Raising the profile of the city’s best ‘green paradise’ secrets

Steel manufacturer Mark Firth is buried inside the general cemetery. Picture: Andrew Roe
Steel manufacturer Mark Firth is buried inside the general cemetery. Picture: Andrew Roe
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Walking into Sheffield’s General Cemetery, it is hard to imagine that it was once accessed through a tree-lined entrance and surrounded by fields of grazing sheep.

But today the historic site in Sharrow, just two minutes from busy Ecclesall Road, is surrounded on both sides by homes and workplaces, with 26,000 people living within a 10-minute walk.

David Cooper, of Sheffield City Council Parks Department infront of the catacombs at the general cemetery park off Cemetery Road. Picture: Andrew Roe

David Cooper, of Sheffield City Council Parks Department infront of the catacombs at the general cemetery park off Cemetery Road. Picture: Andrew Roe

However, despite that change, and the cemetery’s fascinating past dating back to 1836, it is one of the lesser-known sites among Sheffield’s 800 green spaces, which include 95 formal parks.

Sheffield Council is hoping to raise the profile of parks such as the cemetery as it strives to brand the city as one with a pedigree for outdoor recreation.

“I think the reason Sheffield has so many parks is a little bit by design and a little bit by default,” said David Cooper, head of policy and projects for parks, while touring the cemetery.

“We’ve got various woodlands coming into the city and we would find those used by working people.

“Other things that happened were things like JG Graves’ gifts to the south west of the city and other areas like Concord Park.

“They were buying up land and gifting it back to the city and that has certainly made a big difference.

“We are certainly up there with other cities. Everybody claims to be the greenest in some way but what makes Sheffield really special is that we have got more parks per head of population.”

David added: “People know of parks like Millhouses and Endcliffe as an attraction - they’ve been going for generations - but there are more little-known parks that people are unaware of unless they live next to it.

“We are so blessed with parks. Some cities would be shouting about these smaller sites because it would be all that they would have.

“The cemetery is beautiful because it is based on tranquillity and that’s what people want, but we do want more people to come.”

He said there was ‘so much to discover’ by visiting the city’s more unsung green spaces.

“I have been doing this job for many years and I’ve only tapped the surface of what you can see.

“People would be pleasantly surprised if they haven’t visited some of these, whether it be Wincobank Hill or the best-kept secret of Glen Howe, which is just magical.

“The list could go on and on really - places like Skye Edge if you have never been have amazing views.

“The other one that took me by suprise was the vista right at the top of Meersbrook Park.”

More than 87,000 people were buried at the General Cemetery - which has more listed structures than any other Sheffield park and is a Grade II listed landscape. The cemetery opened as Sheffield grew rapidly and needed more burial space.

It contains the graves of football legend William Prest, who co-founded Sheffield FC, and steel baron, former Master Cutler and city benefactor Mark Firth.

The imposing nonconformist chapel is being restored in a major project using Heritage funding, led by park managers the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust, to become an arts venue.

A large space has been cleared and wildflowers planted, but there is still much to do and in June the council carried out a public consultation to explore options for restoration further.

The survey had 689 responses, with people saying they visited for the range of history and architecture, which includes Greek and Egyptian style design.

People also suggested improvements such as catering and toilets.

One of the biggest challenges, with the cemetery on English Heritage’s At Risk register, is how to restore two rows of catacombs which were built into the hillside and have been affected by land shifting.

David said that the cost would likely be over £1 million.

He added: “I think we would need Heritage funding, but as the park is developed they will be a fascinating attraction.”

David also praised cemetery trust volunteers for hard work in cleaning, carrying out maintenance and leading history tours.

There are 70 parks groups around the city and new members are always welcomed.

Call 0114 2500 500 for more details.

Nine other lesser-known Sheffield parks

* Glen Howe at Wharncliffe Side is arguably the best-kept park secret in Sheffield. It covers 19 acres in the Tinker Brook Valley and is home to rare plants, fungi and ancient woodland animals as well as a Grade II listed packhorse bridge.

* Nature reserve Blacka Moor, off the A625 Hathersage Road in the Peak District, is a site of special scientific interest and home to red deer, rare birds and bilberries. Gifted by JG Graves, it is now managed by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust

* Ruskin Park in Walkley featured briefly in the Full Monty film and was created in the 1970s on a slum clearance site. It has been brought to life with a playground, sand pit, playing field and games area. Even the park’s fences have become an arts project, with animals peeking through.

* Thousands of people headed to Wincobank Hill - many for the first time - for the thrilling final minutes of the Tour de France’s Grant Depart in Sheffield last year. It was first recorded in 1442 as ‘Wincowe’, has superb views and a diverse history, which includes an Iron Age hill fort.

* Scenic spot Chelsea Park in Nether Edge is sandwiched in between its bigger sisters, Endcliffe and Millhouses parks. It’s known as a good spot to read a book and for its Narnia-esque lamppost nearby.

* The Cholera Monument Grounds off Norfolk Road are centred on a memorial to more than 400 victims of the cholera outbreak in 1832, who were buried there. It was gifted to the city by the Duke of Norfolk, has excellent views plus access to Norfolk Park and has been recently spruced up with new wildflowers. .

* Lowfield Park and U-Mix centre is an urban park with a sporting hub, incorporating a playground, two floodlit artificial football pitches and a cycle path. Inside U-Mix, which is built into the hillside, there is a pay-as-you-go fitness centre, dance and recording studios.

* Heathlands Park, Halfway, is a quiet spot close to the north-east Derbyshire border and was created as a green space between two housing estates. It has play facilities, wildlife areas, community space and a sports pitch.

* Manor Fields Park off City Road is the newest Sheffield park to win Green Flag status after being transformed from a derelict wasteland. Originally it was a large hunting estate for the Lords of the Manor of Sheffield, and one mammoth tree called the Ladies Oak could shelter 200 horsemen. The park was designated as allotments in the 1930s, which were opened by the late Queen Mother. The park now has a climbing wall, playgrounds, wild spaces and landscaped areas.

Manor Fields Park in Sheffield'One of the 300 parks for the residents to enjoy

Manor Fields Park in Sheffield'One of the 300 parks for the residents to enjoy

Ruskin Park in Walkley.

Ruskin Park in Walkley.

Chelsea Park. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chelsea Park. Picture: Andrew Roe