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 with a population of almost 344,000 people. This West Yorkshire city is 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 has the tallest spire in Yorkshire at 75 metres and can be seen for miles around.

Originally, it was a parish church which has since changed over the centuries. Repairs and renovations made it into what we see today. In 2005, Wakefield Cathedral was visited by The Queen when she arrived for the Maundy Thursday service and money distribution ceremony.


Chantry Chapel of St Mary

Chantry Chapel is a much recognised building in Wakefield. It can be found by the River Calder on the side of the modern day Wakefield Bridge.

Originally, Chantry Chapel was built in the mid 14th Century. Currently, the base of the chapel is the original stonework however the upper part was rebuilt between 1847 and 1848. The Chapel’s full name is Chantry Chapel of St Mary. However, this Grade I listed building is often just called 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 on the edge of the city. It’s most famous for being the scene 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. It references Richard, the Duke of York, who died in the conflict. 

A statue of the Duke can be found down the road opposite Castle Grove Park. It’s located just outside of Manygates Education Centre.

The 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, it was built by the Normans. The castle was created as a place of power over the population and defence of the town. After the civil war, Sandal Castle was largely abandoned. This led to it being stripped of its defences.

Some of the masonry wasn’t seen again until the 1960’s. Extensive excavations were carried out which resulted in a number of findings.

At the castle there is a free car park. Visitors will also find a cafe that offers refreshments and views of Sandal Castle. There are steps which visitors are able to climb that will lead them to the top of the keep platform. Up there they will find miles of views and even be able to spot Emley Moor Mast.

Wakefield Museum

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

Within the museum there are dedicated areas. One of these is dedicated to locally born eco-warrior Charles Waterton. Charles was born in Walton Hall in Walton, Wakefield. Since then, Walton Hall has become part of Waterton Park Hotel and Spa.

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

Another exhibit includes a pair of rugby boots. These were worn by local rugby player Don Fox. Fox famously missed an easy penalty kick during the 1968 Challenge Cup Final. The game was 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.

In 2011, the Hepworth Art Gallery opened. The building is located on the banks of the River Calder and has an unusual appearance. The Hepworth is home to six galleries. These are influenced by local artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Other artists are also displayed however these change to allow new artists to be featured. Each display however shows the development of Wakefield throughout the last 200 years. There is also a garden at the museum which is free for all to enjoy. Within the garden are seasonal flowers, plants, and also sculptors.

Theatre Royal

Wakefield is home to The Theatre Royal which was built in 1894. It 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 was competing against cinemas and ended up closing in 1954. The building then became a picture house and after that a Bingo Hall. In 1981, it was returned to its original purpose and reopened as The Theatre Royal.

Cinema’s in Wakefield

Cineworld has been open longer than Wakefield’s other cinema, Reel. It has plenty of free parking and shares a retail park with Nandos, a bingo hall, and Pizza Hut.

Reel is located in the Ridings Shopping Centre. It’s smaller than Cineworld and cheaper. Visitors also get free parking when they have been to see a film.

Both cinemas preview smaller shows as well as the popular and anticipated films. There are also showings of kids films in the morning.

Parks in Wakefield

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

Clarence Park hosts the annual Wakefield Music Festival. This places an emphasis on promoting local talent. It also hosts the annual classic car show, bonfire and fireworks display, and a fair. It’s also now the home to 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. Originally it was created as a house of correction.

Wakefield Prison is linked to the nursery rhyme “Here we go round the mulberry bush”. It 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. They’re hoping to be able to regrow it.

Rhubarb Triangle

The city of Wakefield is also known for being the capital of the Rhubarb triangle. This stretches to Rothwell 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. After this time it is 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 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. In 2005, a sculpture of a rhubarb plant was constructed in Holmfield Park. It was created to commemorate its contribution to the 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 town 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. It also 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. As a result, this 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 is in use today opened on the 3rd of February in 2014. The new station 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. These include 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. This ranges 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. These students include 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. These 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. This campus 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 space has been put to use. It’s currently a housing estate which is the home to many.

The 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. It had courses in foundation learning, performing arts, and music. Since then, the campus has closed down. 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. These include 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 Wildcats. They were formed in 1873 by a group of men from Holy Trinity Church.

This team was one of the original 22 clubs. They 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. People often visit Wakefield rather than the more popular Leeds as it’s cheaper and more accessible.

The clubs and bars are mainly found at the top of town on Westgate. Some of the most popular include 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. This shopping centre was one of the first in the UK. People travelled across Yorkshire to visit the new shopping centre. They 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 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.

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. It’s 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

Currently, the mills on the waterfront are being refurbished. Once finished this area will be called Tileyard North which is the Northern version of Tileyard London.

There are plans for these refurbished mills to have office spaces, workshops, and music studios. It’s also being designed to have restaurants, bars, cafes, and a hotel.

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. It was during this time that they settled in the area. The settlement was originally based around three roads. These 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. These formed 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. This was when the Battle of Wakefield took place at Sandal Castle. 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. This has since become known as The Wakefield Tower. There was also a Parliamentarian attack on the town. This happened during the Civil War in 1643.

Wakefield’s position on the River Calder would prove to be a great advantage. It 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. The town also began to construct mills. These were powered by steam and used for cloth making and wool.

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. 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 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. This 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 continued to flourish. Communities around Wakefield 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. This expanded the city to its current size.

Wakefield was one of the places at the centre of the 1984 miner’s strike. 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, 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 work towards its very bright future.

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.