Wakefield

Picture credit: Dean Ward (IFY Community)

“Wakefield is a clean, large, well-built town, very populouse and very rich.”

– Daniel Defoe (18th Century writer)

Wakefield is a cathedral city in West Yorkshire with a population of almost 344,000 people. Situated nine miles south of Leeds on the River Calder, it’s most famous for its coal mining heritage, cathedral, and rhubarb. The city of Wakefield is also home to the largest high security prison in Western Europe.

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Wakefield Cathedral

One of Wakefield’s most outstanding features is its cathedral. This impressive structure can be found at the heart of the city centre and has the tallest spire in Yorkshire at 75 metres which can be seen for miles around.

Originally, Wakefield Cathedral was a parish church which has since changed over the centuries. Its many repairs and renovations has made this building into what we see today. In 2005, the cathedral was notably visited by The Queen when she arrived in the city for the Maundy Thursday service and money distribution ceremony. Many gathered within the city that day, travelling far and wide, for a glimpse of The Queen.

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Chantry Chapel of St Mary

Chantry Chapel is a much recognised building in Wakefield. It can be found alongside the modern day Wakefield Bridge next to the River Calder.

Originally, Chantry Chapel was built in the mid 14th Century. In 1847 and 1848, the upper part of the chapel was rebuilt due to damage, however the base of the building remains and is the original stonework. The chapel’s full name is Chantry Chapel of St Mary, but this Grade I listed building is more commonly known as Chantry Chapel.

Sandal Castle

The ruins of Sandal Castle were once the scene of many great battles. Picture credit: Anne Marie Fawcett (IFY Community)
The ruins of Sandal Castle were once the scene of many great battles. Picture credit: Anne Marie Fawcett (IFY Community)

Sandal Castle is a ruin that can be found just outside of the city and is most famous for being the location of the Battle of Wakefield during The War of the Roses in 1460. The battle is claimed to be the origins of nursery rhyme ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ which references Richard, the Duke of York, marching up the hill to Sandal Castle with his men before meeting his demise during the conflict.

A statue of the Duke can be found further down the hill opposite Castle Grove Park, also known as Portobello Park. It’s located just outside of Manygates Education Centre for people to visit.

Every year, a group re-enact the Battle of Wakefield. Starting at the cathedral in the city centre, the group walk to Sandal Castle before the battle begins. Many people attend this event by joining in with the walk or going straight to the castle to watch the battle.

Sandal Castle was also the site of another war. It was besieged by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War in 1642.

Like many castles in the region, Sandal Castle was built by the Normans. It was originally created as a place of power over the population, and used to defend the town due to its view of the area. After the Civil War, Sandal Castle was largely abandoned which led to it being stripped of its defences.

Part of the masonry wasn’t seen again until the 1960’s. Extensive excavations were carried out in the area which led to a number of historic findings.

Sandal Castle has a free car park – people are reminded not to park on the road here as both the paths and road are narrow. Visitors will also find a cafe that offers hot and cold food, and refreshments (dogs are welcome).

There’s a circular path around the castle with access to the castle ruins. Visitors can also climb the steps to the Keep platform where they can see for miles around, and even spot Emley Moor Mast.

Wakefield Museum

The Wakefield Museum was relocated from the edge of the city centre to the heart of the city. It charts the history of the area and its people dating back to prehistoric times up to the present day. Since it’s relocation, the museum has been revamped. In 2013, Sir David Attenborough opened it to the public.

Within the museum there are dedicated areas to each part of history. One of these is dedicated to locally born eco-warrior Charles Waterton. Charles was born in Walton Hall in Walton, not far from the city centre. Since then, Walton Hall has become part of Waterton Park Hotel and Spa.

As Charles grew older, he wrote a book about his findings called ‘Waterton’s Wanderings in South America’ which is said to have inspired both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Waterton was heavily into taxidermy and some of his work can be seen in the museum which includes a caiman crocodile that can be found beneath the floor.

Another exhibit is dedicated to rugby and includes a pair of rugby boots once worn by local rugby player Don Fox. Fox famously missed an ‘easy’ penalty kick during the 1968 Challenge Cup Final between Wakefield and Leeds.

