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Visit to Leeds Discovery Centre
Tuesday 21 August

Discovery Centre

We had a fascinating visit to Leeds Discovery Centre on Tuesday. Our guide gave us a history of Leeds Museum from the founding of a private museum by Ralph Thoresby on Kirkgate, which then moved to Leeds Library, to the premises of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society on Park Row in 1821. In 1860 the size was doubled, but by 1904 further expansion was needed
and it was passed to Leeds City Council. In 1941 much was destroyed by a bomb, and just an upstairs floor at Leeds City Library housed part of the collection with storage provided in less than suitable premises in Sovereign Street. which had a leaking roof, was cramped, and mouldy.

In 2001-2002 a Heritage Lottery Fund bid was made; the Civic Theatre was moved to Carriageways Theatre, and their building became the Museum, with a new purpose-built storage facility in south Leeds.

The Discovery Centre with the other 8 Leeds museums houses over 105 million artefacts, all of which need conserving, cataloguing and valuing. The scale of the endeavour was clear to all of us, with rolling racks storing everything from butterflies to querns, and a huge number of larger objects such as stuffed animals and harps stored on the floor and on open racks in organised
chaos. The fine collection of clothing and art work has to be safely kept and pest management is in place to protect them.

We were fortunate to be able to visit as a group, but the Centre also provide short tours for the general public. Leeds Discovery Centre

Excursion to Rochdale, 9 August

Rochdale Town Hall

Our excursion to Rochdale in conjunction with Wakefield Civic Society proved popular, and we were fortunate that the day was a little cooler than of late, as the visit included following the Heritage Trail round the town.

We were welcomed at the magnificent Town Hall by our guide who described the history of the Grade 1 listed building, designed by W.H. Crossland (a Yorkshireman) and completed in 1871. The entrance hall, Council Chamber, Great Hall and other rooms are highly decorated in Puginesque style, and display Rochdale's pride in its cotton industry and its trading links which are shown in the fine stained glass.

Following the tour we were free to go for lunch first or to walk through town to the conservation area of Toad Lane where the Rochdale Pioneers Museum records the history of the Co-operative movement. A small museum, it tells the story of the founding of the first shop on the site and the extraordinary expansion of the movement worldwide.

We re-grouped after lunch and most of us followed the Heritage Trail, tackling the 122 'Packer Steps', part of an 'Ancient Highway', up to St Chad's Church, dating back to at least the 14th century which we were fortunate to find open. The parish covered a huge area from Todmorden in the north to Saddleworth in the east.

We then followed the Trail past the statue of John Bright, a local mill owner, and a noted campaigner for the repeal of the Corn Laws who had links to our area, having been educated at Ackworth School and marrying the sister of William Henry Leatham, MP for Wakefield.

Our visit ended at Touchstones, originally built as a Public Library in 1884, and now housing a museum and art gallery.

Excursion to Filey 17 July


We were welcomed at St Oswald's Church with tea and biscuits, and given an introduction to the church, the earliest parts dating from 1180. Extended and altered through the 13th to 15th century, a 19th century restoration obliterated many of the ancient features. Further work in the 20th century restored exterior stonework and provided a meeting room at the west end. An ancient stone altar dating back to at least Norman times was found in the floor of the church; it contains a small receptacle where relicts or other precious objects could be kept.

Both in the church and in the churchyard outside are many memorials to seamen, including those whose bodies have never been recovered; a reminder of the importance of the fishing industry to Filey. This was further emphasised as we walked up Church Street, the original area of Filey where the fisherfolk lived, to the oldest building in the town, with a date stone of 1696. The building was due to be demolished in 1969, but was offered to the Local History Society, who agreed to establish a museum. In the eight rooms are displays related to the fishing industry, the development of the town as a holiday resort, and re-creations of a living area, and a kitchen. Upstairs a display records the geological history of the coast, and the fossils of sea creatures.

We were then free to go our own way for lunch, enjoy the promenade, and explore 'New Filey', developed when a solicitor, John Wilkes Unett, purchased several acres of land around 1835. This land later became The Crescent, a row of fine domestic terraces. Close by is Cliff House where Charlotte Bronte often stayed.

Our last visit of the day was to the Stained Glass Centre at Cayton, where we saw an exhibition of the processes, browsed in the shop, and enjoyed refreshments before leaving for home.

Our thanks to our hosts at St Oswald's and Filey Museum.

