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'Skeletons' Exhibition at Leeds city Museum

A small group of our members visited 'Skeletons: Our Buried Bones' exhibition at Leeds City Museum on 6th January.


This fascinating exhibition, a partnership between the museum, the Museum of London and the Wellcome Collection, displayed the skeletons of 12 individuals. The skeletons provided a glimpse into their lives, and included a double burial at the Iron Age site at Wattle Syke near Wetherby, the burial of an Anchoress in the mid 15th century at All Saint's Church in York, a Parliamentary soldier also at All Saint's, and a skeleton showing the marks of a pole-axe in the skull from Towton. From London there was a Roman burial from Spitalfields, a Black Death burial from East Smithfield, and a burial from the Cross Bones unconsecrated cemetery in Southwark where many prostitutes were interred.

The skeletons were well displayed with clear descriptions of damage caused by illness and traumatic injuries. It was a sobering thought to consider how many people lived with severe pain and disability, often for years, without the help of modern medicine.

The handover of the John Goodchild Collection to West Yorkshire Archives


Members of Wakefield Historical Society joined many others at the official handover of the John Goodchild Collection to West Yorkshire Archives, which took place at the West Yorkshire History Centre on Kirkgate on 17th November.

Teresa Nixon, Head of West Yorkshire Archives, welcomed everyone and spoke briefly about the importance of John's collection, and the task facing the Archives to organise and catalogue what was the largest personal collection in Yorkshire.

Councillor Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield Council, spoke briefly of his personal memories of John, and the importance of John's collection. 

Alan Hughes, John's partner, who with Richard Knowles was an executor of John's will, described John's life and how his collection had grown, necessitating its move from one venue to another.

Alan and Richard then handed the bound 'Deed of Gift' to Teresa Nixon. Alan said that by handing over the collection to be preserved in the Archives, it was a 'permanent memorial to a kind and generous man.'  

Teresa Nixon concluded by mentioning that the room behind where she stood had been named the 'John Goodchild Research Room'.  This is inscribed on the glass door and is the only room in the building to be named.

John Goodchild was a stalwart of Wakefield Historical Society and his death in January was a great loss to the Society and to all who are interested in the history of Wakefield and the West Riding.

John's own account of his life can be downloaded here:John Goodchild

Visit to Skelmanthorpe Textile Heritage Centre, 29th September


Our last excursion of the summer was to the Skelmanthorpe Textile Heritage Centre housed in a one up, one down cottage. It was saved from demolition in 1971 by a passionate local historian, Leslie Robinson, who bought the row of cottages and kept one as a private museum. Following his death in 2014, it is now run by a group of volunteers. The properties appear on the tithe map of 1773 and became weavers' cottages at the beginning of the 19th century.

Owing to the limitations of this very small cottage we divided into two groups. Upstairs we were shown the loom by Dennis, who comes from a long line of handloom weavers. He pointed out that although the parents would have slept in a put-up bed kept in a cupboard downstairs, the children would have slept in 'cots' under the loom. The loom would have been built by a local joiner and assembled in the upstairs room. Weavers sometimes owned their own loom, or rented it. Children would have worked half-time - school in the morning and helping their father with the weaving process in the afternoon. Orders were taken from agents and merchants, but the weaver was not paid until the piece was finished. Uncommissioned pieces would have been taken to the cloth halls in neighbouring towns to sell.

Dennis demonstrated how the loom worked, describing it as a 4 x 4 loom able to work four colours, with flying shuttles. Wool was wound onto a pirn which was fixed into the shuttle. Dennis explained the technology of later looms like the Jacquard and the Witch, and demonstrated how pile cloth, for which Skelmanthorpe was well-known, was made using 'wires'.

Downstairs the week of the weaver's family was described, using the many artefacts that Leslie Robinson had gathered: Monday washing day, Tuesday ironing, and so on. Many of these items were remembered by our older members. He described how the Yorkshire Range was used, which provided the first opportunity to bake at home, rather than in the village bakehouse. 'Calais' sand was spread on the stone-flagged floor as it could then easily be swept up and replaced. Water was fetched from a well outside the house and shared privies were across the road.

