When visiting the site of Wardsend Cemetery (near Hillsborough Stadium) for the first time, we couldn’t find it. Scrambling along a creek in the general direction of where we thought the cemetery was, I shouted with a combination of excitement and relief, ‘Grave!’, terrifying my colleague.
As we approached the wooded area, the density of the headstones increased and we hit a path which was bordered on both sides with rows of headstones. Some were wonky, some damaged, but they all had a story to tell.
This visit was one of many, and was the start of a collaborative project between MA Public Humanities students and Friends of Wardsend Cemetery. The aim of the project was to increase engagement with the site, and to support Friends of Wardsend Cemetery in designing digital elements of the visitor experience. In the group discussions that followed, we decided to rework the website of the community group to to broaden the reach of the research.
As well as developing more explicit Links, we also added a Community Stories section. We hope this section will be expanded in the future by Friends of Wardsend, and we envisage that this will include everything from links with Don Catchment Rivers Trust to living memories of the cemetery.
As many of us did our Undergraduate degrees in History, part of the project was, of course, research. We chose to consider the history of the cemetery, specific stories of identifiable graves, as well as local and community links both past and present.
The cemetery has strong military links due to its proximity to Hillsborough Barracks. Along with those who died at the Barracks, there are commemorations of soldiers who fought in the Indian Mutiny, the Battle of Lone Pine, Gallipoli and the Battle of the Somme among others. Further research also uncovered fascinating links to the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, as it transpired that many of those who perished were buried at Wardsend.
The Virtual Map is our pride and joy. This map allows users to virtually explore the cemetery and give them the opportunity to see and visualise graves. Including this map was ambitious, and the making of it was a big challenge, but the value and originality exceeded expectations.
The launch of the website and virtual map was a raving success. The event enabled visitors to explore the site, resulting in a 700% increase in views to date. What we did not expect were the dialogues that the event instigated. Several attendees, who had not previously engaged with the cemetery beyond the Facebook page (if at all), brought along sources and stories of ancestors who were thought to be buried at Wardsend.
The feedback we received from those who attended, as well as Friends of Wardsend Cemetery, was overwhelming – we would never have thought that the event would go so well.
After all the research, technological hiccups and the anticipation of a website going live, it is hard to imagine never having stumbled across the cemetery as we did on our first visit. When I return to the cemetery, as I have done at points throughout the project, I am not so much shocked to see the rows of headstones amongst the trees, as humbled by the value of the stories yet to be unearthed.
Miriam Emanuel is a student on the MA Public Humanities programme at The University of Sheffield. You can find out more about Friends of Wardsend Cemetery here. You can find Miriam on Twitter.
Image: Wardsend Cemetery, provided by the author.