Author and Heeley resident Matthew Bell and local historian Chris Hobbs have joined forces to write a book relating some of the darker episodes – in all their grisly detail – of Victorian Sheffield .
Victorian justice was brutal and Sheffield had the dubious honour of being home to Thomas Williams, the first man to be hanged during Queen Victoria’s reign. But not all crimes were solved; the murder of Boden Lane’s ‘Bearded Lady’, for example, remains a mystery. Drink was behind many hideous tragedies – a bizarre ‘prank’ of pulling a pet cat across Attercliffe canal on the end of rope was in a bid to win beer! In this case the animal escaped and the owner drowned.
Three tales in Sheffield’s Shocking Past will resonate with the people of Heeley:
Two grotesque murders took place a fortnight apart in 1852. The first occurred in Cutler’s Wood, by the River Sheaf at Heeley Bottom – a child’s body was found with its head severed. Soon afterwards a travelling salesman was shot in the head near Midhill House, East Bank Road. The perpetrators of these terrible crimes were hanged at York and suffered the final ignominy of sharing a grave.
That same year, a four year old boy suffered an agonising death from burning at Ash Farm, behind the Ball Inn on Myrtle Road. The poor lad ran some distance towards home with his clothes on fire before collapsing.
In 1869, John Shortridge, a respected industrialist influential in the building of Wicker Arches and the introduction of horse-drawn trams from town to the Red Lion, Heeley, died in a carriage accident on Abbeydale Road. Shortridge’s grave is the one with the tall obelisk by the entrance to Heeley Parish Churchyard.