Sinister stories and tragic tales of the Don Catchment

Read our collection of forgotten folklore, tragic tales and sinister stories from the riverside. Dare you visit?

The Ghost of the Ship Inn

Sheffield’s Ship Inn, found in Shalesmoor near the river Don, was very nearly destroyed by the terrible flood of 1864, caused when Dale Dyke dam burst it’s banks. The disaster tragically killed hundreds of people and devestated the city and beyond.

A plaque outside the Ship Inn states “During the Sheffield Flood of 1864 two seamen drowned without a trace in the secret tunnels beneath the inn. These tunnels led to the river and sightings of a ghost is believed to be one of these men”.

Where are the tunnels from the story? Many of Sheffield’s rivers flow under tunnel-like culverts which allowed the city to be built atop it’s rivers, the most well-known being the Megatron that flows under the railway station. Another idea is the men may have been smugglers, using tunnels specifically built to carry goods to and from the pub.

The Sheffield 1864 Flood Memorial by the River Don

A Ghost Story from the Moss Valley,
written by Celia Jackson

It seems that Never Fear Dam was so named since at least 1795 due to a local tale that a group of sicklemakers from the nearby village of Ridgeway were walking home through some woods beside the dam one night (this could have been Twelve Acre Wood off the woods on Bower Cinder Hill) when they saw a ghost coming towards them. They were horrified but the ghost, which on passing them, spoke to the men, saying “Never Fear” as it disappeared into the darkness.

In my imagination I often think of the ghost as a lady draped in grey, uttering with a sing-song voice the words “ Never Fear, Never Fear” to the rowdy sicklemakers, in a reassuring manner!

The source of my information immediately to hand is a paragraph in a small booklet entitled “The Waterwheels of Ridgeway & Hackenthorpe” written by the, I believe, deceased local historian T. L. Platts, known locally as Leslie Platts. Also I am certain that I read the original story in a book written by Sir George Sitwell of Renishaw Hall – this book entitled “Tales of my Native Village”. I remember this book, written I believe in the 19th Century, beautifully bound and illustrated. This was about thirty or forty years ago!

Regional explanation
It is very damp around Never Fear Dam and perhaps the sicklemakers of ridgeway on their way home may have encountered and wraith of mist or low cloud traveling through the woodland. Could it be that it being night time they may have imbibed over generously at the hostelries within Eckington, who knows, they could also have been exhausted after a long hard day of labour. Still it makes a good story, and in the middle of the Moss Valley, it would have been an eerie and spine-chilling experience.

The Tragedy of Bell Pond

Taken from the 1850 book ‘Sprotbrough’, author John George Fardell describes a sinister-feeling pond near the river Don and how it got it’s name…

“Its character now is distinctly marked. It is without form, if not void; amid a confusion of shapes; mysterious, amid a brood of mysteries. Its waters know no current – they are mute, motionless, death-like, fearful; they are deep and appalling, but contain the soul of hidden mysteries; they are surrounded by a host of goodly trees, which have undergone no change from generation to generation; they are peculiar in their character; they are strangers among strangers, yet faithful to their purpose; they are aged among the aged, yet bid defiance to storm or hurricane; they are safely anchored to the banks by countless cables, gnarled and twisted and tough. Indeed the pond possesses the same reputation as a haunted house; and therefore the inference may be drawn that some historic deed, some adventure, some misfortune, is associated with Bell Pond”.

The author continues explaining the misfortune of Bell pond. In 1685 an orphan, Isabella Dumas, came to Sprotbrough, described as adorned with surpassing beauty and loveliness. She fell in love with the youngest son of a Catholic family and married him, renouncing her protestant beliefs and embracing a new faith. In so doing she lost all her old friends and shortly after her lover, in the Navy, lost his life. Having lost everything, she found refuge with a local family, but her days were written to be full of sadness and anguish, as she wandered Conisbrough forest alone…

“At length she was missing; instant search was made for her in every conceivable direction, and by every available means. ‘Twas all in vain. In the course of short time, however, the secret was laid open. She had drowned herself in Bell Pond. Her corpse was taken from it’s hiding place and immediately interred, without inscription or headstone in the churchyard at Sprotbrough. From that mournful period these dark waters bore the name of Isabelle Pond…”

Sacrifices to the Don

Sheffield folklore expert, Dr David Clarke, suggests that in the medieval era the river Don had it’s own nursery rhyme:

The shelving, slimy river Dun
Each year a daughter or a son.

Perhaps this sinister sounding couplet refers to young children accidentally falling into the dangerous river’s currents. Alternatively, 19th-century historian Joseph Hunter suggested that the rhyme may have referred to human sacrifice. In fact, there is a theory that human sacrifice is referenced to in another, more well-known, children’s rhyme (this time the setting is the river Thames):

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

There are many theories for the meaning of this old song, but according to Alice Bertha Gomme, a leading British folklorist, the song and accompanying game (where two children trap another in between them) could refer to human sacrifice. There are theories that the practise of entombing children alive in bridge’s foundations may have occurred throughout the UK, where people may have once believed bridges would collapse without this horrifying ritual.