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Excursion to Hucknall and Newstead Abbey 10th May


Our first coach outing of the summer was blessed with sunshine. We were greeted at St Mary Magdalene, Hucknall, and told about the church and its twenty fine Kempe stained glass windows. These were the gift of a wealthy benefactor, Canon John Godber, who also gave three 'Opus Sectile' wall panels which are made from pieces of coloured glass cut into tiles.

A dedication to Lord Byron, the poet, placed there by his sister Augusta, marks the vault where he is buried, below the flags near the pulpit. In the same vault is his daughter Ada Lovelace, known as a pioneer of computer software and a colleague of Charles Babbage. Although she never met her father, she was fascinated by him and wished to be buried with him.

Following lunch, many of us chose to see the statue erected to the memory of the miners and mining industry. Showing a miner standing on his lamp, it is the tallest in Nottinghamshire.

In the afternoon we were given a guided tour of Newstead Abbey the home of Byron who lived there between 1806 and 1814. Our entertaining guide described the past history of Newstead, which was a priory of Austin canons granted to Sir John Byron in 1540. After a period of prosperity, the fifth Lord Byron was a profligate character who reduced Newstead to ruins. So when the sixth Lord Byron (the poet) inherited, he restricted himself to furnishing a few rooms for his own comfort, using the larger rooms for his sporting activities - boxing, fencing and pistol practice. His bear, wolf and numerous dogs kept him company. Many artefacts related to Byron are displayed in the house, including his bed.

The house was eventually sold in 1817 to Thomas Wildman who spent £100,000 on restoring and altering the house. Following his death in 1859 the house was sold to William Frederick Webb an African explorer and friend of David Livingstone. It stayed in the family until it was sold to Sir Julien Cahn who presented it to Nottingham Corporation in 1931.

Before leaving Newstead we had a little time to investigate the extensive gardens and grounds.

The funeral of John Goodchild

John Goodchild

John Goodchild talking at Chantry Chapel in 2013

On the afternoon of 31st January 2017 the funeral of John Goodchild, our Vice-President, was held in Westgate Unitarian Chapel. The chapel was quickly filled with members of our Society and other local and family history societies. They were joined by professionals from various Museum and Archive services in the region. Members of his Chapel and other Unitarians led the hymns, and there were many friends from his masonic lodge. John was so widely known in the area that other members of the public who had long enjoyed his books and lectures, or sought his help with research attended too.

The Rev. W.J. Darlinson MA officiated at the service. He explained that John had chosen the hymns and readings and had written his own eulogy which was read partly by his partner, Alan Hughes, and partly by Richard Knowles, a close friend. Historian to the end, John detailed his life, describing his early interest in collecting documents and artefacts which remained a lifetime passion, but we were also surprised and sometimes amused by stories from John's life as a young man. The tone was honest and sometimes self-deprecating, and it became clear that his faith had always been central in his life. Towards the end of the service people were invited to share their memories of him.

John had been granted honorary life membership of our Society and had served on our Council for many years. He was always ready to give talks on his latest research at our meetings and, until recent years, to lead walks in the area. He never ceased to share his huge enthusiasm for the local history of this town and region, and to enrich our knowledge with his depth of understanding of our past.

You can read John's own account of his life, read at his funeral: John Fletcher Goodchild 1935-2017

We were pleased to talk to other local groups, and visitors to our stall were particularly interested in the Wakefield Historical Publications books that had a mining connection.

Meeting with Nicole Harding

nicole Harding

Some members of the Society worked with Hudderfield University PhD student, Nicole Harding, in the Hepworth on two recent Monday afternoons. Nicole was one of the speakers at the Society's Day Conference on the Chantry Chapel and Bridge last October.

The group explored aspects of the Gott Collection, which contains over 1,200 images of Yorkshire put together in the nineteenth century by two generations of the Gott family of Leeds. It was presented to Wakefield Art Gallery in 1930 by Frank Green, a Yorkshire industrialist and philanthropist. All the images can be accessed on the Hepworth website.

Nicole led a variety of activities and discussions relating to the nature of the collection and its organisation, and the group compiled their own small set of images of Wakefield.

Visit to the new West Yorkshire History Centre in Wakefield, 23 November 2016

search rooms history centre

A small group of Wakefield Historical Society members joined the West Yorkshire Archive Service network groups to see round the new centre which is due to open in February 2017. We were introduced to the centre by Anna Carter, Audience Engagement and Learning Coordinator, who described the facilities that would be provided to the public, both individuals and groups. David Morris, the archivist, explained some of the complexities of moving the collection from the previous building, and the benefits of the new building.