Following our visit, refreshments were available at the Community Centre, and a small group of us joined Richard for a guided tour round the village. We were shown where the height of cottages had been increased in order to accommodate the harness necessary for a jacquard loom. We passed the site of the first mill where cloth was also dyed, the village bakehouse, and saw the aptly named Salt Pie Cottage'; salt was imported from Cheshire to be used in the cloth process. The local name for one area is 'Shat' believed to have come from 'shatterers', men who broke the large stones needed for the construction of the railway. Running through the edge of the village is 'Quaker Way' where Quakers from the Wakefield area walked to High Flatts Meeting House. Close to this is an 1822 row of cottages, built by an early 'Friendly Society' - the precursor of Building Societies.

Our thanks go to the volunteer guides whose knowledge made our visit so interesting - the Heritage Centre is a little gem, and well worth preserving into the future!

Visit to the British Library at Boston Spa, and Lotherton Hall on 22nd September

Having been welcomed with refreshments, we were split into two groups for our tour round the British Library. From 1997 the main site of the Library (established in 1973) was at St Pancras. This was no longer large enough to house the whole collection and the site at Boston Spa opened in 2009. The site also houses the British Newspaper Archive. A further site at Stockton-on-Tees deals with Public Lending Rights, ensuring that authors are paid for every loan from a public library in the UK.

Our guide first introduced us to the Flashback project where data stored on defunct floppy discs and similar are processed by an emulation system through early computers like the 1986 BBC Micro to be saved on modern systems.

We were taken through the storage area where copies of all official UK Government publications are stored along with British Standards publications.

The Imaging Studio scans both books and images on microfilm for the British Library itself, and also for organisations such as the Law Society. German manufactured overhead scanners speed the process by automatically cropping and enhancing images which are saved at a high resolution. The Library is also responsible for Optical Character Recognition.

The British Library holds over 150 million books and a legal deposit scheme obliges authors to supply the Library with a copy of every publication. Any idea of the collection being stored on shelves was soon debunked when we climbed the stairs to the viewing platform in the storage area.  A world first, the system is fully computerised. Books are stored in boxes in the huge building which is temperature and humidity controlled. Robotic cranes capable of moving at 30mph access the necessary box and send it to a retrieval area where the requested material is packed for transit to the St Pancras site. On average 400 requests are dealt with each day.

British Library

Following our tour we had lunch in Boston Spa, before continuing to Lotherton Hall. The house, once belonging to the notable Gascoigne family, has a fine collection of ceramics, many from local potteries such as the Leeds Pottery. At present there is also a Fashion Exhibition, showing local exhibits from the Tudor period through to modern fashion. Before a change in the weather we were able to explore the extensive gardens and grounds which house a Bird Garden, presently under renovation.

Visit to Leeds Civic Hall, 26th August

Members of the Society were met outside the imposing frontage of Leeds Civic Hall by Ken Goor, our knowledgeable guide. He described the history of the gardens and buildings that surround Millennium Square, and the history of the incorporation of Leeds. The Civic Hall, designed by Vincent Harris, was opened in 1933 at a cost of £360,000 by King George V. Built in Portland Stone, its twin spires are surmounted by gilded owls, the symbol of Leeds.

civic hall

Having visited the East and West Rooms, which are hung with portraits of Leeds mayors, we climbed the impressive stairs which are flanked by stained glass windows depicting heraldic subjects designed by George Kruger Gray, who also designed the elaborate ceiling in the Reception Hall above. This houses cabinets displaying mayoral regalia, and gifts given to Leeds.

Leeds has had a strong connection with HMS Ark Royal since 1942, and following decommissioning, one of the rooms was renamed in 2011 the Ark Royal Room, and holds the ship's bell and other memorabilia.

The wood-panelled walls of the Banquet Hall are inscribed with information about the Regiments and individuals who have been given the Freedom of the City. At the top of the panels the names of notable characters from Leeds history are inscribed, including Joseph Aspdin the inventor of Portland cement, who is buried at St John's Church in Wakefield.