National Coal Mining Museum

At nearby Overton is the National Coal Mining Museum. The museum opened in 1988 and is based at the former Caphouse Colliery.

Visitors are able to go on a guided tour of the mine shaft. There are also displays showing how coal was excavated from the earth by miners. Above the ground is a visitors centre. It features exhibitions which show the social history of mining communities, paddy trains – which were used to transport miners -, and pit ponies. There’s also a play area too.

At nearby Overton is the National Coal Mining Museum which opened in 1988 and is based at the former Caphouse Colliery. Visitors are able to walk around the area, discover how miners lived, and join a guided tour of the mine shaft.

There’s also displays in the visitors centre showing how coal was excavated. Visitors can also learn about the social history of mining communities, paddy trains – which were used to transport miners -, and visit the pit ponies.

Old miners volunteer at the National Coal Mining Museum and are more than welcome to answer any questions you may have. It truly is a wonderful place to visit with the whole family.

In 2011 the Hepworth Art Gallery opened to the public. Its building is located on the banks of the River Calder on the opposite side to Chantry Chapel and is known for its unusual appearance. The Hepworth is home to six galleries each influenced by local artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Other artists also have their work displayed here, however these change to allow new artists to be featured. Each display is linked and shows the development of Wakefield throughout the last 200 years.

After looking around the museum, visitors are able to walk around the garden. They will find seasonal flowers, plants, and sculptors.

Theatre Royal

The city of Wakefield is home to The Theatre Royal which was built in 1894. Throughout the year, the theatre shows a variety of plays, dramas, dance, and comedy shows as well as the annual pantomime.

Originally, it was known as ‘Theatre Royal and Opera House’ in the 1770’s, however during the 1920’s it began to compete against local cinemas which led to it closing in 1954. The building was then used as a picture house, and after that a Bingo Hall. In 1981, the building returned to its original purpose and reopened as ‘The Theatre Royal’.

Cinema’s in Wakefield

Wakefield is currently home to two cinemas within the city which are Cineworld and Reel. Cineworld has been open longer than Reel and has plenty of free parking. It also shared a retail park with Nandos, a bingo hall, and Pizza Hut. Surrounding this cinema are other retail parks with a variety of shops.

Reel is located in the Ridings Shopping Centre. Although smaller than Cineworld, this cinema is popular due to its much cheaper ticket prices. Visitors typically park within the shopping centres multi-storey car park and have their token validated after the film to receive free parking.

Both cinemas preview smaller films and shows as well as the more popular and anticipated. They each have showings of films in the morning for children.

Parks in Wakefield

Wakefield has many parks just outside of the city centre. These include: Thornes Park, Clarence Park, Holmfield Park, Pugneys Country Park, and Castle Grove Park.

Clarence Park hosts the annual Wakefield Music Festival which promotes local talent. It also hosts the annual classic car show, bonfire and fireworks display, and fair. More recently, thousands gather to participate in or support the Pretty Mudder Challenge which raises money for life saving cancer research.

Yorkshire forced rhubarb fields can be seen near Wakefield. Picture credit: Ian S
Yorkshire forced rhubarb fields can be seen near Wakefield. Picture credit: Ian S

Wakefield Prison

Wakefield Prison is the largest high security jail in Western Europe. It’s a Category A men’s prison which houses some of Britain’s most notorious criminals serving life sentences.  Nicknamed Monster Mansion, the prison was built in 1594 and was originally created as a house of correction.

Wakefield Prison is linked to the nursery rhyme “Here we go round the mulberry bush” which was written in Prison Governor RS Duncan’s 1994 book. It’s said that the exercise yard had a mulberry tree which inmates used to exercise around. In May 2019, the tree was cut down as it had died. A retired prison officer took a cutting of the tree and were hoping to regrow it.

Rhubarb Triangle

The city of Wakefield is also known for being the capital of the Rhubarb triangle. This stretches to Rothwell in the South, and Morley in the North.

