Upon Trust

1880 Indenture_cropped_110KB_1286This is the 1880 document that sets out the terms for the conveyance of the school building, house and grounds from Mary Anne Rawson to the Charitable Trust that she established to safeguard her legacy. It is a lengthy, wordy document, but here is the section that sets out the original purpose:

“Upon trust to permit the Schoolroom erected or built upon the said piece or parcel of land or any other building which may be at any time hereafter erected therein in place of the present building to be used as a Day-school or place for the instruction of children in secular and religious knowledge either gratuitously or otherwise by the present Teacher or Teachers thereof or such other or others that may from time to time be appointed by the said Trustees and who may hold and teach the religious views now commonly known as and called decidedly Evangelical. And upon further trust to permit the said building to be used as a Sunday School for the gratuitous religious instruction of children and as a place for the public worship of God and the preaching of Christ’s Holy Gospel on the Sabbath or on any other days.”


With an eye to the future, there is a clause regarding alternative use if the building cannot be advantageously used for a School, provided such use is considered to be of benefit to the neighbourhood.  If the building is to be used as a place of worship this must be for “the simple preaching of Christ’s Gospel without any exclusive or sectarian or denominational bias.”  

Hence the chapel’s designation as “Undenominational”.



Delving into the Past

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So – it’s back to the C1879_Amelia Knight Schoolbook_1185hapel for us to look again at the treasures that have been passed down, donated and collected. Some pieces whisper across the years and bring the past alive. The schoolwork of Amelia Knight and her sister Elizabeth was donated by an anonymous donor who was left with the task of clearing a house of a descendent of the of the girls. The work has recently been on display at Sheffield’s Weston Park Msueum.

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.

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.