The final room we visited on the tour was the Council Chamber. We were surprised to learn that there is no artificial lighting in this room. Like the Banquet Hall, historical figures are commemorated on stone plaques below each window, amongst them Thomas Danby the first Mayor in 1661, Ralph Thoresby the Leeds historian, and Joseph Priestley the scientist.

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.






The Society's Christmas Dinner,
20 December.

Xmas dinner

Members of the Society enjoyed an excellent dinner in the Chimes Bar at Wakefield Town Hall. The venue was apt considering our present project; Wood St: Heart of Wakefield, and the entertainment included snippets of information that had been researched. A quiz also discovered our depth of knowledge (or lack of it) about Westgate which it is hoped will soon be improved and renewed.

Pablo Fanque's Circus, 13 December

Pablo Fanque

At our Society meeting on the 13th December we enjoyed an excellent evening learning about Pablo Fanque's Circus which performed in Wood Street on a number of occasions in the middle of the 19th century. The performance by Deborah Sanderson of Urban Angels Circus and Joe Williams of Heritage Corner from Leeds, was both entertaining and informative, and even involved one of the audience learning to walk the tightrope!

Doncaster Waites "The topping tooters of the town"


Some of our members attended the meeting of Wakefield Family History Society on 2nd December when "The Topping Tooters of the Town", the Doncaster Waites, performed early music on sackbuts, shawms, a hurdy gurdy and recorders. They told the audience about the instruments and their research into the history of the Waites in Doncaster, who were both night watchmen, and the official musicians of the town. Much of the music performed was familiar, being later used by the Victorians for carols.

John Whitaker from Wakefield Museum had brought aretefacts related to the Wakefield Waites, a silver badge, a rattle, gloves, and a truncheon, and information about one of the last Wakefield Waites. It was an entertaining and informative event.

Heritage Brickwork Repair Course
Part of the Pontefract Townscape Heritage Initiative, supported by Wakefield Museums and Castles.

Report by Pete Taylor

This was a two-day course advertised in WHS Newsletter. The first day was devoted to theory and held at at Pontefract Castle Visitor Centre. The second day was a practical session, working on a building in Pontefract.  The course was run by Terrence Lee, an Advanced Craft City & Guilds Bricklayer with an MA in Historic Environment Conservation.


Day one covered the background to historic brick repair, types of construction, factors that affect the survival of traditional brickwork, and the policies relating to brickwork conservation. Consideration was given to restricting the loss of historic fabric and retaining the authenticity of the building. There was an emphasis on the use and types of lime mortar, the lime cycle, the use of different aggregates and the pozzolanic reaction. We also visited Pontefract town centre and considered conservation issues with several buildings, most notably The Red Lion in the Market Place.

The second day was devoted to supervised practical training on site at 11-13 Corn Market. Here we had hands-on training in removal of brickwork and mortars, mixing lime mortars, piecing in brickwork, hand skills, pointing and after care. I actually removed, by hand, two bricks, replaced and pointed them.

This was an excellent course, combining the philosophical, theoretical and the practical aspects of conservation. The tutor, Terrence Lee, was an inspirational teacher who left us with not only an understanding of the issues and difficulties of conserving heritage buildings, but also started us out on the acquisition of some of the skills needed to repair them.

heritage days at the Hepworth
9th and 10th September

Hepworth talk

On Heritage Open Days our Society gave talks and showed the film about our Wakefield Waterfront Project during both days. Following each talk we were able to join the short narrow boat trips organised by the Hepworth in conjunction with the Canal and River Trust. Many of the visitors were unaware of the importance of the Waterfront in the past, the maltings and mills that lined the navigation, and the community that once lived there. Stuart McKenzie, Harbourmaster for the Canal and River Trust joined us to describe the role of the Trust in maintaining the waterways. Canal Connections, a social enterprise company, based at Thwaite Mills in Leeds provided the boat.

boat leaving lock

The boat leaving the Flood Lock into the river.

More information and the film can be found on:
Wakefield Waterfront

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.