First step for volunteer group trying to save graveyard where Sheffield anti-slavery campaigner is buried

The first meeting of the Friends of Zion Graveyard.
The first meeting of the Friends of Zion Graveyard.
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A group of volunteers trying to save a historic Sheffield graveyard met for the first time ahead of a major fundraising campaign.

The Friends of Zion Graveyard was officially inaugurated on Saturday at the cemetery in Attercliffe where Mary Anne Rawson, one of the key figures in the fight to abolish slavery in the UK, is buried.

Descendants of Mary Anne Rawson.

Descendants of Mary Anne Rawson.

The group hopes to raise money to buy the graveyard in order to better take care of it.

Several volunteers signed up to become members on Saturday, and Sheffield's deputy lord mayor Magid Magid turned up to give council support.

But the most important guests were Chantal, Eleanor and Gaynor Brown, descendants of Mary Anne's parents Joseph and Elizabeth Read, who are also buried in the graveyard.

Penny Rea, also a member of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, said: "We had a good turnout on Saturday and we were very encouraged by the response of the visitors, many of whom came because they had seen the event in the papers.

The graveyard is in the process of being cleared.

The graveyard is in the process of being cleared.

"Those present all signed up as members of Friends of Zion Graveyard, Attercliffe and voted to adopt a constitution and elect a committee."

Mary Anne Rawson was the founding member of Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society. She lived from 1801 to 1887 and was at the forefront of the struggle to end centuries of injustice.

Her grave had been hidden among the dense undergrowth for years, but was recently uncovered by volunteers from the Friends of Wincobank Hill.

They believe her final resting place, close to where the old Zion Chapel once stood, is an important piece of the city’s heritage and could form part of an Attercliffe history trail.

Mary Anne's grave.

Mary Anne's grave.

As a result they have formed the new friends group and hope to work with the nearby United Reformed Church, which had put the graveyard up for sale. On Saturday the friends agreed to make an offer to buy the graveyard.

Penny said: "We were delighted to welcome the deputy lord mayor councillor Magid Magid, who gave a moving tribute to Mary Anne Rawson and her family - particularly in regard to their insistence on continuing to campaign for the universal abolition of slavery even after the 1833 Act to end slavery in the British Colonies.

"The great great great great grand-daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Read had travelled down from Teeside with her mother and baby daughter. They were visibly moved to stand at the Read family grave and they thanked everyone for their part in the fight to save the graves.

"The committee then met and agreed to make an offer to purchase the graveyard as this seems the only way to ensure it remains intact.

"We are hoping for a positive response to our bid, in which case we will be embarking on a major fund-raising campaign."

The Friends of Zion Graveyard now has a Facebook page and a website at www.ziongraveyard.btck.co.uk, where people can find out how to get involved and donate to the cause.

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