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Talk on 'William the Conqueror and the Harrying of the North'
Wednesday 12 February

Gillian Waters

At our meeting on Wednesday, Gillian Waters told the complicated story of William the Conqueror and the Harrying of the North with clarity and passion. She described the events leading up to 1066 and explained that there were many uprisings against the Normans over the following years, many of them starting in the North. Retribution followed; with William burning and destroying land and homes, forcing the population to flee and causing famine. The effects were felt for around 200 years. Powerful Norman lords like Warrene in Wakefield were given manors in the North to ensure William remained in control. An enlightening talk about a lesser known period of history!

Leeds Waits, 11 December

Leeds waits

We enjoyed an entertaining and informative evening with the Leeds Waits on Wednesday 11th. We learnt about the history of the Waits in Leeds, Wakefield and elsewhere; we discovered some of the history of the instruments that they played and enjoyed a programme of early music, some of it with a seasonal theme.

Talk on Lofthouse Park Camp, 1914-1919

The talk for our meeting on 13 November was by Claudia Sternberg: "Civilian and military prisoners of Lofthouse Park Camp near Wakefield, 1914-1919." As project leader of 'Legacies of War' and lecturer at the University of Leeds, her knowledge of the development of the camp was extensive. She explained how what had been a popular amusement park was turned into a civilian camp for internees, many of whom had been resident in Britain for a considerable time. In many cases their wives and families were left without support. Towards the end of the war the camp housed only military prisoners of war, and it was some time after the war before arrangements were made for these men to return home.

Previously there was little knowledge of the camp locally, and the interest in it was illustrated by the number of our members and visitors who attended this interesting talk.

Talk about Archaeology on Ministry of Defence land
9th October, Old Court Room in the Town Hall

October meeting

It was an excellent talk on Wednesday by Phil Abramson on archaeology on Ministry of Defence land. Employed by the MOD as a civilian, Phil is responsible for overseeing a wide range of archaeological sites from barrows to bunkers to the Blue Streak missile sites of the late 1950s. He described the well-preserved archaeology as the land has no public access, and the way in which he works with the military in areas where live ordnance has been used.

Our members enjoyed meeting in the unusual setting of the Old Court Room at the Town Hall.

Waterfront Walks for the Hepworth Wellness Fair

Waterfront walk

We were invited to contribute to the Wellness Fair at The Hepworth Gallery on 28 September. We offered two walks around the Waterfront, looking at the history of the early weir and cornmills, the medieval bridge, the use of the river for dyeing, the arrival of the Aire & Calder Navigation and later the Calder & Hebble Navigation, the explosion of malting on the river banks, and the later arrival of the railway, increasing the opportunity for improved transit of goods.

Our walks also touched on matters relating to health; the terrible pollution of the river when Wakefield's sewage was all deposited into the river by the bridge in the 1850s, the taking of polluted water for the local domestic supply from downstream of the sewage input and the slow moves to improve the water supply to the town; nearly all the housing on the west bank was poor quality, built to house workers for the maltings and the mills on the Waterfront. Most of it was demolished under slum clearance programmes after 1932 and the families moved to new out-of-town housing estates.

Visit to Calverley Old Hall on 22 September


Tucked away in a suburban estate is the medieval Old Hall once home to the Calverley family. We were fortunate to be able to visit on one of the Heritage Open Days, as the building belongs to the Landmark Trust which is in the process of restoring the building before it is let. 

Consisting of four main sections, we entered into the North House which dates from the first half of the 17th century. We were welcomed by early music performed by the Leeds Waits. This part is let as a holiday home following restoration by Landmark. It contained a fine dining room, now the living room, with a kitchen beyond it. On the first floor there would have been bedrooms linked to the Solar by a passage. 

The earliest part of the Hall, the Solar dates from about 1300. Various alterations between that time and the 17th century will be archaeologically assessed before repair. 

Adjoining it, the Great Hall dates from the end of the 15th century and was later divided to make cottages which have now been stripped out. The wide ceiling has projecting hammer beams which are richly carved, and a large fireplace. The chapel has its own gallery provided for the family and an oak-panelled ceiling. Before it was restored in the 1980s a bathroom and kitchen had to be removed. 

We are fortunate that the Landmark Trust has saved and restored such a notable Yorkshire medieval building.

First of our series of Winter lectures
Wednesday 11 September

Gaynor Haliday

The first meeting of our winter series of lectures was well-attended on Wednesday evening to hear Gaynor Haliday talk about three notable Wakefield women: Phyllis Lett was a well-known contralto singer who was admired by Elgar, Miss Marguerite de Flemyng Boileau was appointed as Wakefield's first health visitor and achieved great success in lowering the infant mortality rate in Wakefield, and Gwendoline Beaumont strived to become the first local woman member of Parliament as the prospective candidate for Rothwell in the 1935 election. 

