Dark River and Sheffield Spooks

The nights are drawing in, Hallowe’en is approaching and traditionally this is the time for all things supernatural.

Sacred to Death and other Victorian ghost stories from Sheffield (credit: Fortean Times/Dennis publishing)

Sheffield has a rich folklore of ghost stories and superstitions and this autumn Steel City will play host to a range of spooky events including England’s largest Hallowe’en-fest, Fright Night, held in the city centre from 3.30-8.30 on Sunday 28 October.

To kick off the festival of spookiness writer Carolyn Waudby and artist Michael Hutchinson will be presenting Dark River at Kelham Island Industrial Museum at 3 PM on Sunday, 14 October as part of the Off the Shelf festival of words (tickets available from Crucible Theatre box office, Sheffield, or online here). The event takes place in a haunted part of the museum. Poems inspired by the mysterious past of the River Don will be complemented by the screening of images inspired by the project. The poems draw upon mythology, superstition and the folklore of plants and are written in different voices including that of a corpse on its way to Wardsend cemetery. The river Don was once known as the Dun (or dark river) and in medieval times was associated with a sinister rhyme:

the shelving, slimy river Dun

each year a daughter or a son.

In the 19th century the historian Joseph Hunter speculated that the rhyme may have referred to a time when animal or human sacrifices were offered to the water gods. More recently, in an article published by The Guardian, Pulp band-member Russell Senior mentioned that he and Jarvis Cocker once threw money into the river to appease The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (a hooded figure who appeared in a scary 1970s public information film to warn children of the dangers of playing near water).

Following this on Sunday 28 October sees both the Fright Night extravaganza, which attracted more than 40,000 visitors last year, and a poetry reading on the legend of highwayman Spence Broughton. The latter event takes place at the atmospheric Hill Top Chapel at Attercliffe, close to the site of the gibbet where Broughton’s body was displayed for 36 years after his execution at York in 1792. For the Off the Shelf festival Rob Hindle will be reading his poem sequence The Purging of Spence Broughton. Ticket details are available from the festival website.

On Hallowe’en night, 31 October, storyteller Marion Heywood will be entertaining an audience at the Lantern Theatre, Nether Edge, with folk tales, legends and traditions of South Yorkshire. These include the haunting tale of the Green Lady of Firbeck, the Hand of Glory and the mysterious boggard. Again, full details of the event and how to book tickets can be found on the festival website.

Last but not least, on Bonfire Night I will be presenting a preview of a new writing project based on my research into 19th century ghost stories on Monday, 5 November, in a talk for the Bradfield Historical Society.

Scared to Death and other ghost stories from Victorian Sheffield, will tell the story of a woman who died from fright after a close encounter with a spectre  in a city centre cellar and detail the exploits of Sheffield’s most famous spook, the infamous Spring-heeled Jack, who terrorised residents during the 1870s. The talk, at Bradfield parish hall, starts at 7.30 and more details can be obtained from secretary Malcolm Nunn, here.

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One Response to Dark River and Sheffield Spooks

  1. LEE TIMMINS says:

    Broughton was a footpad – not a highwayman.

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