In lasting memory of Tom, Clara and George Wharton.

Having been lucky enough to have been selected by Jason Dickinson to be in The Owls 150th anniversary book, ‘WAWAW fans memories through the generation’, I was quite fascinated to read the first person mentioned was a Mr. Tom Wharton…

(Mr. T. Wharton from Jason Dickinson’s book).

“It seems fitting that the first supporter profile should actually be a dedicated fan called Tom Wharton, who passed away in 1933 after devoting his life to Wednesday. The following is an interview with Tom in the Sheffield mail in 1926”.

“Surely old Tom Wharton is The Wednesday’s most enthusiastic supporter. And incidentally the happiest man in Sheffield. He is no ordinary supporter, but a supporter who sticks to Wednesday thick and thin. For 46 years he has attended every home match except one The Wednesday have played. The exception was caused through a somewhat severe illness but Tom will let no ordinary illness interfere with his visits to see his team play. He has been ill in bed of Saturday mornings and has got up in the afternoon to get to Hillsborough. But it is not only home matches he has seen. He has been on every ground in England except three with The Wednesday. And he has a pile of programmes three feet high at least, issued in connection with the Wednesday club in different towns. The three grounds he has yet to visit are Stoke, Burnley and Newcastle.

Old Tom lives at 26 Burnt Tree Lane, Sheffield and for many of a great year was a glass cutter. He has made some thousands of glass tumblers, and decanters, but is now retired and spends most of his time telling tales of derring-do in connection with The Wednesday and at the Sheffield Arms Hotel, Meadow Street, where he is now employed. He organised a party from the hotel to see the cup final on Saturday. The party went down by the Sheffield mail special train, but old Tom had not got a stadium ticket and did not get to see the match. But he has already seen 27 English Cup Finals. His first was in 1890 when The Wednesday played Blackburn Rovers and was beaten by six goals to one. That is a memorable occasion in old Tom’s life. It was his first visit to London, and the one he still talks about, in spite of having seen The Wednesday play over 1,500 times, before and since. His delight in the part played by Hayden Morley, one of The Wednesday backs, has not yet subsided. He stills talks of the enthusiasm with which the crowd carried off Morley shoulder high after the struggle.

In the early days of his support for The Wednesday a party of about 40 or 50 enthusiasts, including himself, always banded together to see the team play. These enthusiasts have gradually dwindled in number until there are only eight or nine of them left. Some of them assemble in one corner of the Kop each Saturday when The Wednesday are playing a home match. They stand on the Penistone Road end of the ‘new stand’. But Mr. Wharton is doubtless the most consistent and oldest supporter of the lot. He has yelled himself hoarse times without number and has argued in the ground with men twice as big as himself. He will hear nothing against his The Wednesday and when they are down he says they will soon be up. Mr. Wharton is 72 years-old. Recently he and two other supporters had their photographs taken. His friends are George Wood, aged 69, and Mr. J. S. Redfern, aged 74. These three men had followed the fortunes of the team through thick and thin, their ages are total 215 years. Mr. Wood is a lamplighter and Mr. Redfern has lived at ‘the old black pudding shop’ in Meadow Street for 70 years.”

Having reading this I later found out via Twitter he is buried in an unmarked grave at the Wardsend cemetery which is located at the end of the seemingly never ending Livesey Street, behind Owlerton Stadium. So over the Christmas period with a bit of spare time I thought I’d seek out this once forgotten hidden Cemetery and check it out for myself.

As soon as you cross over the River Don via the blue bridge you can see many of the head stones of the people who are buried there, right in front of you, all being overgrown by nature. Over 30,000 men, woman and children have their final resting place here. As you walk along the path to the top of the incline you begin to see how big this place actually is and with all the trees that now stand there you cannot see the end whichever way you look. It’s also worth noting that Wardsend is 1 of only 2 cemeteries in England that has a railway line running right through the middle of it, so you have to cross a 2nd foot bridge to the top side where you find the resting place of Mr. Wharton.

About the cemetery… (taken from the website https://wardsendcemetery.wordpress.com).

“Wardsend Cemetery, a detached churchyard, was opened on 21st June 1857 as the expanded burial ground for St. Philip’s Church on Infirmary Road (now demolished), after its own churchyard became overcrowded. At his own expense, the vicar, Rev. John Livesey, bought five acres of land at Wardsend and also contributed to the cost of building a small chapel and a sexton’s house.

