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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

'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.

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.

Visit to Wollaton Hall and Papplewick Hall, 17th August


Arriving at Wollaton Hall we were impressed by its situation at the top of a rise, giving it a fine prospect over its grounds. It was, indeed, built to impress by Sir Francis Willoughby towards the end of the 16th century. The architect was Robert Smythson who also designed Hardwick Hall and the old Hall at Heath, amongst other notable houses. 

Our knowledgeable and entertaining guide told us some of the history of the house and the development of Nottingham.  He then led us up the narrow spiral staircase to the  sizeable 'Prospect Room' at the top of the house, above the Great Hall. With its decoration dating from the Georgian period, the large windows on every side provide splendid views over the local countryside. The flat roof surrounding the Great Hall was used for entertaining guests, with pavilions on each corner of the house.

Descending into the Servants Hall, an area which had been added in the early 19th century, we were then led into the basement to view the kitchens, and our guide described the preparation of food in Tudor times.

At the end of the tour we were able to explore the other rooms in the house: the magnificent Great Hall which has a grand 16th century fireplace, the Salon and the Dining Room. First floor rooms house a Natural History Museum dating from the period that the building came into the ownership of Nottingham City Council.  In the Formal Gardens is the Camellia House, built in 1823 and probably the earliest known cast-iron structure of its kind.

Following lunch we rejoined the coach for a short journey to Papplewick Hall where we were welcomed by the owner. The house was built by Frederick Montagu between 1781 and 1786, and as he was a bachelor, it was designed on a modest scale.  From the entrance hall which has an elegant cantilevered staircase, we were guided through the ground floor rooms which have fine decorative features, and also house a collection of paintings by the Victorian artist Henry Dawson. The house had been saved from neglect by the owner's parents, sensitively restored and returned to use as a family home.

Visit to Leeds Library 21 July

Leeds Library

We were welcomed to the Library, which is in the centre of Leeds, by one of the assistant librarians who gave us a lively talk describing the history of the library, and a tour of the premises. The library was established in 1768 and is now the oldest subscription library still in existence in the UK. Amongst the early membership were many prominent men such as Joseph Priestley, Charles Brandling, and Jeremiah Dixon. The library moved to the present premises on Commercial Street in 1808 and an extension (still known as 'The New Room') was added by 1881. Galleries were added in the Main Room and in the New Room as the number of volumes outgrew the space available. The original subscription was 5 shillings, roughly equivalent to the present day subscription of £120. Research can be conducted for free if the library is contacted first.

The library holds a number of valuable first editions, and still endeavours to purchase copies of books requested by members. Recently the Thoresby Society chose to deposit their collection with the Library when the Yorkshire Archaeological Society was no longer able to house it at their premises.

Our guide had selected some books of relevance to Wakefield which we were able to handle and enjoy. We were also able to remain at the end of the visit to browse the shelves by ourselves. It was a pleasure to enjoy the atmosphere of the library with its old bookcases, shelving, tables, and of course the books themselves, many of them beautifully bound.







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.

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.

Visit to Lancaster and Morecambe on 20 September

First we visited the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University, which holds the largest collection of work by John Ruskin, the highly influential Victorian thinker and writer, who was also draughtsman, artist, watercolourist and art patron. The curator gave us a talk about the Library and its collections and we saw their summer exhibition, which showed Ruskin's drawings of mountains.

Ruskin visited Wakefield in 1875 and recorded in a letter 'The two most frightful things I have ever yet seen in my life are the south-eastern suburb of Bradford (six miles long), and the scene from Wakefield Bridge, by the chapel; yet I cannot but more and more reverence the fierce courage and industry, the gloomy endurance, and the infinite mechanical ingenuity of the great centres'.

We then went on to Lancaster where we had a wide choice of places to visit, including medieval Lancaster Castle, which was until recently a prison and still holds both criminal and civil courts in elegant 18th century courtrooms. We rounded off the afternoon with a visit to Morecambe and afternoon tea in the splendidly refurbished Art Deco Midland Hotel.

Heritage Open Days at the Boathouse, Newmillerdam, 10 and 11 September

Members of Wakefield Historical displayed the Society's activities, showed the DVD of the Waterfront Project, sold books and advertised the forthcoming Wood Street: heart of Wakefield project. On the Saturday we also served teas.
We had a successful weekend, with 145 visitors.

How Wakefield Grew: New thoughts on the medieval town in which we live and how it developed from Medieval Times, 23 July 2016

How Wakefield Grew

John Goodchild's talk was a contribution for Wakefield Historical Society to the Festival of Archaeology and used a wide selection of original documents and illustrations to explore the actual layout of Wakefield and of some surrounding villages. He described how the town developed, when various developments took place, and the people and organisations who were responsible for them.

Although the first detailed town plan only appeared in 1794, John used later maps to describe the early development of the town, the topography of the site, the roads, rivers and streams, and the lay of the land. He pointed out that archaeology had been piecemeal, but there was evidence of town walls, and a likelihood that there was a castle on the area known as the "Old Park" to the east of the Springs, which would be in line with others towns in this early period. John continued by describing the later development of the town, based around the three main streets, Kirkgate, Westgate and Northgate, and the growth of its important market. He gave detailed information about the streets and the types of building, and compared their layout to other villages in the area, such as Crigglestone and Warmfield.

John's talk has given his listeners the opportunity to explore Wakefield anew, in the light of this wealth of information.