Much like York, a plethora of ghost stories and sightings come up in a casual Google search. But let’s cast the net a little wider and look at a range of stories from the Steel City.
Water gods? Boggards? Spring-Heeled Jack? Ghosts? It’s got the lot…
Water Gods in the River Don
Dr David Clarke notes that in the medieval era, the river Don (then the Dun) had its own rhyme;
the shelving, slimy river Dun
each year a daughter or a son.
He further notes that the 19th-century historian Joseph Hunter thought the rhyme may have referred to sacrifices made to the water gods.
Britpop band Pulp even fell under the sway of the legend. Talking about the river to the Guardian newspaper, guitarist Russell Senior confided that “me and Jarvis [Cocker] once went down the River Don in Sheffield, throwing money in the water to appease The Spirit.”
It’s not necessarily too far-fetched an idea. The name ‘Don’ comes from Dôn (or Danu). In Welsh legend, Dôn is the parent of Gwydion, Arianrhod, and Gilfaethwy. Peter Bartrum notes that while John Rhys assumes Dôn to be their mother, W.J. Gruffydd thought Dôn was their father (1993, p. 231).
Whatever the origin of the name, it does imply a connection between some form of water god/goddess and the river. And as we discovered in the discussion of the genius loci, sacrifices were often made to such a figure to keep them happy. Sacrifices could take the form of humans…and apparently did in this slice of Sheffield folklore.
Clarke explains more about the history of the Don here.
Boggards of Boggard Lane
According to local legends, Boggard Lane gets its unusual name from the boggards that lived there.
Boggards, also known as boggarts, appear in folklore across northern England. These mischevious sprites played pranks on farms or in houses, such as souring milk or unmaking beds. At the more extreme end, they could make dogs lame.
They often lived under bridges (not to be confused with trolls), but they also favoured chimneys and dangerous bends in the road for their homes.
A phantom woodworker apparently haunts one of the houses on the lane.
The Hillsborough Park Cinema Ghost
I came across the old Hillsborough Park Cinema a few times. The building was originally a cinema, a Star Bingo, a Netto supermarket and is now a branch of Asda.
One poster, codeyes, told a chilling tale of a ghost in the building during its life as a bingo hall. (Note I’ve fixed the typos from the original post).
In 1969, I worked evenings at the Park Cinema […] One of my jobs at the end of the night was to go upstairs to the Circle ( which was no longer used) and turn out all the lights ( some of which were the old gaslights).
One evening as I was going into one of the upstairs corridors from the Main Circle to turn out the corridor lights I felt a rush of cold air and an overpowering smell of violets and the gas light on the wall blew out. I had a torch so apart from freaking a bit at the initial shock I “calmly” ran out.
The poster also notes a tale of a young woman who disappeared in the area (or was murdered). Female ghosts often conjure flowery scents (like the Grey Lady of the Assembly Rooms) so perhaps she didn’t go too far from the cinema.
And that’s not the only story about the building.
On Cinematreasure.org, user horrorbabe explains… (Note I’ve fixed the typos from the original post).
God it was a spooky place upstairs; we often had encounters with the ghost that haunted it and he would often let us know he was there. Upstairs we had our canteen and toilets and every morning and evening we had to go down a passage pass the balcony entrance to open a fire door at the bottom of some fire escape stairs. Really scary! You always felt like someone was watching you but I was there for 5 years and could write a book on the experiences we had with Alfrid the ghost, a man dressed in a black suit wearing a large brimmed black hat.
According to Haunted Yorkshire, people reported hearing a child’s screams after the store was closed. The story goes that a child fell to their death from a balcony (presumably during its life as a cinema). Yet there’s no obvious way to link a child, a man in black, and a missing woman.
If anyone has heard any other versions, please comment and let me know!
Sheffield’s Spring-Heeled Jack
Spring-Heeled Jack is a fascinating figure from Victorian England. Having terrorised London in the 1830s, Spring-Heeled Jack reappeared in April and May 1873 in Sheffield. In such Sheffield folklore, he’s also known as “the Park Ghost”. Mostly because sightings place him in the Park area of the city.
What’s really weird is that more sightings cluster around the Attercliffe area in the 1970s! Stories often describe his cloven feet and red eyes, and his ability to jump 30 feet in the air appears in the London variants too.
In one story, two police officers chased a man who’d been travelling across the roofs in the Attercliffe area. The man walked up a wall and escaped across the rooftops. No one ever discovered the identity of the figure and Sheffield Arena now stands on the site.
Who knows if the 1970 reports are real? And if so…who was he?
Two Attercliffe ghosts?
I searched the British Newspaper Archives for mentions of such Sheffield folklore, but stumbled across another ghost story from the area in January 1910. William Cupid lived with his wife, three children and two brothers-in-law at 37 Candow Street in the Attercliffe area. They were “disturbed by a series of nerve-destroying incidents, by which, by a steady but sure progress, all the crockery and breakable things in the house have been completely demolished.”
Apparently, “the supernatural symptoms” vanished if anyone lit a match or candle. The family even called the police and when they entered, “fearing naught”, they saw “a number of plates smashed, a table turned over on its side, and a walking stick [that] walked.”
The family left the house, unwilling to tolerate the disturbances. But according to an article in Sheffield Evening Telegraph, the following day, they consented to “a little seance held in a neighbour’s house”. The clairvoyant claimed to see a man and a woman. Hearing the description, Cupid’s mother declared the figures to be her husband’s parents. The clairvoyant considered the matter closed, and given the Cupid family didn’t return, it’s difficult to know what to make of the story.
The Dark Side of Sheffield Folklore
All cities end up accumulating their own folklore. Ghost stories particularly crop up and get attached to specific areas. The appearance of a Spring-Heeled Jack type figure in Sheffield is more unusual than most. Though the boggards and water gods are more common.
Just be careful if you visit the city and pass down Boggard Lane. Keep an eye out behind you if you roam around Attercliffe. And be careful if you walk along the Don. Who knows what greedy eyes may follow your progress?
Bartrum, Peter (1993), A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, Cardiff: The National Library of Wales.
Sheffield Evening Telegraph (1910), ‘Ghost Stalking: More Tales of Attercliffe’s Ogre’, January 12, p. 3.
Yorkshire Telegraph and Star (1910), ‘Attercliffe Ghost’, January 10, p. 5.
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