Poignant stories of babies buried at Sheffield General Cemetery

Buried in the 15-acre site of Sheffield General Cemetery are over 87,000 people.

By Hilary McAra
Monday, 18th November 2019, 12:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 12:31 pm
The spot where a stillborn baby is buried
The spot where a stillborn baby is buried

Over the last 30 years the volunteers have created a database which contains basic information about each and every one of these people.

We offer a service to people researching their family history and, for a small donation, we can usually provide some details which help move the story along.

We get about 100 inquiries a year, and helping members of the public fill the gaps in their family history is extremely satisfying.

Children now play in Sheffield General Cemetery, something that gave comfort to one person asking about a baby's grave

The saddest type of inquiry we get – and we get these quite regularly – is when a living relative is trying to trace the grave of a child who died young.

Often these are stillborn babies of the mid-20th century who died at a time when it was thought that the kindest thing to do was to take the baby away from the grieving mother and never mention them again.

Thankfully, we know differently now.

A recent inquiry was from a woman who was trying to trace the resting place of her stillborn baby brother who died in 1944.

Sheffield General Cemetery, final resting place of 87,000 people

The inquirer told us that her father was given 48 hours’ leave from the army to come home to visit his wife.

The baby was taken from the family home in a cardboard box and brought to the cemetery for burial.

There was no family grave and, although we have a record of the baby being brought to the cemetery, we have no record of where the baby was buried.

Many babies were buried in one of the catacombs, reserved especially for this purpose; but this baby boy was not among them.

Catacombs at Sheffield General Cemetery

Occasionally, throughout the history of the cemetery, when a baby came for burial and there was no money to buy a grave, the child was placed in the grave of a stranger.

Although we cannot prove it, we think that this is what happened to this particular baby boy.

An elderly woman was buried three days after the death of the child, and we have to assume that the baby is resting with her.

It is not a completely satisfactory answer for the family, but it is the best we can do.

The gatehouse to Sheffield General Cemetery

I took a photograph of the area where the grave is situated and sent it to the inquirer.

The area is now used by children as a play area and the inquirer thought this was very suitable, as the little boy never got to play himself.

A similar inquiry came from a woman who was trying to trace the grave of her aunt, Marina, who died at the age of four in the 1960s.

There were many living relatives who really wanted to know exactly where the child was buried.

The little girl was born poorly and spent most of her short life in St Joseph’s home at Walkley.

The child is remembered on the family grave in Crookes Cemetery but the family knew she wasn’t buried there.

A print of Rutledge House, Sheffield

We were able to find the place where the little girl is buried – and we also discovered that she was buried in the same grave as her grandad.

It was so lovely to be able to give this news to the inquirer.

We also found an interesting booklet which had been written about St Joseph’s home which described the home, at the time little Marina would have been there, as a happy place.

We get inquiries from all over the world. Recently we were contacted by someone researching their great aunt who served on a nutrition committee in Sheffield during the First World War.

This woman was a cookery teacher, and had died in 1919.

These committees were set up nationally at a time of food shortages to educate the public about good nutrition and to publish recipes which made use of substitutes.

Mashed potato seems to have figured highly!

We were able to provide some useful information for the inquirer, including the memorial inscription on the gravestone and a photograph of the house on Clarkehouse Road, which had been a nursing home in 1919 and where the cookery teacher died after a hernia operation.

If you think you have a relative buried in the Sheffield General Cemetery, do get in touch. We would love to help.