Rhubarb is a native plant of Siberia. However, it has been discovered that the plant thrives in the cold wet winters of West Yorkshire. The plant spends two years in the fields and then transferred to a heated shed. Once it’s in the warm shed the plant is kept in darkness. During this time, the carbohydrates in the roots turn to glucose which gives the plant its distinctive flavour.

Since 2010, Yorkshire forced rhubarb achieved protection status in the EU. The area has since become the centre of worldwide forced rhubarb production.

This crop also plays a central role at Wakefield’s annual food and drink festival. The Rhubarb Festival is held every year in February and celebrates the crop while supporting local businesses. People all over Wakefield and surrounding areas anticipate the Rhubarb Festival which is arguably the largest event within the city.

In 2005, a sculpture of a rhubarb plant was constructed and can be found in Holmfield Park. It was created to commemorate the contribution rhubarb has added to this West Yorkshire city’s economy.

Travelling In & Out of Wakefield

Wakefield is well linked to other Yorkshire towns and cities by road. It lies between three major motorways which are the A1 to the East, M1 to the West, and the M62 to the North.

The city has also benefited from the A1-M1 link road which opened in 1999. This has provided easier access to North Yorkshire and also bypasses Leeds.

Like Bradford, the city of Wakefield also has two railway stations. These are called Wakefield Kirkgate and Wakefield Westgate.

Wakefield Kirkgate Railway Station

Wakefield Kirkgate is the oldest of the two. It opened in 1840 and is situated on the Manchester-Leeds line. The station provides services to major train stations such as London Kings Cross and Nottingham and runs to local places such as Leeds, Halifax, and Barnsley.

In the past, Kirkgate became run down and derelict. The station was also unstaffed however it was still operational. In 2008, part of the building collapsed onto a parked car which led to the station gaining a poor reputation for passenger safety.

A year later, Lord Adonis, the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement. He dubbed the station as the worst medium-large railway in Britain. Since then, Wakefield Kirkgate turned it around. Between 2013 and 2015, the station underwent a major renovation as part of the £4 million project to breathe new life into the area.

Now, Kirkgate is once again a popular train station. It has a cafe, retail outlet, meeting rooms, and units for new businesses.

Wakefield Westgate Railway Station

Wakefield Westgate first opened in 1856. Since then, the station was rebuilt and modernised with new facilities between 2009 and 2013.

Officially, the current Westgate station that’s in use today opened on the 3rd of February in 2014 and was built 300 yards north from the original. It’s now possible to reach London in less than two hours from Wakefield Westgate. This train service runs every half hour.

The station also provides services to other parts of England including Leeds, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh. Wakefield Westgate offers it’s passengers a choice of refreshment. Inside there is a Greggs, Costa, Subway, and a newsagent.

Education in Wakefield

The city of Wakefield has many educational facilities ranging from nursery schools to universities. In total there are 128 primary schools, 34 secondary schools, 22 sixth forms / colleges, and 164 universities.

Within the city centre is a public school for boys. This is called Queen Elizabeth I Grammar School which was founded in 1591. The school has former students who have gone on to become famous such as rugby player Mike Tindall, Andy Cato of Groove Armada, and football chairman Adam Pearson.

Colleges in Wakefield

Wakefield College was founded in 1868. It provides higher education in the city and has around 10,000 students currently studying there.

In the 1950’s it was known as Wakefield Technical College. This changed in the early 60’s to Wakefield Technical and Art College, and again in 1973 to Wakefield College of Technology and Arts. In total, there are currently two main campuses which are the Wakefield Campus and the Castleford Campus.

Wakefield Campus is both a college and a sixth form. Students here study AS and A levels in courses such as languages, ICT, and hospitality and catering. In 2008, Castleford Campus opened in Glasshoughton which replaced Whitwood Mining and Technical School.

The mining and technical school, more commonly known as Whitwood, opened during the 1930’s. It was only until February in 2009 that the school closed. Since then, this empty space has been put to use and is currently a housing estate.

The new campus in Castleford offers courses such as construction crafts, practical engineering, and hairdressing and beauty therapy.

Originally, Thornes Park Campus was part of Wakefield College and had courses in foundation learning, performing arts, and music. Since then, the campus has closed down and the building is now used as a community hub and is home to sports clubs.

