Call to preserve graveyard with links to Sheffield's historic fight against slavery

Mary Anne Rawson (via Wikimedia Commons)
Mary Anne Rawson (via Wikimedia Commons)
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A call has been made to preserve a graveyard up for sale in Sheffield where a leading figure in the abolition of slavery is buried.

The former Zion Chapel graveyard in Attercliffe, which The Star revealed in January had been advertised for sale, is the final resting place of Mary Anne Rawson.

The old Zion Chapel graveyard in Attercliffe

The old Zion Chapel graveyard in Attercliffe

While she lacks the fame of higher profile abolitionists like William Wilberforce, she played a major role in ending centuries of injustice.

She was a founding member in 1825 of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society, and even after the slave trade was abolished in the UK she continued to campaign on behalf of those held in bondage across the world.

The graveyard in Zion Lane where her body lies within her family vault is today overgrown and surrounded by industrial buildings after years of disuse, and the United Reformed Church (URC) is seeking to sell the plot.

But Penny Rea, of the Friends of Wincobank Hill group, believes its links to Sheffield's role in abolishing slavery means it should be preserved.

"With hindsight, it is obvious that Mary Anne was way ahead of her time, encouraging women to campaign on issues that the men thought were settled, like stopping slavery in the colonies, but she insisted that the continued enforced apprenticeship of slaves to their masters was immoral and inhumane," she said.

"I can imagine that there could be some interest in building on this land, which I believe could happen if the necessary permissions are obtained, but ideally I believe it should remain as a sanctuary garden where Mary Anne and her family will be left to rest in peace.

"This could be a delightful stopping place on an Attercliffe heritage trail as there seems to be pedestrian access up a side path that could easily be controlled to protect against vandalism."

The sales brochure for the graveyard lists the closing date for offers as February 10, but a spokeswoman for the URC said at the end of March it had not yet been sold.

The church has previously said it wants to ensure the graveyard is 'taken into responsible care' by its new owner, and regulations require consent to be sought before removing or disturbing any graves.

WHO WAS MARY ANNE RAWSON?

Mary Anne Rawson lived from 1801 to 1887, and spent most of her life at Wincobank Hall, in Sheffield.

She was a founding member in 1825 of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society, which campaigned to end bondage in the British Empire, and she led a boycott of goods produced by slaves.

In 1837, she became secretary of the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery, which fought to free enslaved workers across the world.

She was a keen philanthropist and helped set up a Sunday school and day school within the grounds of Wincobank Hall.