We were then split into two groups to see the search rooms, the storage area, and the conservation studio. A large area, with exhibition space, a sitting area, and facilities to obtain drinks and snacks will greet visitors as they enter. A meeting room will be available for groups. The general enquiries area houses the indexes to the Registry of Deeds, computers and new digital fiche and film readers. The large, secure search room next to it, has new furniture and a large map table.  Researchers will be encouraged to pre-order documents so that they can be brought into a controlled environment before being issued. Smaller rooms will be available for groups who are researching together. There is a new reprographic system for copying documents.

The collection itself is on the upper floor, in a controlled environment, and sorted by type, so that maps are housed together, large documents housed together, etc. The collection has been bar-coded over the previous year.  The rolling stacks are manual as powered ones tend to break down.

The conservation studio is light and spacious, and there is a large map wall, at the moment displaying a long poster advertising the opening of Wakefield Town Hall in 1880, which is in the process of conservation. The conservator explained that they work on documents from all the West Yorkshire Archives, and also do paid work for outside agencies. They monitor the environmental conditions in the Archives, and advise exhibitions and members of the public.

We look forward to February when we shall be able to enjoy our new state-of-the-art facility.






Network Group Meeting 17 May

Wakefield Historical Society were hosts to the Network Group Meeting held at the West Yorkshire History Centre in Wakefield on 17 May. This group includes organisations throughout West Yorkshire who meet under the aegis of West Yorkshire Archives. Amongst the groups attending were Martin House Hospice Archive (Boston Spa), Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group (Keighley), Hebden Bridge Local History Society, Friends of Beaumont Park (Huddersfield), Rastrick Local History Group, Morley Community Archive Group, the Knitting and Crochet Guild from Holmfirth, and the Low Moor Local History Group (Bradford)

Phil Judkins, the Society's Secretary and Shirley Levon were introduced by Helen Chatterton, West Yorkshire Archives Audience Engagement and Learning Officer. Phil described our present project: 'Wood Street: Heart of Wakefield' and delivered a presentation showing some of the history of the street and the buildings that existed on it, both past and present. Shirley gave an account of events in the Music Saloon from its opening in 1823 until it was bought by the Mechanics Institute in 1855. Phil presented research done by John Seacome, (who was not able to attend), on the architect Charles Watson who designed many Wakefield buildings including the Courthouse. The talk was concluded by Phil describing a walk that the Victorian novelist George Gissing would have taken as a young child in 1865 from his home in Thompson's Yard, Westgate to the Mechanics' Institute.

We enjoyed meeting these very varied groups and were inspired by their enthusiasm to preserve and conserve their histories.

Donation to the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel

donation to Chantry chapel

When we arranged the one day conference 'Wakefield's Medieval Bridge and Chantry Chapel in September 2016 in memory of Kate Taylor, we offered to donate any profit to the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel, to help continue the sterling work done by Kate as their Chairman, raising funds and arranging repairs.

In the event the conference was very well attended, The Hepworth allowed us the use of the conference room free of charge and most of the speakers didn't take a fee. So we were very pleased to be able to hand over a cheque for £500 recently to Kate's successor as Chairman of the Friends, David Royston. This year sees the quinquennial review of the Chapel, which will form the basis for the next phase of work at the chapel.

'lest we forget' at the National Mining Museum

WW1 at Mining

On 11th February Wakefield Historical Society were at the National Coal Mining Museum for England who were running an event in partnership with the Parish of Middlestown with Netherton as part of the project ‘A Parish At War’.

The programme of talks included Sue McGeevor and Cyril Pearce, who looked at the effects of war on personal lives from Women’s Auxiliary Movement to 1914 – 1918 war resisters (Conscientious Objectors). Dr Rebecca Gill spoke about Belgian refugees who settled around Huddersfield and Middlestown and Elaine Merckx and Neal Rigby described the role of Wakefield Grammar School Foundation in the Great War. Adrian Barlow, from the Kempe Trust gave a talk on stained glass artist Charles Eamer Kempe, whose work can be seen in several parish churches in Yorkshire including Wakefield Cathedral. Local stained glass artist Adam Goodyear gave demonstrations of the craft.

visit to the new West yorkshire History centre in wakefield 7 february 2017


It is a busy week for the new West Yorkshire History Centre. On the evening of Tuesday 7th February the Centre in Kirkgate had a formal opening at which our Society was represented. There were speeches including one by the historian Michael Wood.  On Saturday 11th there is an Open Day and next Monday, 13th February, the building will be open for business.