Wakefield University

The city of Wakefield now has a university. This opened in 2017 and is next door to the Wakefield Campus in the city. Wakefield University offers many higher education courses including business management, criminology, and law.

Sport in Wakefield

The city’s most popular sport is Rugby. The Wakefield Trinity Wildcats are currently in the super league and play their home matches at Belle View Stadium. Wakefield Trinity Wildcats are more commonly known as Wakefield Trinity, or just Trinity, and were formed in 1873 by a group of men from Holy Trinity Church. This team was one of the original 22 clubs that broke away to form the Northern Union in 1895 after the famous meeting in Huddersfield.

Football in Wakefield is not as popular as Rugby League. Wakefield FC were originally the football team in the nearby village of Emley.

In the late 1990’s, Wakefield FC enjoyed a famous FA Cup run. They’re currently an amateur club who share the Belle Vue ground with the rugby team.

Wakefield’s Nightlife

Wakefield has a popular nightlife with plenty of pubs, clubs, and bars to choose from. The clubs and bars are mainly found at the top of town on Westgate and include some of the most popular such as Reflex, Truth, and Nocturno.

Wakefield has a famous pub crawl called the Westgate Run. People used to travel from all over to participate, there were even coach trips that came from across the county.

It starts at the bottom of Westgate and ends at Little Westgate at the top. People participating have to visit around 30 pubs in order to complete it – only the strong survive!

Shopping in Wakefield

Trinity Walk is the latest addition to Wakefield city centre. Picture credit: rtaylor848 wikipedia creative commons
Trinity Walk is the latest addition to Wakefield city centre. Picture credit: rtaylor848 wikipedia creative commons

Wakefield was once an extremely popular place to go shopping. Like everywhere else, it’s no longer as busy as it once was; however it does still boast some impressive shopping areas.

The Ridings

The Ridings opened on the 17th of October in 1983 and was one of the first in the UK. People travelled across Yorkshire to visit the new shopping centre and were even queuing to get in.

Currently, The Ridings has a cinema and is home to big chain shops such as Marks and Spencers, Boots, and Primark. It’s also home to several independent shops.

Trinity Walk

On the 6th of May in 2011, Trinity Walk opened in Wakefield. This shopping centre is partially enclosed allowing people to visit no matter the weather.

Trinity Walk is home to major stores such as Next, New Look, and Pandora. As a result, many jobs have been created within the city.

Wakefield Market

Wakefield Market was originally located outside of the bus station. In May 2008, a market hall was built. More recently, the market moved outside of the cathedral and is open Thursday to Saturday 8:30am to 4pm.

Since moving locations, the market hall has been put to other uses. It now hosts events including the Festival of the Moon.

Tileyard North

Tileyard North is a new addition to Wakefield’s Shopping areas. Located in a refurbished mill along the waterfront next to The Hepworth Art Gallery, it’s been created as the northern counterpart of Tileyard London.

The mill has been refurbished to contain music studios, office spaces, and workshops. It’s also home to bars and hopefully restaurants and cafes in the future. There’s also talk of a hotel being added here.

There is more to Wakefield than meets the eye. It’s an upcoming city that is continuing to improve and develop to create a brighter future.

History of Wakefield

Wakefield Bridge and chapel in 1793. Picture credit wikipedia Public domain
Wakefield Bridge and chapel in 1793. Picture credit wikipedia Public domain

Wakefield was originally known as Wacafield. The city has Anglo-Saxon origins and evidence of human activity has been found in the area which dates back to prehistoric times.

It’s widely believed that the Angles, from Germany, first sailed up the River Calder between the 5th and 6th century AD and settled in the are. The settlement was originally based around three roads which are: Westgate, Northgate, and Kirkgate.

Like many places in Yorkshire, Wakefield was a victim of William the Conqueror’s “Harrying of the North”. It was so severe that the land around Wakefield couldn’t be farmed for nine years.

Before the cathedral was built, Wakefield was a town. In the 1866 Domesday Book, the town was recorded as Wachfield.

