NOTE: This article deals with Wakefield in the time before 1974 when it was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. In 1974 West Yorkshire replaced the West Riding and the city of Wakefield became a metropolitan borough, taking many smaller settlements in its general geographical area under its wing. A list of these places will be found below in the section "Modern Local Area".
Wakefield is the main settlement and administrative centre of the City of Wakefield, a metropolitan district of West Yorkshire, England. Located by the River Calder, on the eastern edge of the Pennines, the urban area is and had a population of 76,886 in 2001.
Wakefield was dubbed the "Merrie City" in the Middle Ages and in 1538 John Leland described it as, "a very quick market town and meately large; well served of fish and flesh both from sea and by rivers ... so that all vitaile is very good and chepe there. A right honest man shall fare well for 2d. a meal. ... There be plenti of se coal in the quarters about Wakefield".
The site of a battle during the Wars of the Roses and a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, Wakefield developed in spite of setbacks to become an important market town and centre for wool, exploiting its position on the navigable River Calder to become an inland port.
During the 18th century Wakefield continued to develop through trade in corn, coal mining and textiles and in 1888 its parish church, with Saxon origins, acquired cathedral status. The town became the county town and seat of the West Riding County Council in 1889 and the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Council from 1974 until it was dissolved in 1986. GENUKI provides a description of the ecclesiastical parish of Wakefield from a gazetteer from the 1820s. It was in the Agbrigg division of the Agbrigg and Morley Wapentake.
Modern Local Area
The City of Wakefield is a local government district in West Yorkshire, England, with the status of a city and metropolitan borough. Wakefield is the district's administrative centre. The district includes the "Five Towns" of
Other towns include
The name "Wakefield" may derive from "Waca's field" – the open land belonging to someone named "Waca" or could have evolved from the Old English word wacu, meaning "a watch or wake", and feld, an open field in which a wake or festival was held. In the Domesday Book of 1086, it was written Wachefeld and also as Wachefelt.
Flint and stone tools and later bronze and iron implements have been found at Lee Moor and Lupset in the Wakefield area showing evidence of human activity since prehistoric times. This part of Yorkshire was home to the Brigantes until the Roman occupation in 43 AD. A Roman road from Pontefract passing Streethouse, Heath Common, Ossett Street Side, through Kirklees and on to Manchester crossed the River Calder by a ford at Wakefield near the site of Wakefield Bridge. Wakefield was probably settled by the Angles in the 5th or 6th century and after 876 AD the area was controlled by the Vikings who founded twelve hamlets or thorpes around Wakefield. They divided the area into wapentakes and Wakefield was part of the Wapentake of Agbrigg. The settlement grew near a crossing place on the River Calder around three roads, Westgate, Northgate and Kirkgate. the "gate" suffix derives from Old Norse gata meaning road and kirk, from kirkja indicates there was a church.
Before 1066 the manor of Wakefield belonged to Edward the Confessor and it passed to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings. After the Conquest Wakefield was a victim of the Harrying of the north in 1069 when William the Conqueror took revenge on the local population for resistance to Norman rule. The settlement was recorded as Wachfeld in the Domesday Book of 1086, and covered a much greater area than present day Wakefield, much of which was described as "waste". The manor was granted by the crown to William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey whose descendants, the Earls Warenne, inherited it after his death in 1088. The construction of Sandal Castle began early in the 12th century. A second castle was built at Lawe Hill on the north side of the Calder but was abandoned. Wakefield and its environs formed the caput of an extensive baronial holding by the Warennes that extended to Cheshire and Lancashire. The Warennes, and their feudal sublords, held the area until the 14th century, when it passed to their heirs. Norman tenants holding land in the region included the Lyvet family at Lupset.
The Domesday Book recorded two churches, one in Wakefield and one in Sandal Magna. The Saxon church in Wakefield was rebuilt in about 1100 in stone in the Norman style and was continually enlarged until 1315 when the central tower collapsed. By 1420 the church was again rebuilt and was extended between 1458 and 1475. In 1203 William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey received a grant for a market in the town. In 1204 King John granted the rights for a fair at the feast of All Saints, 1 November, and in 1258 Henry III granted the right for fair on the feast of St John the Baptist, 24 June. The market close to the Bull Ring and the church. The townsfolk of Wakefield amused themselves in games and sports earning the title "Merrie Wakefield", the chief sport in the 14th century was archery and the butts in Wakefield were at the Ings, near the river.
