Families searching for long-hidden graves at historic Sheffield cemetery given fresh hope​​​​​​​

Families have been given fresh hope in their search for the long-hidden graves of loved ones at a historic Sheffield cemetery which has become badly overgrown.

Sunday, 11th August 2019, 1:53 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th August 2019, 9:24 pm

Relatives of those buried at Loxley Cemetery were among the visitors at an open day held to mark the launch of a new friends group.

So thick is the vegetation in places that some had been unable for many years to locate the final resting place of their loved ones, with numerous headstones swallowed up by the undergrowth or impossible to access via poorly maintained paths.

But with a little help, some believe they will now finally able to track them down and pay their respects.

Visitors to Loxley Cemetery for the launch of a new friends group (pic: Malcolm Nunn)

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The Friends of Loxley Cemetery is being formed to tidy up the graveyard, where war heroes are interred alongside victims of the Great Flood of 1864 which killed 240 people in Sheffield.

Its founders invited people along yesterday to learn more about the site and how they can help with the planned restoration.

Stannington ward councillor Penny Baker, who is among those behind the group’s formation, said she was thrilled by the response, with around 40 people defying the blustery weather to attend, and many offering to donate or lend a hand when the clean-up gets underway.

An open day marking the launch of a new friends group for Loxley Cemetery, which has become badly overgrown

She told how it was incredibly moving to meet the relatives of those buried there and hear how much it meant to them that something was finally being done about the state of the cemetery.

“We had visitors who came all the way from Bridlington and Baslow. Several people told us they’d been looking for years for their family graves and didn’t think they’d ever find them, but now they believe it will be possible,” he said.”One gentleman was 84 and he’d been looking all over the place for his family grave but we’re confident we’ll be able to help him locate it.

“The cemetery’s so badly overgrown, with some areas totally inaccessible, and it’s going to take a lot of people power to tidy it up but we think it can be done.”

Ms Baker was joined on the day by local historians Ron Clayton and Mick Drewry, who were able to answer visitors’ questions about the site’s past.

The Liberal Democrats' prospective candidate for Sheffield Hallam Laura Gordon (left) with a visitor to Loxley Cemetery who has a relative buried there

Among those buried there are 13 victims of the two world wars, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – at least two of whom were just teenagers when they died.

Ms Baker said she found for the first time yesterday one of those graves, for a Doreen Belk, who was in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and died aged 20 on June 23, 1945, more than a month after Germany surrendered.

The graveyard is also home to the Grade II*-listed Loxley United Reformed Church, better known as Loxley Chapel, which was gutted by fire in 2016.

The site’s owner has announced plans to restore the chapel for use as a hostel and cafe, and to to build a respite centre within the grounds for disabled children, but no planning application has yet been submitted.

Councillor Penny Baker (left) and the Liberal Democrats' prospective candidate for Sheffield Hallam Laura Gordon (right) with a visitor to Loxley Cemetery who has a relative buried there

Ms Baker said the next step is to hold a meeting to get the friends group formally constituted so work to restore the cemetery can begin as soon as possible.

Anyone interested in joining the friends group can email penny.baker@sheffield.gov.uk for more information.