Gaynor's book "Struggle and Suffrage in Wakefield: Women's Lives and the Fight for Equality" describes the considerable achievements of these women and many others.

Visit to the Kings Cross development on 7 August

On our visit to the Kings Cross development on 7 August, we were treated to a guided walk of the huge 67 acre site. It had been home in the 19th century to all the support services needed by the major stations at Kings Cross and St Pancras. Warehouses held grain, potatoes, coal and other commodities, many horses were housed to move railway wagons, Regents Canal crossed the site to tranship goods to/from the stations, gasholders produced and held gas to power industry.

What had become an underused industrial wasteland is now being transformed into a new locality with homes, shops, offices, galleries, bars, restaurants, schools, and even a university. Many of the new buildings are occupied by high tech companies, like Google and the Francis Crick Institute. And, astonishingly, almost none of the historic buildings have been demolished, but have been refurbished for new uses. The project is most impressive, although it is helped by the high costs of property in London – only in London would a flat created within a 19th century gasholder be worth £7M!

Visit to Cawthorne Jubilee Museum and Church on 11 July

cawthorne museum

Members of Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society spent a delightful morning in Cawthorne. We were welcomed to the Methodist Chapel by our guide, Mary, and joined their regular coffee morning. We then walked across to Cawthorne Jubilee Museum, with a member of the Civic Society telling us en route about the history of some of the village buildings, and also the fountain which commemorates the bringing of piped water to the village in 1866.

The Museum was founded by Rev. Tiplady Pratt, and the present building was opened in 1889, although the foundations were laid two years earlier in Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Year. Rev. Pratt enlisted the help of Roddam Spencer Stanhope and his friend John Ruskin, both active in the pre-Raphaelite movement. Many materials from the Cannon Hall estate were recycled in the fabric of the building. It is owned by the village and run by a committee of volunteers.

The museum houses an eclectic collection, ranging from a two-headed lamb to fine china to a piece of the Emley Moor mast which collapsed in 1969! Ruskin himself provided some of the natural history items.

We walked down a back lane to the church where one of the churchwardens, Barry, described the history of the church, the earliest part of which was built in the early 13th century. It was extensively restored and enlarged in the period 1875-1880 financed by Walter and Roddam Spencer Stanhope, and exhibits many pre-Raphaelite influences, such as the painted ceilings, the stained glass, and panels on the pulpit.

Our thanks to our hosts who provided us with such an interesting and memorable visit.

Cawthorne Jubilee Museum




Talk on the Tudor and Stuart buildings of Wakefield.

Peter Brears meetign

A packed meeting enjoyed Peter Brears' talk about the Tudor and Stuart buildings of Wakefield on 8th January. He described the wealth that had been gained by Wakefield in that period through wool and textiles, which enabled the rich citizens to build fine houses with beautifully carved timber and plasterwork. He described his own efforts and those of John Goodchild to save artefacts from the buildings that were being demolished in the 1950s and 1960s, many of these eventually ending up in the Museum's storage facility. Peter also encouraged us to be aware of what does remain in our city, often hidden under later alterations.

An excellent talk exploring a little known period of the history of Wakefield, and more to be learnt from his book on the subject!

Christmas Dinner 4 December

Members of Wakefield Historical Society enjoyed a Christmas dinner at the Town Hall on Wednesday. Peter Brears entertained us with his anecdotes of collecting documents and artefacts in the 1950s and 60s in the company of the late John Goodchild. He spoke of his memories of the Society in those years and the archaeological excavations that he had been involved in at Chevet, Sandal Castle and other sites. He described the many losses of historical buildings in our town. We look forward to reading his book, shortly to be published, on the timber-framed buildings of Wakefield.

Much discussion ensued from a quiz compiled by Phil Judkins; we were provided with photos of shops and asked what had been there before. In many cases it illustrated how short our memories were!

A pleasant opportunity to enjoy a good meal and time to chat with fellow members!

John Goodchild Blue Plaque unveiling
23rd October


Members of our Society attended the unveiling of a blue plaque to commemorate John Goodchild, archivist and historian, and a Vice President of our Society prior to his death in 2017. Hosted by Wakefield Civic Society at the Art House, it was attended by many of his friends and colleagues. Kevin Trickett, President of the Civic Society introduced the event and talked of his first introduction to John. Peter Brears, a lifelong friend of John's spoke of their early expeditions gathering historical material.

John bequeathed the collection to Wakefield Council and it is now housed in the West Yorkshire History Centre. Teresa Nixon, head of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, spoke of the national importance of the collection, probably the largest and last of its type. She thanked Wakefield Council for funding an archivist for a year to catalogue and list the contents of over 3000 boxes of documents and other artefacts.