In medieval times Wakefield became an inland port on the Calder and centre for the woollen and tanning trades. In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed creating the Aire and Calder Navigation which provided the town with access to the North Sea. The first Registry of Deeds in the country opened in 1704 and in 1765 Wakefield's cattle market was established and became the one of largest in the north of England. The town was a centre for cloth dealing with its own piece hall, the Tammy Hall, built in 1766. In the late 1700s Georgian town houses and St John's Church were built to the north of the town centre.
At the start of 19th century Wakefield was a wealthy market town and inland port trading in wool and corn. The Aire and Calder and Calder and Hebble Navigations and the Barnsley Canal were instrumental in the development of Wakefield as an important market for corn and more was sold here than at any other market in the north. Large warehouses were built on the river banks to store corn from Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire to supply the fast growing population in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Great quantities of barley were grown in the neighbourhood and in 1885 more malt was made in Wakefield "than in any district of equal extent in the kingdom". The market developed in the streets around the Bull Ring and the cattle market between George Street and Ings Road grew to be one of the biggest in the country. Road transport using turnpiked roads was important. Regular mail coaches departed to Leeds, London, Manchester, York and Sheffield and the 'Strafford Arms' was an important coaching inn. The railways arrived in Wakefield in 1840 when Kirkgate Station was built on the Manchester to Leeds line.
When cloth dealing declined, wool spinning mills using steam power were built by the river. There was a glass works in Calder Vale Road, several breweries including Melbourne's and Beverley's Eagle Breweries, engineering works with strong links to the mining industry, soapworks and brickyards in Eastmoor giving the town a diverse economy. Boats and sloops were built at yards on the Calder. On the outskirts of the town, coal had been dug since the 15th century and 300 men were employed in the town's coal pits in 1831. During the 19th century more mines were sunk so that there were 46 small mines in Wakefield and the surrounding area by 1869. The National Coal Board eventually became Wakefield's largest employer with Manor Colliery on Cross Lane and Park Hill colliery at Eastmoor surviving until 1982.
During the 19th century Wakefield became the administrative centre for the West Riding when many familiar buildings were constructed. The first civic building in Wood Street, the court house was built in 1810. The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum was built at Stanley Royd, just outside the town on Aberford Road in 1816. During the 19th century, the Wakefield Asylum played a central role in the development of British psychiatry, with Henry Maudsley and James Crichton-Browne amongst its medical staff. Most of it is now demolished. The old House of Correction of 1595 was rebuilt as Wakefield Prison in 1847. Wakefield Union workhouse was built on Park Lodge Lane, Eastmoor in 1853 and Clayton Hospital was built in 1854 after a donation from Alderman Thomas Clayton. The Mechanics Institute containing an Assembly Room, public library and newsroom supported by subscription was built in Wood Street in 1820-1821 in the Classical style with Ionic details. Wakefield Literary Society ran there from 1827 until the 20th century and its Geological Society left artefacts to Wakefield Museum. Up to 1837 Wakefield relied on wells and springs for its water supply, supply from the River Calder was polluted, and various schemes were unsuccessful until reservoirs on the Rishworth Moors and a service reservoir at Ardsley were built providing clean water from 1888. By 1885 the streets of the town were paved and flagged and lit with gas supplied by a company incorporated in 1822. Between 1870-1885 improvements were made on the north side of town around St John's Church now a conservation area.
On 2 June 1906, Andrew Carnegie opened a new Wakefield Library on Drury Lane which had been built with a grant of £8,000 from the Carnegie Trust.
There are seven ex-council estates in Wakefield which the council started to build after the First World War, the oldest is Portobello, the largest is Lupset and the rest are Flanshaw, Plumpton, Peacock, Eastmoor and Kettlethorpe. Homes not bought by occupants under the Right to Buy scheme were transferred to a registered social landlord, Wakefield and District Housing (WDH) in 2005. The outlying villages of Sandal Magna, Belle Vue and Agbrigg have become suburbs of Wakefield.
The glass and textile industries closed in the 1970s and 1980s and coal faced competition from alternative sources and demand decreased. Margaret Thatcher refused to subsidise coal production as in Eastern European countries and favour UK-mined coal as the national fuel which led to rapid local coal mine closures. Six pits within a two mile (3 km) radius of the city centre were closed between 1979 and 1983. At the time of the 1984 miners' strike there were 15 pits in the district and demonstrations of support took place in the city.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article City of Wakefield.