Middle Class, 1792-1850  – Alison Twells.  Victorian Philanthropy – too good to be true? Values, aspirations and the drive to reform the “Heathen” at home and overseas, under scrutiny.  A whole chapter on the Read family.

Henry Joseph Wilson: Fighter for Freedom 1833 – 1914 by Mosa Anderson.  The next generation.  The story of a Liberal MP and his campaigning wife Charlotte Cowan.

Alexander Cowan Wilson 1866 – 1955: His Finances and his Causes by Stephen Wilson. Carrying on the fight into the 20th century, ACW supported nearly 200 causes during his life time from the Anti-Slavery & Aborigines Protection society to the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.


The photo shows John Read 1744 – 1803, founder of what is now known as Thessco and grandfather to Mary Anne-Rawson of Wincobank Hall

A Firm Family

A Firm Family

This interpretation board near Royds Mills by the River Don in Attercliffe, aptly describes the Read family and their descendents as both austere and passionate. The Reads, Wilsons and Mary-Anne Rawson left their indelible stamp on Sheffield by their passionate campaigning for many causes.

This family embodied the phrase “Waste Not, Want Not” for they were early recyclers, collecting the sweepings from metalworkers then smelting and refining to reclaim precious metals from dust. The proceeds of this trade have done much good for many although there were inevitably casualties along the way, none more so than Mary-Anne’s father Joseph Read anad his brother John Read, the younger. Although at one point one of the wealthiest families in Sheffield the Read Family allowed their fortune to dwindle away as finance for their projects,  hospitality for travelling campaigners, innumerable published pamphlets and books, and in payment of the debts of others.

Largely through the fastidious book-keeping and careful management by the husband and descendents of Mary-Anne’s sister Eliza Wilson, the Sheffield Smelting Company was rescued from the brink of ruin and rebuilt to thrive and continue to this present day as THESSCO LTD. The Wilsons in turn, gave back to the city and to the country.

It would be wonderful to make contact with a descendent of this extraordinary dynasty of non-conformist philanthropists whose ancestry stretch far back into the seventeenth century to the Civil War when they were firmly for Parliament.  They live on in the books that each generation wrote about the work of their parents. A wealth of fascinating material is lodged in Universities and archives around the country. A rich and fascinating treasure trail.

Enchanted Chairs

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Jennifer Vernon-Edwards from BBC Radio Sheffield will be broadcasting her report on Mary Anne Rawson tomorrow morning, Saturday 3rd August on the Breakfast Show, from 7 – 9am.  She is pictured here, sitting in the Chain Chair, one of the fascinating Enchanted Chairs opposite the Chapel that sweep the sitter back into Wincobank’s past. Each chair is different and you may see reminders of Wincobank’s ancient woodland, the local brickworks, the steelworks, farmland fencing, a forge or, as in this case, the cruel chains of the Slave Trade.

On our own journey to find out about the Chapel’s history and that of its founder, we have been astounded to discover that whole family who lived at Wincobank Hall in 1840 seem to have been present at the very first meeting of what is now Anti-Slavery International.  The Chain Chair links us in more ways than one to the tireless campaigning of Mary Anne Rawson, her Read siblings and her elder sister’s family – the Wilsons, who were to continue to play an important part in Sheffield life into recent times.  Sure, Wilberforce visited, but he wasn’t the only one doing the work.   Wincobank was once a hub of political struggle for universal freedom and equal rights. Now we take it all for granted – even though the battle is not yet won.  Jennnifer’s report will be broadcast on Radio Sheffield Breakfast Show in two parts, starting on Saturday 3rd August.  LIsten in between 7 and 9am and learn more.

 The Montgomery Connection

Thursday 26th June found us in the University of Sheffield’s Special Collections Reading Room – just a couple of volunteers from the chapel, some Friends of Wincobank Hill, two representatives from Montgomery Hall and a video camera – watch this space.  We had come to find out more about the link between Mary-Anne Rawson and Sheffield’s Victorian hero James Montgomery, and specifically their work together in the campaign against slavery.  What we found made us stop and think hard.

ImageThis beautifully illustrated and printed album, the equivalent of the modern day coffee table book, seems at first to give a sweetened picture of slavery as something distant, overseas and,  with a little help from good British Christians, easy to recover from.  However, opening the pages and reading on, we found the most shocking contemporary newspaper accounts accompanied by first hand statements of barbaric treatment and inhumane policy.  That such a tastefully designed book could contain such small print dynamite suggests a very clever strategy to change attitudes by infiltrating the drawing rooms of the rich and powerful.

We discovered that our Mary-Anne had held James Montgomery in high esteem as both a friend of the family and as a role model.  He was well known at the time as a radical newspaper editor, poet and writer of many popular hymns including Angels from the Realms of Glory.  Early in his career he had been suspected of being sympathetic towards the French Revolution, convicted of seditious libel and had served two terms of imprisonment in York Castle.  Mary-Anne’s father, Joseph Read had considered his trial unjust and believed that he had been sentenced as an example to others.  He paid Montgomery’s legal fees, just one of the acts of generosity which was to lead to his own economic ruin.

Mary-Anne was herself a skilled writer and editor, collecting from far and wide literary and financial contributions to the causes she supported .  We were both moved and impressed by her Memorial to Montgomery – a huge handwritten journal, the size of a family Bible, filled with recollections and anecdotes about her own family and their esteemed friend.  Interspersed with the most delicate of drawing and watercolours, it brings alive the lively and passionate woman who we better know as the elderly lady in the lace bonnet with whose photograph hangs on the wall in Upper Wincobank Chapel.  She writes in the front cover that the Memorial is only intended for the family, but after coming into the possession of her nephew Liberal MP Henry Joseph Wilson, and passing down several generations of the Wilson family it was finally placed, with other papers, at the University of Sheffield, in an act of public generosity for which we are indebted.

In glorious technicolour

In glorious technicolour

In Keith Lemm’s words “we were flabbergasted” when the covers were removed and the full splendour of Mary Anne’s chair was revealed in its glory. Instead of the expected basic brown sedan chair, made in Sheffield, we were confronted with a glowing work of rare decorative art described as 18th century French, possibly from Paris. This means that Mary Anne had been carried through the mud in the equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz. We were rapidly reassessing this lace and velvet loving, sophisticated lady. Furthermore, the chair had not been donated to the museum, it had been purchased, underlining its value.

The unveiling

The unveiling

We held our breath as the white protective covering was very carefully removed from what we were sure was the right chair. We expected to see a brown leather chair embossed with a few flowers. We thought it would be plain and modest because Mary Anne had devoted her life to campaigning for others. We knew she was a teetotaller and a strict non-conformist. We knew that she had died virtually penniless having used up her fortune fighting to abolish slavery and to improve the lot of chimney sweping boys. She outlived her husband, her only daughter and her sister. There must have been great sadness in her life. We expected her mood to match that of Queen Victoria and her sedan chair to embody the spirit of this no-nonsense lady.

Finding Mary Anne’s sedan chair

Finding Mary Anne's sedan chair

After a three hour journey down the M1, and another two hours through the London traffic, we were on the fourth floor of the V&A Furniture Store, finally looking at what we hope was the right sedan chair. When we first arrived we had been shown a plain brown functional box chair which had the correct reference number but didn’t quite match the photo. So was the number wrong or did we have the wrong photograph? The details on neither chair linked it back to Wincobank, but fortunately we had Gill with us, who had looked at a scale model of the chair every week until it was stolen and she was adamant that the photo told the truth. Somehow, many years ago, the chapel had been given the incorrect accession number. All the other chairs were under wraps and we had an invigilator to ensure we did not peep or touch anything else.