Visit to Rotherham, 9th July


We were welcomed at Rotherham's chantry chapel on the bridge by the Friends' group. An illustrated talk described the history of the bridge from when it was erected in 1483 through its various uses: as an almshouse by 1569, through a Civil War battle on the bridge in 1643, to becoming a jail by 1778. We were able to take a rather hazardous descent into the crypt via a trapdoor to see the cells and the original cell doors. By 1863 the building had become a shop, but by the beginning of the 20th century there were plans to return it to its original use as a chapel, and by 1924 it was restored and reconsecrated.

We then enjoyed a walk led by a member of Rotherham Civic Society through the town, starting at the Minster which is claimed to be the finest Perpendicular church in Yorkshire. The Imperial Buildings, a fine Edwardian shopping arcade built in 1908, is now sadly empty apart from one florist's shop. On the High Street we were able to visit the 15th/16th century building that was formerly the Three Cranes Inn, now successfully restored to show the original timbers. We were provided with a tour of the George Wright Building, an early 19th century office built in the Tudor Revival style and named after the stove maker whose showrooms were in the building; it is now a boutique hotel. Walking up Snail Hill, once the packhorse route to Manchester, we reached the Crofts Conservation area which includes the Charity Bluecoat School and the town's first workhouse. Our tour ended at the Downs Row Chapel, the earliest non-conformist chapel in the town.

Our thanks to the 'Friends of Rotherham Chapel on the Bridge' and to 'Rotherham and District Civic Society' for an engrossing and pleasurable visit.

Study group at the West Yorkshire History Centre

On Monday 2 July nine of our members met at the Centre to work with original documents, mainly from the 18th century. 

The aims of these sessions are:
- To encourage original research in the Society.
- To increase familiarity with our local archive catalogues and collections
 - To provide opportunities to study with others and share ideas.
- To explore a range of primary sources based on Wakefield, with an emphasis on the history of Westgate.

We were introduced to the two Wakefield Enclosure maps surveyed at the beginning of the 19th century and discussed in small groups what we could learn from them, and the questions they raised.

Lesley, who is leading the group, followed this by explaining various terms, the Act of Parliament that led to Enclosure, and how named people could be traced to the numbered plots.

Our interest was whetted and we look forward to exploring more in the next session.

visit to Burnley on 13th June

We had an enjoyable excursion to Burnley on Wednesday. The morning was spent at 'The Weavers' Triangle' where the visitor centre consists of the Canal Agent's House and Toll Office, and now has rooms restored as a Victorian Parlour, a weaver's dwelling, and a Victorian schoolroom. Our guides led us along the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal showing us the warehouse, weaving shops, mills, and workers' housing. We visited the engine-house of Oak Mount Mill constructed in 1886 which houses the steam engine installed at that date. We watched it working and were shown how in 1911 it drove the 840 looms of the Mill.

oak mill engine

In the afternoon we visited Towneley Hall - the family name may be familiar to Wakefield people through the medieval mystery plays. The hall was home to the Towneley family for over 500 years until it was sold to Burnley Corporation with its park in 1901. We were given a guided tour of the magnificent Great Hall, Regency rooms, kitchen and chapel. The Whalley Abbey Vestments which date from 1390-1420 and are made of Italian cloth of gold are one of the treasures of the house. The North Wing of the house contains a museum and art gallery which has some notable Victorian paintings.












TaLK: Some Other and Wider Destiny: Wakefield Grammar School Foundation and the Great War. 

Some Other and Wider Destiny

The talk at our meeting on 14th November was well attended. Elaine Merckx, who is the archivist at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School introduced how the research and the book came about. Neal Rigby, former Head of History gave background to the school through the Great War, and described personal experiences of their pupils as combatants.

Our members and visitors are enjoying the more spacious venue at the Elizabethan Gallery and the opportunity to chat and enjoy refreshments.

Study Group Walk along Westgate
Tuesday 14 August

Great Bull

On Tuesday evening members of the study group shared a walk on Westgate, learning more of its history and contributing our own knowledge. We learnt of the changes from the grand mansions and inns of the 18th century, to banks and building societies, and now to the present leisure and entertainment venues. Maps and photographs illustrated these changes.

Study Group at West Yorkshire History Centre

study group

The third meeting of the study group at the West Yorkshire History Centre found the 18th century West Riding Quarter Sessions engrossing; discovering thefts by apprentices, information about the upkeep of the roads, lists of magistrates and chief constables, and much more. The Sessions met four times each year, covering cases from Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield and Bradford. The fragile bundles are not indexed, but lists of civil cases appear in the order books, and criminal cases in the indictment books.

Guided tour of Tadcaster, 27 June


Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society members enjoyed a guided tour of Tadcaster led by members of the Tadcaster Historical Society. 

