Tales from the crypt

Pictured are Danger & Despair 'Alex Quant & Jo
Pictured are Danger & Despair 'Alex Quant & Jo
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IT was April 19, 1849, when 17-year-old Leopold Lichtenhal borrowed a horse from a dealer in The Moor.

The previous night, the young Russian, who had been sent to Sheffield to avoid St Petersburg’s cholera epidemic, had boasted he was the best rider in town, and now intended to prove his point.

He didn’t.

Almost upon mounting, the animal set off at a gallop and every attempt to bring it under control only caused the beast to go faster.

Within seconds the pair had charged past surprised shoppers in Pinstone Street before, unable to hold on any longer, Leopold had been thrown from the horse, fatally smashing his head on the ground.

The teenager, who had come to Sheffield to survive a disease ravaging his home city, died within the week.

“And that,” says Jo Pye cheerfully today, “is my favourite of all the stories which were uncovered.”

She pauses for a moment.

“Well no,” she reconsiders. “Favourite’s the wrong word. But it’s the one which... resonates most. It happened more than 150 years ago but if you replace horse with car, we’re still hearing about the same thing happening today. It shows youthful folly existed even then. Sad really.”

It is not the only maudlin tale captured in a new book, being released by Sheffield General Cemetery.

The frightful folio charts the hideous ends – burning, drowning and cyanide-downing – of some of the 87,000 people interred at the Sharrow graveyard.

And it seems the book, a second edition version of a volume initially published some 15 years ago, has been given the re-release because of its sheer popularity.

“People love blood and guts,” says Jo, one of three co-editors behind the new version of Danger and Despair: Sudden Death In Victorian Sheffield. “The cemetery has put out several books over the years but this has always been the most popular.”

Certainly, there is no lack of horror in the tome, which has also been edited by fellow Friends of Sheffield General Cemetery Alex Quant and Nancy Greenwood.

On one page two lads are swept away by the River Don, on another a comb buffer has his arm crushed in an Arundel Street factory, and on a third a grieving Broomhill widower repeatedly slashes herself with a razor blade.

Gruesome accidents, road collisions and suicides all add to the grisly atmosphere.

“When I used to do tours of the cemetery, those were always the sort of tales which lit people’s eyes up,” says Jane Horton, the original author, and one of the founding members of the friends volunteers.

“So, we felt sure even then the book would sell well.”

It was compiled when the stories came to light while the group was transferring burial records on to a computer database.

“There were so many great stories it would have been a shame to waste them,” says Jane. “It’s great to think 15 years on, it’s still selling.”

Danger And Despair is available at www.gencem.org or by visiting the cemetery in Cemetery Avenue, Sharrow. Costs £4.95. All profits go to the upkeep of the site.