Call to save proud piece of Sheffield's history is answered

Penny Rea at Zion Graveyard during a Heritage Open Day
Penny Rea at Zion Graveyard during a Heritage Open Day
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Efforts to reclaim a proud piece of Sheffield's history have received a major boost after a fundraising appeal passed its target.

Zion Graveyard in Attercliffe is the final resting place of pioneering anti-slavery campaigner Mary Anne Rawson, and a number of 'significant' early industrialists and influential non-conformist Christian radicals are now also believed to be buried there.

Mary Anne Rawson (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Anne Rawson (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The burial place, which sits in the midst of an industrial estate on Zion Lane, became engulfed by vegetation during many years of neglect after Zion Congregational Church caught fire and was demolished.

But when history buffs learned early last year the plot was up for sale, they set out to save the land and preserve it as both a monument to the area's lost heritage and a mini wildlife oasis in the most unlikely of settings.

That goal is now within sight after the graveyard's story captured the public imagination.

Two separate crowdfunding appeals have between them raised over £5,000 for legal fees and other costs involved in buying and restoring the graveyard, which is being sold by the United Reformed Church.

Mary Anne Rawson's headstone was uncovered last year at the graveyard

Mary Anne Rawson's headstone was uncovered last year at the graveyard

The Friends of Zion Graveyard Attercliffe is now waiting to hear whether its bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to cover the purchase price has been successful, with a decision expected in the next couple of weeks.

Penny Rea, who chairs the group, said she was delighted by the response to the appeal.

"There's been a lot of interest in Mary Anne as an individual who was well ahead of her time, but there are also significant early industrialists buried there, who we're beginning to find out about, and some early radicals from Sheffield's non-conformist movement," she said.

"The whole community of Attercliffe was dispersed with the demolition of housing, but we've been overwhelmed by the interest from people who used to live around here and remember the graveyard and the church. They have fond memories of the old community and are very keen to see the heritage preserved."

The friends group hopes to open up the graveyard to the public more regularly if it succeeds in buying the land

The friends group hopes to open up the graveyard to the public more regularly if it succeeds in buying the land

The graveyard could easily have ended up as a car sales yard, according to the friends group, after a businessman who has bought the adjacent church site for that purpose put in an offer.

Should the group secure the grant, it hopes to complete the purchase by the end of January and begin work on the site next month.

It plans to open the graveyard to the public on regular days and to publish leaflets and host events commemorating its history, including a rededication ceremony.

The group also intends to work with Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust to maintain the grounds as a wildlife haven.

Mary Anne Rawson, who lived at Wincobank Hall, in Sheffield, during the 19th century, was a founder member of the Sheffield Female Anti-Slavery Society which led a boycott of firms profiting from slave labour.

For more about the graveyard, visit www.ziongraveyard.btck.co.uk.

To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ziongraveyardattercliffe?utm_id=106&utm_term=VZxe4kN36 or email ziongraveyard@gmail.com.