A photograph of a 4-storey warehouse next to a river.
Architecture Listed places

The Story of Wakefield in 8 Places

Discover the history of Wakefield in West Yorkshire through these historic places.

Wakefield in West Yorkshire is found on the River Calder. The area has been occupied since pre-Roman times.

In medieval times, Wakefield became an important port on the Calder and a centre for the woollen and tanning trades. It was dubbed the ‘Merrie City’.

By the Industrial Revolution, Wakefield was a wealthy market town and a key site for coal mining.

Here are eight places that help to tell the story of Wakefield.

1. Wakefield Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of All Saints, also known as Wakefield Cathedral, dates back to Anglo-Saxon times.

The foundations were possibly built as early as the 11th century when a church was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

A photograph of a medieval cathedral with 18th-century restoration.
The Grade I listed Cathedral Church of All Saints in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. © AKP Photos / Alamy Stock Photo.

The wall on the north aisle is the oldest part of the church, dating from about 1150.

However, most of the cathedral owes its late medieval appearance to 19th-century restorative work by architect George Gilbert Scott. At 247 feet, the cathedral has the tallest spire in Yorkshire.

Wakefield Cathedral is open to visit.

2. Sandal Castle

Sandal Castle is located on high ground overlooking the Sandal area of Wakefield and the River Calder.

Today, the site is largely demolished, but you can still see the remains of the 13th-century castle, built on top of the earthworks of an earlier Norman motte and bailey castle.

A photograph of a motte and bailey castle with the ruins of a medieval castle on top.
The Grade II* listed Sandal Castle on top of a scheduled Norman motte and bailey castle. © Historic England Archive. View image DP077051.

During the War of the Roses, Wakefield was a Royalist stronghold, and Richard III made this his chief stronghold in the north of England.

The area north of Sandal Castle was the site of the Battle of Wakefield, fought between the forces of Queen Margaret and the Duke of York. The castle was twice besieged by Parliamentary forces in the 1640s.

Sandal Castle is open to visit and is managed by Wakefield Council.

3. The Black Swan at 6 and 8 Silver Street

The Black Swan is considered the oldest pub in Wakefield, supposedly dating back to 1683 when it was known as the Golden Bull.

Whether the pub is this old or not, the building at 6 and 8 Silver Street certainly is: a timber-framed jettied building from the late 16th or early 17th century.

A photograph of a 4-storey timber framed building.
The Black Swan in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in 2018 before restoration. Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Alan Murray-Rust. View List entry 1258693.

Restoration work on the building as part of our Wakefield Upper Westgate High Street Heritage Action Zone has uncovered an astonishingly well-preserved façade.

The frame has been dated to around 1590, making it one of the oldest timber-framed buildings in Wakefield.

A photograph of a 4-storey timber framed jettied building.
6 and 8 Silver Street in Wakefield, after restoration. © Historic England.

4. Warehouses along the River Calder

At the start of the 19th century, Wakefield was a wealthy market town trading in wool and grain.

A photograph of a 4-storey warehouse next to a river.
A warehouse on the River Calder in Wakefield. © Historic England Archive. View image DP074073.

Large warehouses were built on the river banks to store grain from Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire to supply the fast-growing population in West Yorkshire.

5. Caphouse Colliery and the National Coal Mining Museum

Coal had been dug on the outskirts of Wakefield for centuries but expanded dramatically during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.

By the time the industry was nationalised (following the Second World War), the National Coal Board was one of Wakefield’s largest employers.

A black and white photograph of a colliery.
Caphouse Colliery in Sitlington, Wakefield, in 1997. © Crown Copyright. Historic England Archive. View image AA97/04947.

Caphouse Colliery incorporates three sites: Caphouse Pit, Hope Pit and Inman Shaft. Various sites are protected.

Today, you can visit the National Coal Mining Museum on the colliery site to learn about the people and communities at the heart of the industry.

A photograph of a former colliery with a green and white sign reading 'NATIONAL COAL MINING MUSEUM FOR ENGLAND'.
The National Coal Mining Museum for England at Caphouse Colliery in Wakefield. © Paul Harness / Alamy Stock Photo.

6. Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Wakefield has produced some of England’s most famous modernist sculptors, heavily influenced by the town’s landscapes and heritage.

Artist Henry Moore was born into a mining community in Castleford and was the first Patron of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The park, founded in 1977, is regarded as a leading international centre for modern and contemporary sculpture.

A photograph of a Modernish figurative sculpture in a park.
Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’ (1962), affectionately known as Old Flo, at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield. © Historic England Archive. View image DP169358.

Moore promised there would always be a display of his work here, so close to where he was brought up.

The park not only promotes Wakefield’s creative people and industries but highlights the beauty of its landscape. 500 acres of fields, hills, woodland, lakes, and formal gardens combine to create Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

A photograph of an 18-century mansion house in a landscape setting.
The Grade II* listed Bretton Hall. Contributed to the Missing Pieces Project by Marcus Macaulay. View List entry 1184808.

These historic grounds were once part of the Bretton Estate. In 1720, Sir William Wentworth built the mansion that forms the centre of today’s Bretton Hall.

7. The Hepworth Wakefield

Artist Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield, and although she left in 1921, aged 18, the town provided a space for some of her first exhibitions.

By 1937, she had started participating in the Wakefield Art Gallery’s annual West Riding Artists’ Exhibition. In 1940, Hepworth’s father bought her ‘Pierced Hemisphere I’ (1937) sculpture and presented it to the gallery.

The Hepworth Wakefield opened in 2013, replacing the old Wakefield Art Gallery to provide a legacy for the artist in the town where she was born.

A photograph of a 21st century art gallery.
The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire. © travellinglight / Alamy Stock Photo.

The Hepworth Wakefield highlights the place Wakefield has on the national art scene. In 2017, it was named the Art Fund Museum of the Year.

8. Westgate high street

Westgate high street is a gateway to Wakefield’s town centre and boasts some of its most beautiful buildings.

A photograph of a 2-storey former cinema painted white and black.
Nocturno Night Club (originally the Picture House) in Westgate, Wakefield, West Yorkshire. © Historic England Archive. View image DP289980.

Highlights include the Theatre Royal, designed by the celebrated theatre architect Frank Matcham, and the early 20th-century Unity Hall.

Several buildings in Westgate have received funding as part of our Wakefield Upper Westgate High Street Heritage Action Zone.

General view of the Westgate-facing side of Theatre Royal in Wakefield, as viewed from the south-east. Its modern extension is in the foreground.
The Grade II* listed Theatre Royal in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. © Historic England Archive. View image DP289939.

Further reading

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