A Norman church was built in the centre of the town along with Sandal Castle on its outskirts which would later form two of its most notable landmarks. Wakefield’s wealth started to grow. The town was granted a weekly cattle market and also the beginnings of trade routes on the River Calder. Both of these saw Wakefield start to become an important inland port. On the town’s outskirts, the first coal mines were also being sunk.

The most notable part of the town’s history came in 1460 when the Battle of Wakefield took place at Sandal Castle and Richard, the Duke of York, led the Yorkists. As the battle continued, the Yorkists were captured by the Lancastrians.

Many of the Lancastrians’ prisoners were held in a part of the Tower of London which has since become known as The Wakefield Tower. There was also a Parliamentarian attack on the town during the Civil War in 1643.

Wakefield’s position on the River Calder would prove to be a great advantage and became crucial to the town’s development and growing wealth. Unlike other Yorkshire towns, such as Halifax and Bradford, woollen mills were not built in Wakefield. The town lacked fast-flowing streams to operate the machinery.

As a result, Wakefield had to look underground. Rich coal seams and stone quarries were found which created the town’s wealth.

In 1699, the Aire-Calder navigation was created. This linked Wakefield to the Humber Estuary just outside of Goole.

Railways came to Wakefield in 1840. As a result, they increased the town’s ability to export goods and by 1869, 46 coal mines had been sunk and the town began to construct mills used for cloth making and wool powered by steam.

In the fields, the first batches of rhubarb were being grown. They were then transferred to dark sheds to complete their growing and create that distinctive flavour.

During this time, Wakefield became a cathedral city and the cathedral was built on the site of an ancient Anglo-Saxon parish church. After the Norman invasion, a new place of worship was built for the town. In the 15th Century, it was rebuilt, extended, and changed its name from All Hallows to All Saints Church.

Throughout the 18th and early 19th century it was neglected. Between 1858 to 1874, the current cathedral was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and his son John.

This cathedral was crucial to Wakefield as the town was able to gain city status in 1888. In 1953, it became a Grade I listed building. During this time, Wakefield became the administrative centre for West Yorkshire which was situated within the town hall.

Despite these achievements, the town’s development started to dip. It was failing to develop at the same rate as other nearby industrialised towns such as Leeds and Bradford.

The population increased in Wakefield by 9,000 people between 1800-1850. During the same period, Bradford’s population leapt from 6,000 to 182,000.

The coal industry in Wakefield however continued to flourish. Communities around the city soon became known as “pit villages” with the mines at their heart. Seven council estates were built around the outskirts of Wakefield after World War I which then expanded the city to its current size.

Wakefield was one of the places at the centre of the 1984 miner’s strike when the government wished to close many of the city’s fifteen active coal mines. The reasons given for this were based on the economy. As a result, mass strikes and demonstrations took place in the city opposing the closures.

For a little while after the mining closures, the city struggled to come to terms with the changes. High unemployment and poverty was reported in some of the old mining communities.

In more recent times, Wakefield has grown. It enjoyed mass regeneration of the city centre, modernised railway station, and the construction of Trinity Walk and Tileyard North.

These have all increased prosperity and the number of jobs in this industrial city. Wakefield continues to develop and further establish itself as a city of art and culture.

Wakefield Trivia

It is thought that Wakefield’s name is derived from ‘Wacca’s Field’ in Old English.

Wakefield first belonged to Edward the Confessor. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, it was then owned by William the Conqueror.

In 1089, Wakefield was laid to waste by the Normans in a savage event known as the “Harrying of the North”. This was a punishment for a northern uprising against Norman rule.

The Domesday book shows two churches were in the area. The one in Wakefield had originally been a Saxon building but this was replaced in 1100 by a stone built church in the Norman style.

In 1315, the church was wrecked when the central tower collapsed.

Wakefield was an inland port situated on the River Calder. It became a centre for the tanning and woollen trades.

Wakefield has a population of over 333,000 people.

In modern times Wakefield has a population of around three hundred and fifteen thousand people.

During the Middle Ages, Wakefield was known as the Merrie City.

Two nursery rhymes are said to originate from Wakefield. These are: Here we go round the mulberry bush and The grand old duke of York.