The cemetery and the chapel, which was designed by Weightman, Hadfield and Goldie of Sheffield, were consecrated by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave, on the 5th of July 1859. Wardsend Cemetery has a distinct military influence due to its close proximity to Hillsborough Barracks.

Notably, the cemetery is the final resting place of multiple military families, and of many of the victims of the 1864 Sheffield Flood. Other epitaphs of interest are dedications to a number of Bible readers, one member of the Philadelphian Wesleyan church; the Secretary of Sheffield Angling Association, widows referred to as relics, and a reference to a 15 year old boy was tragically killed in a colliery accident.

By the turn of the century, some 20,000 interments had taken place and in 1901, a further two acres of land on the other side of the railway were added. Because of this, Wardsend Cemetery is one of only two cemeteries in England with railways running through them. The final burial took place in 1977, when the re-interment of remains from a building site close to Sheffield Cathedral took place. The cemetery was officially closed in 1988. Since the mid-1980s however, Wardsend Cemetery has been increasingly neglected, especially following the demolition of the chapel and sexton’s house, leaving the cemetery more or less abandoned by the parish and church authorities.

The local authority took responsibility for the maintenance of the site in 2010 and The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery Group have played a large part in the maintenance and research of the cemetery in recent years”. I spent a good hour looking and walking through this fascinating woodland and taking various pictures including some of Hillsborough Stadium, which is only a stone’s throw away and can been seen if you follow the River Don up stream and then up to Scraith Wood near Herries Road, to which I use to make the rest of my walk home…

The long term goal of all this is not only to bring publicity to The Wardsend Cemetery and its friends, but also Wednesdayite’s can give whatever we can and hopefully get Mr. Wharton the head stone, or at least the recognition, I feel a fellow devout Wednesdayite deserves. Hopefully we can maybe start a crowd funding page? For just £5 a year membership you can also become a friend of the cemetery which will also go towards the general up keep of Wardsend plus other benefits for you. You can find the application form on the website. I wrote the above piece in early 2018 and it took the full 12 months before I can now finally write the ending to this story. After several meetings with Jason Dickinson, Howard Bayley and various others from friends of Wardsend, in The Gardeners Rest pub, we set out our plan for raising £1,500 for the headstone, top soil for the grave itself and a sign to be fitted at the cemetery entrance. Jason used his contacts at Sheffield Wednesday to get the club to put the crowdfunding page and story on the website and match day programme, which lead to the Wednesdayite group donating most of the money that was needed. The piece I wrote was also used in the Sheffield Telegraph newspaper on February 1st, and then in June, Jason gave an updated version to The Sheffield Star, once the money was raised.

At our final meeting we decided what was actually going to be wrote on the headstone and with huge thanks to Howard who organised it to be made and fitted, (no mean feat considering the cemetery is on the side of one of Sheffield’s many hills!) Exactly 12 months on from my first visit, the grave now has a headstone that I believe the Wharton family deserve, 85 years on from Tom’s death. A huge thank you must go to all who donated. With it only being a short walk from Hillsborough stadium, I paid my first visit since it was put in place and laid a bunch of flowers before Wednesday’s home game against Preston North End. A game that I’m sure old Tom would have been proud of, a workmanlike performance earned The Owls a 1-0 win, our first 3 points for a while.

Not the usual story and certainly not anything I ever thought I’d be involved in 1 year ago but I’ve made some great friends in Jason, Howard and the friends of Wardsend so I hope this is not the last time we all share a pint together in The Gardeners Rest pub. Do check out @WardsendCem on Twitter for forthcoming events in 2019, especially one on the 23rd of June. So many fascinating stories to be told of the people who have their final resting place here. Plus on going plans to turn this stretch of the bank on the River Don, part of the Don Valley Way, which is part of a 29 mile walk between Doncaster and Sheffield, with circular heritage trails along the way, but most importantly for me it leads to Kelham Island that in a morning has plenty of cafes that serve breakfasts and the best real ale pubs, a perfect way to end a stroll through nature in the middle of Europe’s greenest city.

Glenn Poulton (@PoultonOwl) 

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