Remote and Undisturbed


Sheffield General Cemetery, nestled by Ecclesall Road, opened in 1836 as one of Britain’s first commercial cemeteries. Playing host to many famous Sheffield residents, it is now one of the city’s finest historical assets. At its height it held 87,000 burials, but its story is one of both highs and lows as it fell into neglect before its revival into a parkland and conservation area today. Remote and Undisturbed is a carefully updated version of the original history by Jane Horton, standing testament to the hard work involved in making sure the site survives and thrives.

During the first half of the 19th century Sheffield’s population trebled, from 45,758 to 135,310, in 50 years. As churchyards were overflowing and the popularity of nonconformist religion grew, demand rose for safe, pleasant burial grounds. In 1834 a group of nonconformists formed the General Cemetery Company to solve this problem, create leisure space and – of course – make some money.


While the book celebrates the talents of those involved in the relatively new business of commercial burial, for me some of the most interesting chapters were those that examined the challenges it faced. The cemetery was noteworthy throughout England for its lofty ambition and the talented architect Samuel Ward’s incorporation of Classical and Egyptian styling, later mirrored at High Gate Cemetery in London. But at the same time the imposing line of catacombs, still eerily visible today, proved surprisingly unpopular due to their expense. Unable to attract the ‘refined’ families they were initially aimed at, the cemetery was forced to align itself with pauper burials at five shilling a piece. While it held many of Sheffield’s prominent artisans, in the end the cemetery was a business of fluctuating fortunes, very much at the mercy of its clientele.

As you read it becomes clear just how closely the cemetery was deeply tied to the emotions and economic fortunes of the Sheffield people. Following the Great War, the cemetery would never be the same again. “Victorian cemeteries […] were constructed when labour was cheap, materials plentiful and the general public […] were prepared to spend a great deal on funerals. The grand Victorian style of funeral seemed almost distasteful in the face of such terrible numbers of war dead.”

Unflinchingly, the book takes us through the sliding decline of the 50s and the tentative revival of the 70s and 80s as the Friends of the General Cemetery was established. Their history becomes our history as the hard work and inventive ideas for regeneration built the cemetery up into the beautiful parkland and conservation site that it is today.


Remote and Undisturbed is a key work of history for anyone interested in the cemetery because it has been created by the people who keep the place alive. It describes in detail the full life cycle of the site, knowing when to keep to broad strokes and when to step in more closely to look in detail at what makes it so unique. In the end, this is also a history of Sheffield business, the social changes that affected the lives of those who created it, and those who came to rest underneath its soil. Should you wish to take a trip to see the cemetery itself, the book is a very useful guide, providing a map and detailed information about notable monuments and residents.

Just as the General Cemetery is definitively Sheffield born-and-bred, the book is also a product of the cooperation and talent of Sheffield people. People for Print, based at Sheaf Gardens and led by Martin Lacey, were the local typesetters that brought this labour of love to print. Martin, it came to light, also remembers working on the cemetery’s clearance in the 1970s. In 1976 the Council took action to secure urgent maintenance works on the gatehouse, but it was the same gatehouse today that so nearly stopped the book’s creation in its tracks. The sudden repair removed all the book money from the pot and, afraid that the printers couldn’t be paid, the cemetery volunteers quickly rallied to raise the money through donations and loans. The history of the cemetery, and the history of this little book, stands as a testament to talent, passion and strong dose of the hard graft that Yorkshire is famous for.

You can find copies of Remote and Undisturbed: A Brief History of the Sheffield General Cemetery at booksellers throughout the city and it’s also available online at for £7.95.

Words: Leanne Williams.


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