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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.


Into the 20th Century

Upper Wincobank Congregational Church

By 1905 the Sheffield Board Schools had been founded and the little Wincobank Day School was no longer required. However, the congregation and was growing so the decision was made to extend the room used as the chapel, doubling its length as can be seen when this photograph is compared with earlier images.

In the 1920s an extension was built on to the back of the School Master’s House to house the ever-growing Sunday school. Many local people remember this building as the Concert Hall.

Records of the trustees for this period show that Mary Anne’s nephews, Henry Joseph and John Wycliffe Wilson continued as trustees and were joined by various other members of their family up to and including 1955 when Ronald Eliot Wilson, son of J.W. was the sole representative. R.E. Wilson was the last descendent of John Read to be a Director of the company he had founded in 1760, the Sheffield Smelting Company.

We would be delighted to make contact with any surviving members of the family.

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.

Emily Read and Mary Anne Rawson

Emily Read and Mary Anne Rawson

These are the two sisters who ran the little school at High Wincobank in what we now know as Upper Wincobank Chapel: Miss Emily Read and Mrs Mary Anne Rawson. Emily (on the left) was six years younger than Mary Anne. Their parents, Joseph and Elizabeth Read, had already established a Sunday school and in 1841 the sisters opened a day school for local children. It must have been a multi-purpose building as Sunday services were also held there. As she grew older, Mrs Rawson was carried from Wincobank Hall to the Chapel in a sedan chair. It’s always been a bit boggy round the chapel garden and so it must have been a trial to tramp through the mud carrying a heavy chair and a passenger, but it was considered an honour to be a bearer. There was once a scale model of the sedan chair kept in a glass cabinet beside the organ, but it was stolen in the 1980s. The congregation was devastated to lose this momento that connected them with the founder and they treasured the sepia photograph of the chair. It was said that the actual chair had been given to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and it had long been an ambition of the trustees to go and find it. So that was what we set out to London to do on Thursday 19th June 2013.

Wincobank against Slavery !

2013-06-19 1840 Anti-SlaveryConventionWe had previously learned a lot about the philanthropic work of Mary Ann Rawson and other members of the Read family from a presentation by Sheffield Hallam University’s Dr Alison Twells, based on  her book “The Civilising Mission and the English Middle Class, 1792-1850”. In particular, we were intrigued to discover that Mary Ann had been present at the first British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society Convention in London, 1840.  This fact is evidenced by her appearance in this monumental painting by Benjamin Robert Haydon, painted in 1841.  Mrs Rawson is one of only a handful of women in a sea of men.  She can be seen in the second row on the very right hand edge of the painting.  Her face, prettily framed in the white lace of her bonnet, shines with a strange luminosity. She is leaning forward in eagerness,  listening to the speaker Thomas Clarkson, whose eyes are fixed on the solitary black man in the foreground, the liberated slave Henry Beckford.

2013-06_Research at NPGWe learned from the detailed notes  on the  touch screen computers that although  thanks in part to the efforts of William Wilberforce the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act had been passed in 1807 and campaigners had achieved the emancipation of slaves in British colonies by 1833, this small, mainly Quaker group were determined to fight on for worldwide abolition.  

The painting seems to have been created as a testimony to those who persisted in the campaign. The faces appear to have been painted afterwards and added in.   Although to us Mary Anne Rawson is clearly recognisable from photographs in her later years, she is not identified in the NPG’s Who’s Who diagram although her name appears in the list of sitters on their website. We feel this ommission should be rectified so that she can take her proper place in history.  We will be preparing a case to put to the NPG.

On the trail of the children

Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel

In the garden of this little chapel is the best conker tree in Sheffield.

We are looking for the many children who have ever played on the grass, picked up conkers and made friends here. We’re on the trail of all the May Queens, the countless Sunday School children, and the crowds who marched to the Whit Sings. We’re looking for the players from the 1950s sports teams and the drama group, and the pupils from Sally Carmichael’s Dancing School. Who were the children who earned points with the Dream Scheme? What difference did it make? Who remembers jiving in the now demolished concert hall?  And as for those who went on the youth club flat walks, are they still walking?

This chapel was built in 1841 as “a children’s temple” and its founder Mary Anne Rawson left it for the benefit of the generations to come.  The trustees of the Charity have looked after it since 1851 keeping the roof on, doors open and the youth activities running .  The simple Sunday service has continued for 170 years.

The hundreds of children who came here have grown up now. More have come to take their place. Times have changed  and so has childhood. This is a quest to bring children of all ages together and to capture their thoughts and memories.  We want to discover what difference Mary Anne’s gift of the Chapel has made over the past 170 years and understand its purpose for the future.  Come and help.  Spread the word.