Newspaper clipping of the time,
The Cemetery Riots At Sheffield.1862
The Sheffield Magistrates were engaged for several hours on Saturday in investigating the extraordinary proceedings at Wardsend Cemetery, near that town.
It will be remembered that on Tuesday night a large crowd of people, exasperated beyond all control by the horrible disclosures that had been made of the manner in which human remains were desecrated, broke into the sextons house and set it on fire, Mrs Howard narrowly escaping with her life.
Damage to the extent of £500 was done at the house and at the cemetery.
The mob searched for the sexton, but could not find him, fortunately for him.
As the news of the discoveries spread through the town the parents and relatives of many of the persons buried in the ground proceeded to the place, and numbers of them began excavating the graves in order to satisfy themselves that the remains had not been tampered with.
In several cases no trace of the coffins could be found, and this, of course, greatly increased the excitement.
The most revolting discovery of all, however, was made in an unused part of the cemetery grounds, where was found a large hole, roughly covered with earth and planks, and containing about twenty coffins, and a box in which were the remains of a man who had been dissected at the Sheffield Medical School.
It was found that underneath the coffins was a mass of human remains several feet in thickness, which were alleged to have been accumulated by the throwing of dissected bodies into the hole without coffins, and the emptying of bodies from coffins removed from graves in the cemetery.
A number of coffins, and twenty four coffin plates, removed from coffins which had been placed in the ground within the last three years, were found in the stable.
The examinations of the place which were made in the course of the week disclosed such a state of things, that the Bench were loudly called upon to interfere to punish the offenders and secure the future protection of the public.
Mr. Jackson, chief constable, said he had to apply to the magistrates to aid him in the investigation of the circumstances which had notoriously occurred at Wardsend burial ground and at the sexton's house, he stated that on going to the cemetery he found in the side of the hill a large hole.
It had the appearance of having been arched, but there were boards driven in at the side to support it.
The hole had been covered with planks and earth, but this the people had removed.
He saw a square box containing what evidently were the remains of a man, as also a number of coffins, twenty inches broad and fifteen or eighteen inches deep.
By the directions of one of the magistrates he had the square box removed to the cemetery stable.
Having got another box made sufficiently large to hold the one taken from the hole, he had it and the body put into this new box and brought to the police office here.
It was a deal box, about three feet six inches long, twenty inches broad, and fifteen or eighteen inches deep.
The box did not appear to have been buried.
The body had evidently been dissected, the flesh having been removed from the bones.
Evidence was given to show that the body found in the box had been received from the Medical School in the ordinary way, and that an interment certificate had been given by the incumbent, although the remains had not been interred.
Mrs. Harriet Shearman was sworn, and said,--I am the wife of William Shearman, miller, Philadelphia Mill-Yard.
My little boy, Edward Charles, died about eight months ago ; he was then two years and one month old.
He was interred at the St. Philip's ground on the twenty third of September last.
The grave was made on the left hand side over the hill, on the lower side from the railway.
I paid ten shillings for the fees of burial to the sexton, Isaac Howard.
I only saw a little bit of earth put on the coffin at the time.
He told me I could have a family grave by paying a further sum of twenty two shillings within the year.
In consequence of what I heard I went up to the ground on Wednesday, a little after noon.
I went to a large pit there was in the cemetery, and saw some coffins there.
Some of them had the lids off, and in one of these I recognised the features of my own child.
I got it taken out of the pit with the coffin, and caused it to be taken to my own house.
When I got it home I examined the coffin, and found it was the same wood.
I found the piece of "bump" sheet which I had placed beneath the head of the child.
I am quite sure from the features, and from this sheet, that it was my child. When I left the grave at the funeral the sexton was there.
He had the care of the grave at that time. We have another child there, or it should be there.
The hole where the body was found is about two hundred yards from the grave where we left my child.
I looked into the grave, but cannot recollect whether the soil was firm or soft, as it had been previously dug.
There were funerals going on in the ground at the same time. I don't know who performed the service.
My first child was interred in the ground three years ago. This child was not buried in the same grave, because we had not bought the ground. We have not looked for the coffin of the first child.
Mr. Jackson.--I have other women who have similar cases to this, but they are not here today.
Robert Dixon.--I am a labourer in the service of Mr. Oxspring, of Wardsend. I know Isaac Howard, the sexton of this cemetery.
I agreed with him to go and live in his house in the graveyard. I cannot tell exactly the day of the month, but it was some time in March last.
Shortly after I had gone there I observed a curious smell in the room above the stable. I thrust some knots out of the deal boards, and looked down into the stable.
We had then been there two or three weeks. I saw about twenty coffins- some of persons about fifteen and sixteen and ten years old--others were those of stillborn children. None of them appeared to be the coffins of grown up persons.
