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Visit to Durham Town Hall and Brancepeth Castle and Church 8th June 2017

A grey, rainy morning did not deter people and we had a full coach for our visit. We were taken in two groups round the Town Hall by knowledgeable guides. We learnt of the special status of the Mayor who has had a 15-man bodyguard to protect him since 1602.

durham town hall

We were shown the Guildhall, some parts of which date from the 14th century. The arms of many of the medieval guilds are displayed on the walls and the room contains the mayoral regalia, and the halberds of the bodyguard. We then visited the Mayor's Chamber which was remodelled in 1752, and is now mainly used as a committee room. We passed through the 'Crush Room' so-called, it is thought, because of crowds trying to get through into the Great Hall. It contains a portrait and some of the belongings of the 'Little Count" Joseph Boruwlaski, who was only 39 inches tall and who lived in Durham from 1791 until his death in 1837. He was a favourite of Marie Antoinette and a friend of the Prince of Wales. The large m Main Hall is part of the later Town Hall, designed by P. C. Harwick in 1850, taking as his inspiration Westminster Hall. Recorded on plaques on the walls are past dignitaries of the City, and the people and organisations who have been awarded the Freedom of the City.

Brancepeth castle

After lunch we visited Brancepeth Castle and were met by Alison Hobbs, one of the children of Margaret Dobson who bought the castle in 1978.

The castle is believed to have been built around 1138, and is thus one of the oldest castles in the North of England. It has experienced varying fortunes; passing through the hands of the Nevilles, being owned by the Crown in the 17th century, then falling into a dilapidated state before it was bought by William Russell in 1796, probably for the coal deposits on the estate. Much new building and alteration was undertaken in the 19th century, but by 1922 the burden of taxation amongst other difficulties led to the sale of its contents. At the outbreak of the Second World War it was taken over as the headquarters of the Durham Light Infantry. In 1948 the castle was sold, leased, and eventually bought by A. Jobling & Co, who used it as a research establishment for Pyrex. Much of the castle was altered to their needs, but it became redundant in 1976 and was sold to Margaret and Dennis Dobson who had a publishing company in London. Some rooms are now rented out to small businesses.

Inside, we were able to view a number of the grand rooms which have been restored, although most are empty of furniture. Alison described how the rooms had been used in the past and their architectural features. Having viewed the inside, we then walked round the outside, with Alison pointing out notable features. One can only admire the dedication needed to keep the castle in repair, and to gradually restore its ancient splendour.

Finally we visited Brancepeth Church dedicated to St Brandon, where the story of its restoration was described by the sacristan. She told us that the church had suffered a devastating fire in 1998 which destroyed the fine Cosin woodwork of 1630-40 which is unique to County Durham. In a side chapel is the effigy of Robert Neville known as "The Peacock of the North" who lived at Brancepeth Castle until he was killed in 1319. The restoration was completed in 2005, and the result is a light and beautiful building.

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.






Visit to Hull, UK City of Culture, 2017
1st August

We were welcomed at the University of Hull Art Gallery by the Director, John Bernasconi, who explained that although the collection had been started in the 1960s it had only moved into the present gallery in 2015. The collection covers the period 1890 to 1940 and consists mostly of British art, of a domestic size. It has works of well-known artists such as Stanley Spencer and Jacob Epstein, but also includes works by those less known.


Adjoining the gallery is an exhibition on Philip Larkin who was the Librarian for three decades at the Brynmor Jones Library. Entitled "New Eyes Each Year" it explores the connections between Larkin's life and work in Hull, and his writing. The exhibition includes a portion of the large number of books that he owned, his LP records, some of his clothes and personal possessions, and features printed quotes from his writing and interviews.

In the afternoon we were able to follow our individual interests, although visits to the Maritime Museum and the Ferens Art Gallery were recommended - in the event, probably a wise choice, as the afternoon was beset with some heavy showers.

The Maritime Museum is housed in the Victorian Dock Offices, opened in 1871; the grandeur of the building reflects the importance of the docks to the town. The galleries cover the many aspects of Hull's maritime history: the docks and the dock workers; fishing; boats, both sail and steam; and whaling. A video recalled the bitterness of the Cod Wars with Iceland which are still remembered well by older members of the Society. It was thought-provoking to compare the loss of Hull's fishing industry, with the loss of the mining industry in our own area.

The Ferens Art Gallery, re-opened early in 2017 following a £5 million pound refurbishment, houses a notable collection of paintings and sculptures arranged chronologically in a series of galleries. It includes works by Canaletto, Helen Chadwick, Frans Hals, Henry Moore and Stanley Spencer and on show at present is "The Shipbuilder and his Wife" by Rembrandt, on loan from the Royal Collection.

The temporary exhibition is "Skin" which explores responses to the nude human figure. The detailed and realistic figures of Ron Mueck's sculptures included the huge "Wild Man" and the small "Spooning Couple". Paintings by Lucien Freud showed the intimacy of human relationships.

Many members of our Society will have been aware of Spencer Tunick's "Sea of Hull" from local and national media. 3,200 participants stripped off and painted their skin blue to take part in the event, which was photographed in key locations around Hull. The gallery has added three of the pieces to its permanent collection and is asking the public to choose a fourth.

It would be rare for the works in this exhibition not to provoke a strong personal response, and the opportunity to see it was much appreciated.

Our thanks go to Geoff Wood, our Excursions Secretary, for an excellent day.

talk on “The People of the Manor of Wakefield” 22 May

David Scriven

David Scriven, one of our Society's members, gave a talk 'The People of the Manor of Wakefield' at the Library in Wakefield One on 22nd May. David is the editor of the latest volume in the Wakefield Manor Court Roll series, covering 1781-1782, published by the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society.

David described how the Manor Court operated; by this period it primarily recorded the transfer of copyhold property. He explained that the word 'copyhold' derived from the 'copy' that the copyholder was given of the entry into the Court Roll.

Using many examples from the Roll, David showed how it was of great use to family and local historians alike. It recorded 'fines' paid to the Lord of the Manor (at this period Thomas Osborne, 4th Duke of Leeds), wills, and mortgages. It recorded the names of local people, farmers, clothiers, merchants etc. mainly the 'middling sort' and provided a snapshot of Wakefield and the extensive area covered by the Manor of Wakefield.

The copyhold system continued until the 1920s, when all copyhold property was converted to freehold.

The book can be purchased by going to which directs you to their agent Jeremy Mills Publishing. The cost is £20.

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.