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A Very Cinematic History

January 25, 2010

So, recently I’ve wanted to find out a little more about some particulars of our local history. If I’m honest I’ve never been much of a history buff – I know what I know and I tend to only look into political history of the working class these days (comes with the territory). However, one thing’s for sure – the rich and the elite have the best stories. Perhaps it’s something to do with the opulence of food that’s too rich, and strong alcohol, but the best horror movies are always set in mansions, no?

So, rooting around on Sheffield History, I stumbled across references to one Horatio Bright. Never heard of him? A quick Google soon brings up this excellent history from a guy that looks to be a local genealogist with an interest in ‘characters’ of the area. I will soon be heading to the archives at Sheffield Library myself to see the real deal of this – and account of the man’s funeral. But why did it catch my eye?

Well, I saw the following report printed on Sheffield Forum, and had to take a closer look.

On 3rd February 1906, one of Sheffield’s most eccentric characters died. Horatio Bright was interred, without fuss or religious ceremony, in a mausoleum that he had constructed some years previously to house the remains of his first wife and son. In the early hours of the morning, Bright,s remains were carried, in a cab, from the family home at Lydgate Hall, Crosspool to his resting place at Hollow Meadows. There were no mourners, only the undertaker and the mausoleum’s caretaker witnessed the interment. His estate was valued at £137,000, but his will shocked Sheffield as not a single penny was left to good causes in the city. The trustees of the will were specifically instructed to give nothing to Sheffield charities.

Horatio Bright came from a wealthy family of Jewish jewellers and had been a prominent figure in the iron and steel industry. He started out as a representative for Turton Bros & Mappin and was so successful that he married the daughter of Thomas B Turton.Bright’s firm of Turton, Bright & Co made high quality dies for the Royal Mint. He exhibited a stubborn streak and was reputed to be a harsh taskmaster, although his employees were paid higher than average wages. He lived up to his wealth and indulged his passion for horses. He often took the reins of a splendidly turned-out coach and four, accompanied by out-riders in livery, to welcome guests to Lydgate Hall.

A double tragedy struck the family in 1891, when in the space of five months, both Bright’s wife and only son died. Both were interred, without religious ceremony, in a specially built mausoleum, the interior of which was sumptuously furnished and contained a small organ. Bright had been determined to carry out the last rites himself and this gave rise to gossip and speculation that he had abandoned all his religious beliefs. Bright visited the mausoleum regularly; playing the organ while his groom dusted the coffins and other furniture. Remarkably, his wife’s coffin contained a glass window so that Bright could gaze on her face. The tragedy took away all his interest in outside affairs and for the last ten years of his life he devoted little time to his business.

His death and burial attracted little interest in the local press, indeed Bright had left strict instructions that neither his life, career nor burial were to be given publicity.

The story took another strange twist. In1983 a report in the Sheffield Star highlighted the plight of the Bright Mausoleums at Hollow Meadows.In January there had been a break-in; grave robbers smashed their way through a half-inch thick steel door and ransacked the coffins inside. The police were working on the theory that the vandals believed there were valuables interred with the deceased. The trustees who looked after the Mausoleum and its surroundings were unsure if anything had been taken. The City Council wanted to deter further such attacks and asked the Home Office for permission to remove the human remains – this was refused. After a number of other attempted desecrations permission was finally given for the bodies to be exhumed and they were re-buried in Crookes Cemetery where a simple headstone marks the final resting place of one of Sheffield’s great eccentrics.

Here is a picture of the ruined mausoleum pulled from Chris's site, I believe he was sent the photos from the estate owner.

So, already at risk of plagiarising what is a fantastic report from Chris Hobbs on this local character, I’d invite you to check out his site.

For myself, I was genuinely chilled. Perhaps I have quite an active imagination, perhaps it reminded me of one too many poor quality horror movies (I’m always too scared to watch the modern ones). The thought of a man playing an organ alone in a mausoleum with a glass coffin…

So, a great find in a local history website, and a true story I can’t quite believe I never knew about. Sheffield – you’re full of surprises.


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