The Tragic Death of Olivia Spooner - Walkley, Sheffield 1858

The report first appears in  the Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Thursday, April 1, 1858; Issue 3158.

CAUSE OF DEATH FROM WANT - An inquest has just been held in Sheffield on the body of Olivia Spooner, aged 15, daughter of Edward Spooner, a table-knife hafter. The mother of the deceased died several years ago leaving a husband and six children. The man was stated to have been of very intemperate habits, and only occasionally employed: and therefore the family had long been in great distress. Lately their condition  had been rendered still worse by an accident to the father, which had incapacitated him for work, and 5s (25p) a week (one half of it in bread) from the parish was for some time all on which they had to subsist. The deceased had been unwell for some weeks previous to her fathers accident and very ill subsequently, but it had not until a few days before her death that he requested the union surgeon who had been attending on himself, to see her. The poor girl was found lying upon an old mattress, with nothing to cover her but a few pieces of wearing apparel, disgustingly filthy. The parish officers wished to remove the family to the workhouse, but the father stubbornly refused, and the girl sank under the influences of cold and want of nourishment. The body was found shockingly emaciated, and the house most desolate and filthy. The jury returned a verdict that death had been accelerated by want, blaming the father for not sooner procuring medical aid 

There was also a report in The Manchester Guardian dated 31st March 1858


Two days later, on 3rd April 1858, The Leeds Mercury gave  its account of the inquest



On Monday evening, Mr Badger, coroner held an inquest at Walkley on the body of Olivia Spooner, aged 15 years, daughter of Edward Spooner, a working cutler. The habitation of Spooner presented a fearful scene of destitution. There was no furniture worthy of its name, and Spooner and three of his living children were seated in the kitchen apparently on the verge of starvation themselves, and clothed in dirty rags. The body of the deceased girl was lying on   a bed covered with a heap of miscellaneous clothing, men and women's, ragged with age and as black as ink with filth. The body presented a very pinched and accentuated appearance. From the evidence adduced it appears that Spooner has been suffering for some time past from want of work but three weeks ago he totally disabled himself by falling down some steps. Since then he has had outdoor relief from the Ecclesall Poor-law union and Dr. Wilson, medical officer to the union has attended him for his injuries. During one of his visits Spooner called dr. Wilson's attention to his daughter Olivia who had been ailing for a week or two previously and who was then in a very weakly condition. Dr. Wilson at once saw that the chief cause of the poor girl's suffering was want of proper food and clothing. Upon leaving the house he gave full information of the facts to Mr Dearden the relieving officer, who at once sent  a cab to bring Spooner and his family to the workhouse so that they could be properly attended. Upon the cab reaching the house, Spooner positively refused to allow himself and his family to be removed bolted and locked the door in the face of the man in charge of the cab, and put a poker in the fire to attack him, should he attempt to remove them by force. the consequence was they remained in destitution and two days afterwards the unfortunate girl Olivia died. From the medical evidence there is no doubt that the girl had died from some internal disease, aggravated by want of proper food and clothing and the jury returned a verdict to that effect, accompanied with a censure upon Spooner.

But the most detailed account of Olivia's suffering appeared in the local newspaper The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated Saturday 3rd April 1858 - apologies for the poor print

I would like to know more about this tragedy - it must have been an horrendous death for poor Olivia, a death no human being should be subjected to. In the burial registers of St Phillips Church and Wardsend Cemetery, I did find an entry for Olivia which stated

SPOONER Olivia 30th March 1858 Bole Hill Age 16 daughter of Edward


Surname First name (s) District Births Sep 1842 Spooner Olivia Sheffield Volume 22 Page 540

Surname First name (s) Age District Deaths Jun 1858 Spooner Olivia Ecclesall Bierlow Volume 9c Page 124

The following information appeared on the Sheffield Forum in 2004

Wardsend Cemetery has a distinct military influence due to its close proximity to Hillsborough Barracks. The obelisk monument commemorates the soldiers of 6th, 19th, 24th, 33rd, 51st, 55th Regiments of Foot, Victorian Army, who died whilst at Hillsborough Barracks during the period 1866 - 1869. A separate grave belongs to Lieutenant George Lambert V.C., an Irishman, born in Markethill, County Armagh, in December 1819. A sergeant in the 84th Regiment (York & Lancaster Regiment), he was promoted twice ‘without purchase’, and was awarded his Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery” during the Indian Mutiny at Oonao in 1857. His death was due to ‘the breaking of a blood vessel’ on the parade ground of Hillsborough Barracks on February 10th 1860.

There are also memorials to several soldiers who gave their lives during both world wars.
Some of the 240 victims of The Great Sheffield Flood of the night of 11th/12th of March 1864, when the Dale Dyke reservoir at Bradfield, collapsed, were laid to rest in Wardsend Cemetery, including the children of Paymaster Sergeant Foulds, Isabella, aged 5 and John, aged 3, of Hillsborough Barracks, also Mr. Joseph Goddard and his wife Sarah, of Malin Bridge.

Of the 213 bodies which were found, there were 35 which were buried without being identified. In addition to the 240 people who were drowned there were 50 horses, 38 cows, 8 donkeys, 258 pigs, 267 fowls and 72 tame rabbits allegedly lost!!

Other epitaphs of interest are dedications to a number of Bible readers, one a member of the Philadelphian Wesleyan church; the Secretary of Sheffield Angling Association; widows referred to as relicts, and a reference to a 15 year old boy tragically killed at work in a colliery accident.

Wardsend dates back as far as 1161 and was then called Wereldesend. (relating to a forest clearing), by 1336 the spelling had been changed to Werlsend and by 1388 it was call Wordesent. Wardsend House was built on this site in 1477 and stood for 400 years, before being demolished in 1957.

By 1901 there had been some 20,000 interments on the site and the new area was consecrated in 1859 by Archbishop Musgrave of York. It is said to be the only cemetery in the UK with a railway running through it.

Wardsend was abused by grave robbers in the 1860-1880s as a memorial stone in Hillsborough Park attests - in the small organic /wildlife area the stone tells of many persons never recovered after the desecration.. The last remaining horseman of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea was unfortunately drowned as the ship he was in sank in a storm just a small distance from docking and was buried in Parkwood - Wardsend Cemetery and is also remembered by having the first headstone in England to have an enamelled plaque detailing his life/death details.

The final burial took place in 1977,when the re-internment of remains from a building site close to the Cathedral took place. It was officially closed in 1988.

Its a while since I last visited the site, at this time many of the graves close to the railway line were damaged and open. The Friends of Wardsend Cemetry have been doing a lot of work on the site.


Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Thursday, April 1, 1858;

The Manchester Guardian dated 31st March 1858

The Leeds Mercury dated 3rd April 1858

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated Saturday 3rd April 1858

Sheffield Forum

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This page was last updated on 06/01/17 14:53