On Thursday 9th February nearly thirty members of our Society attended a preview tour of the Centre. David Morris, archivist at Wakefield, and Anna Carter, audience engagement and learning coordinator, welcomed us. David told us about their work over the last five years in meeting the requirements for HLF funding, planning the new building, executing the complex move across town from Margaret Street and distributing the documents in the new building. David also explained the way in which the archive collection of our former Vice President, John Goodchild had been incorporated into these plans during these years. Anna described the many ideas generated for reaching out to the public and we were encouraged to take booklets about the centre and future events and talks.

We were then taken on a tour of the whole building including the main reception area and its displays, the search room, the upstairs document storage floors with controlled environment, and the conservation room.

We are very grateful to the staff of the Centre for this opportunity and for the warm welcome they gave us. We are sure that both the Society and individual members will find ways to make use of this wonderful new facility.

Christmas meeting
Wood Street: the heart of wakefield

Xmas 16 meeting

We were pleased to welcome our members, and a good number of visitors to our Christmas meeting, and the mood was set with a glass of wine and a mince pie. The meeting was based round our present Wood Street project. Phil Judkins entertained us with some interesting and little known events that took place there in the past, including an election riot and a balloon ascent. Pam Judkins showed us, using maps and photographs, how the area had developed, and its changing use.

Following these presentations we were asked to record any particular memories we had, and to share them with each other. Animated conversations followed!

It was the first time that the Society has met at the Elizabethan Gallery, and the spacious and pleasant room led to a convivial atmosphere.

More information: Wood Street: the Heart of Wakefield

Day Conference on 1st October at The Hepworth: Wakefield's Medieval Bridge and Chantry Chapel


The day conference was held in memory of the life and work of Kate Taylor and marked the 660th anniversary of worship in the Chapel and the 25th anniversary of the Friends of the Chantry. It was organised by Wakefield Historical Society in conjunction with the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel, Wakefield Cathedral and The Hepworth Wakefield. The well-attended conference drew interested people not only from Wakefield and Yorkshire, but from other towns that have existing bridge chapels.

Tony Robinson, the Bishop of Wakefield, welcomed the audience, and talked of Kate's contribution to the Cathedral and the Chantry Chapel.

A new documentary film about Kate Taylor, produced by One to One Development Trust for Wakefield Museum was premiered at the conference. It featured Kate talking about her life, and described her enormous contribution to her home city of Wakefield as a journalist, historian, a Lay Canon of Wakefield Cathedral, a member of Westgate Chapel and, in particular, her role in running the Friends of Chantry Chapel. It was gratifying to see further recognition of Kate's life made accessible for the future as a film.

The role of chantry chapels in medieval society was described by Dr Pat Cullum of the University of Huddersfield. She did not refer to Wakefield in particular, but gave a broad outline of why chantry chapels were founded, who founded them, and the role of the chantry priests. She explained that chantries were integral to medieval societies, with prayers and masses being performed to speed the dead through purgatory.

Sue Threader of Rochester Bridge Trust described the construction of medieval bridges and the social issues that surrounded them, with a focus on Wakefield Bridge. She described how bridge construction had expanded after 1250, before that time most rivers were crossed using fords. She explained how the piers and arches of medieval bridges were engineered to cope with the flow of water, and provide a sturdy and durable roadway for people and animals to cross above. She described the details of Wakefield bridge's construction and how the chapel contributed to its strength as a buttress. In a talk later in the day Sue explained the role of the Rochester Bridge Trust, and presented research to discover evidence for further bridge chapels which will later be published on the Internet.

Nicole Harding, a PhD student at the University of Huddersfield has been researching the Gott Collection held at the Hepworth, and showed how Medieval Wakefield was depicted in the 19th century. The audience contributed by suggesting other places in Wakefield that might have been included in a similar collection for the 19th and 21st century.

Following a break for lunch, Joanne Harrison, an architect who has specialised for her PhD in the conservation of the built heritage. A member of Wakefield Historical Society, she described her research into the development of the chantry chapel, and its fabric. She provided detailed information, using photographs and drawings, which illuminated our visit to the chapel at the end of the day.

Artists' representations of the Chapel and Bridge principally from Wakefield Council's Collection were detailed by Antonino Vella, Principal Officer of Wakefield Museums and Collections. The twenty three images which ranged from the late 17th century to the 1980s demonstrated changing artistic approaches, and included works by nationally known artists like Reinagle and Turner, and local artists such as Thomas Kilby and Louisa Fennell.

The final event of the day was a visit to the bridge and chapel. David Royston, Chair of the Friends of Chantry Chapel showed us some of the features of the chapel, its history, and its modern usage. Sue Threader pointed out some of the features of the medieval bridge that she had described in her talks, and emphasised the importance of its continuing maintenance. Richard Wainwright's film of Kate Taylor talking about the chapel rounded off the day.