We started by the bridge, originally built about 1700, which featured prominently in the news when it was swept away in the floods on Boxing Day 2015. We learnt how the river had provided access to the town by boat, and power to drive the flour mill on the opposite side of the river. 

We were shown the position of the Norman motte and bailey castle, where the Society had carried out excavations, finding not just pottery from this period, but many Roman shards which led them to believe this was the centre of the Roman Town. 

The church, so close to the river, had suffered flooding and was taken down stone by stone in the 19th century, rebuilt five feet higher, and was re-dedicated in 1877 - a remarkable achievement. Close by the church is the Grammar School dating from about 1700. 

The oldest building still in use in the town, and now used as Council Offices, 'The Ark' is a timber-framed house built in the late-15th century; two carved heads on its front represent the heads of Noah and his wife, hence its name.

We were shown other buildings of note included the Workhouse, the 1920s Riley-Smith Hall, and the 1788 Sunday School, the first purpose-built one in the country.

Our guides also explained the history of the breweries, and how the titles of "John Smith" and "Samuel Smith" evolved through the family.

Walking down the main road, the many old Georgian inns enabled us to imagine the days when it was an important coaching town on the main road from both London and Leeds to York.

Our tour ended at a hardware shop, with its traditional fitments, a delight to browse in!

Visit to the Royal Naval Museum at Hartlepool, 17th May


Having stopped en route at the market town of Thirsk for morning coffee and a little time to look around, we arrived at Hartlepool Marina which provides a safe haven for many sailing boats and yachts.

Having had lunch, the coach took us the short distance to the Royal Naval Museum where we were welcomed to the Trincomalee, a frigate built in India in 1817. Although the ship never saw action in war, she had two tours of duty, firstly in the North American and West Indies, and secondly in the Pacific, but by 1857 she was outdated and was used as a training ship. Having been sent to the shipbreakers in 1897 she was rescued by the wealthy Geoffrey Wheatley Cobb and once again used for training. She was saved for restoration in 1986, taken to Hartlepool and a Trust set up. Restoration took 15 years, and the ship is now surrounded by a recreated historic quay.

Having split into two groups, we were guided round the ship by Stuart who took us below to the living and eating quarters. He described the food that the 240 men would have eaten, including salt beef and salt pork kept in a barrel which was purported to last for 40 years. The men were allowed a quarter of a pint of rum each morning at 11am and a gallon of beer, this allowance continued until 1970.

We were taken through to the Officers' quarters and the Captain's cabin, which although spacious could be quickly altered to house cannons if attacked. The cannons which at 18lb were the largest at the time, had about a half mile range.

Stuart told us of the many common phrases that derive from life on board, for instance: rope which was valuable and given as a gift and then sold was 'money for old rope', and holding back when forced to flog a friend gave rise to 'I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine'. Many other aspects of the ship, and life at sea were described.

Later we watched a demonstration of how to fire a musket of the period, and the stages in firing a cannon. Although wadding was used rather than a cannonball, the explosion was deafening, and gave some idea of the noise when the much larger guns aboard would have been fired.

On the way home we called in briefly to Seaton, a small seaside town, for a breath of sea air.

Our thanks go to Sue Farman of Wakefield Civic Society for arranging an interesting and unusual excursion.

Talk at Wakefield and District Family History Society
Saturday 5th May

On Saturday 5th May Phil Judkins gave an illustrated talk to Wakefield and District Family History Society about the research carried out by members of the Wood Street: Heart of Wakefield Project. The talk detailed more unusual events like the appearance of Pablo Fanque's Circus and the ascent of a hot-air balloon, but also covered the corruption related to elections and the felons who passed through the Courts. The informative and entertaining talk was clearly enjoyed by the audience.

visit to the Mental Health Museum at Fieldhead on 14 May

The first of our Summer Excursions in conjunction with Wakefield Civic Society was to the Mental Health Museum at Fieldhead. This followed a talk at our meeting in April about objects in the Museum. The visit was particularly appropriate as this is Mental Health Awareness week. The Museum houses a fascinating selection of objects that illustrate the development of care for people with mental health problems. It includes an original padded room, items of embroidery made by inmates, ECT equipment, a straitjacket, and plans and drawings from the early West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum (later Stanley Royd Hospital)

Mental Health Museum

mental health museum

We also walked down to the old hospital and saw the clocktower, once an integral part of the hospital, but now standing alone, and visited what was the theatre, a Grade 2 listed building which now houses Destiny Church. It has one of only two complete Victorian stages with timber grid, fly floors and hemps. Most unusual is the grooved system for sliding stage flats in the wings: this was the standard way of hanging wings for some 200 years until this century but is now only the second surviving example discovered in England.

Stanley Royd Theatre