I had seen Howard lock and unlock this door, and knew he had the key. The coffins were not covered over with anything, and were lying on the ground, piled in heaps on the top of each other. I saw some broken up coffins piled in a corner by themselves--the wood appeared to be new. Those pieces are there now. The day I flitted ( last Monday ) I and several other men saw in the stone shed near the house four or five sides and lids of coffins. they were in a dark corner of the shed.
Did you ever really see a body, or only coffins in the shed?--
I lifted up the lid of one coffin, in the shed, about six weeks ago. The night following the body had been removed from the coffin, but the coffin remained in the shed.
I lifted the lid with my toe, and saw the face of the body. It looked very fresh, as though it had been buried a week or two. It looked like the face of a boy about fifteen years of age. I looked at the coffin the same night, after Howard had set off to Sheffield. Had seen him go. He put two corpses into a box. One appeared to be ten, and the other fifteen, I saw the same coffin empty in the shed the same night.
I afterwards went and looked through the holes in the floor.
Tell the magistrates what you think you saw him doing.--
I came home earlier than usual. I thought he looked very queer and "sheepish" in my eye. I had had suspicion of him before. I saw him go in and out of the house and go up the burial ground. I went upstairs and looked through the holes in the floor, and waited till he came back into the stable. He appeared to be cutting off the leg of a child about ten years old.
The child lay on two planks, and he had a carving knife in his hand. I saw him put the bodies into a box.
He put the lid on and went outside the door, and came in again immediately. He put the box on a barrow, and went to the river side. I saw him put two bodies into the box.
The stable is not so large as the room overhead, in which I was. The holes were large enough to admit my finger.
There is a small slide window in the top of the stable, with only four or five panes in it. I once found the stable door unlocked, about three weeks ago, and saw about twenty coffins and twenty four coffin plates. I took the plates away and gave them to Mr. Oxspring. They are the same he has given to the chief constable.
I had previously told Mr. Oxspring, and was acting under his advice in what I did.
The sexton asked me to take the house. We have had a quarrel, but were good friends before I left the house. I met him on the burying ground. I asked him if I could cultivate a bit of ground, and he consented on condition that the ground should be given up if there were any Catholic funerals.
He spoke very angrily to my wife about the place, and I wished to see him, and told him he had better take those bodies out of the coach house before he said anything to my wife. We parted good friends. I have once been in trouble for stealing some corn, four years ago, at Ellerby Hall. That is the only thing I have ever been in to my knowledge. I had married just before.
Mr. Jackson.--He was tried and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
Witness.--Mr. Oxspring and Howard have been good friends. I don't know anything about an action for impounding cattle. I told Mr. Oxspring about six weeks ago what was going on, and he advised me to go into the stable if I had an opportunity.
Bethia Dixon wife of the last witness---We went to live at the house in the graveyard on twenty-fourth of March. When we first went I noticed a peculiar smell in the room over the stable, and it got worse. I spoke to the sexton about the smell, and he said he would remove it--it would go away. The smell made me ill, and I had a miscarriage in consequence.
I have seen the porter from the Medical School go up the burial ground. He came more than once. I first saw him there on the Thursday in the second week we went to live there, which would have been on the third of April.
I told the sexton that the man had been to see him, and the man came again on the Friday morning, but he did not see the sexton. I told the sexton again, and he said he had seen him, but he (the porter) had no money for him, and until he got some money he (Howard) should not let anything else go. I have seen a man named "John" who assisted Howard, remove coffins from graves, and put them in the open shed. The sexton afterwards put them in the stable.
The men opened the graves and removed the coffins from them. These graves were not distinguished by mounds of earth.
Judging from the size of the coffins which "John" and Howard removed, I should say that they were those of children about ten or twelve. About a fortnight ago I saw Howard remove some coffins from the stable into a large pit. He took some in the day time, and towards evening he got the assistance of another man. I saw a man named Coldwell helping him. Before I was married I lived four years in service in Mr. Warhurst's of Ecclesall Road. I never saw any other person at the pit than Howard and the two men assisting him. I never saw any funerals performed at that pit. There was one small place open, so as they could slide a coffin into it, but it could be made larger. The pit was covered with planks, and a thin layer of earth. There were planks placed against the hole when they were not using it. I remember the holes being made in the floor of the room over the stable. I looked down and saw coffins there. I have looked on several occasions when my husband has been away.
Mr. J. Barber, surgeon, was examined, and stated the manner in which bodies were obtained for the purposes of dissection at the Medical School from the workhouse.
No bodies were obtained except by legitimate way.
The inquiry was then adjourned until Friday next