Councillor Denise Jeffery, the recently appointed Leader of Wakefield Council spoke of her association with John, and then unveiled the plaque which will be erected on the outside of the Art House building where John's collection was housed for many years.

News from the Gissing Trust

Gissing open days

Opening the Gissing House for the Wakefield Art Walks in May, July and September has been remarkably successful! Lesley, Peter and David, members of WHS as well as the Gissing Trust, were the stewards for these evenings and welcomed at least 64 visitors in May, over 30 in July and a similar total in September.

Everyone seemed interested in the displays, many watched the Gissing DVD, and quite a number of copies of 'A Life's Morning' were sold. Our stewards explained who Gissing was many times, there were questions and a buzz of conversation. Visitor numbers for the Heritage Open Days on 14-15 September and 21-22 September were also much improved on previous years.

People Power – Our contribution to Heritage Open Days at the Hepworth

On Saturday 21 September we provided two of three short talks on the Heritage Open Day theme this year of People Power, together with the Forgotten Women of Wakefield and in association with The Hepworth, Wakefield. The talks were all related to the conduct of elections and the moves to enfranchise women.

First Ken Rowley talked about the riot at the hustings for the Wakefield Parliamentary elections in 1837, explaining how the elections were conducted and how the violence broke out, and the resulting deaths.

Phil Judkins then talked about the Commission of Inquiry which followed extensive bribery in the Wakefield Parliamentary election of 1859. Because the vote was close, voters were bribed very large sums of money and also treated to hospitality. After voters were promised immunity if they testified to the Commission, 103 voters out of 809 were found to have accepted bribes. This blatant use of bribery increased pressure for the introduction of the secret ballot which was first brought in for a by election in Pontefract in 1872.
Sarah Cobham of Forgotten Women of Wakefield then talked about the pioneering work of Wakefield woman Florence Beaumont and her march of 6,000 in Wakefield for Votes for Women.

Talk to Pulmonary Fibrosis Support group
Wakefield in the 18th Century: Family Life in Westgate

pulmonary fibrosis

The Society were pleased to be invited to give a talk at Pinderfields Hospital to the group on 18th September. Lesley Taylor talked about the built environment in Wakefield, how it developed and led to the many fine buildings that were erected in the 18th Century. Shirley Levon used excerpts from letters written by a woman who lived in Westgate to illustrate her interests and activities and those of her family and friends.

Excursion to Lion Salt Works, the Anderton Boat Lift and Knutsford
18 July

Lion Salt Works

We had an enjoyable morning learning about the importance of the many salt-works in the Northwich area where salt was sourced from Roman times. We saw the enormous pans where brine was brought to the surface and dried to produce various qualities of salt. Blocks of salt were then sent to a crusher to be granulated. Established by Henry Ingram Thompson in 1894, the salt-works ran on the site for almost 100 years. The outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War saw the loss of a major market in West Africa and the eventual closure of the works in 1986. The site is now run by the Lion Salt Works Trust.

The theme of industrial heritage continued with a visit to the Anderton Boat Lift. The massive iron framework lifts boats between the Weaver Navigation and the Trent & Mersey Canal. Built in 1875, it was in use for over 100 years until it was closed in 1983 due to corrosion. Restoration started in 2001 and it was re-opened in 2002. It is the only working boat lift in England. We learnt more of its history as we travelled by boat up the lift, entertained by a knowledgeable guide.

Our visit to Cheshire concluded with a guided walk round Knutsford, the name being connected to King Canute. Knutsford was the model for Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Cranford. She lived in the town for some time, on what is now known as Gaskell Avenue, and she is buried in the Unitarian Chapel graveyard.

Excursion to Shandy Hall and Sion Hill Hall on 20 June

Shandy Hall

Our excursion on 20 June in conjunction with the Civic Society was fully booked, and we were rewarded with an excellent day, the morning spent at Shandy Hall at Coxwold, and the afternoon at Sion Hill Hall near Kirkby Wiske.

We were met by our entertaining and knowledgeable guide, Patrick Wildgust, at Coxwold Church where Laurence Sterne had been vicar in the 18th century. Patrick explained why there were three memorial slabs for Sterne, and various features of this ancient church, including the three tier pulpit from which Sterne would have given his sermons.

We crossed the road to Shandy Hall where Patrick told us about Sterne's novels, "Tristram Shandy" being the most well-known, and how Sterne gained status as a celebrity. We enjoyed the eighteenth century atmosphere of the house, including Sterne's study, although the building itself is medieval.

Sion Hill Hall

Following lunch in Coxwold we rejoined the coach to take us to Sion Hill Hall, which is in the care of the H.W. Mawer Charitable Trust. This fine country house was built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1912, designed by the eminent architect Walter H. Brierley of York. It is now the home of Michael Mallaby who guided us round the house which contains a wealth of fine antiques and artworks. The delightful gardens which surround the house have been restored and created by Michael.