Wakefield (district)



Wakefield lies at the heart of the City of Wakefield, a metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire, England. Located by the River Calder, it had a population of 76,886 in 2001.

Wakefield was dubbed the "Merrie City" in the Middle Ages.



The name "Wakefield" is often said to derive from "Waca's field" - the field belonging to Waca. However, it is more likely to have evolved from Old English wacu, meaning "a watch or wake", and feld, an open field in which a wake was held. In the Domesday Book of 1086, it was listed as Wachefeld. also as Wachefelt.

Early history

Much of what is now Wakefield, including Lupset, was held by William Earl Warenne, Earl of Surrey, as conferred on him by King William I. As early as 1203 William Earl Warenne received a grant to have a market in Wakefield. Wakefield and its environs formed the caput of an extensive baronial holding by the Warennes that extended to Cheshire and Lancashire. The Warennes, and their feudal sublords, continued to hold the area until the 14th century, when it passed to Warenne heirs. Those Norman tenants also holding land in the region, and particularly at Lupset, included the Lyvet (Levett) family, who had given their name to the nearby hamlet of Hooton Levitt.

In 1460, during the Wars of the Roses, the Duke of York was defeated near the city (then a town) in the Battle of Wakefield at Sandal Castle. The ruins of the castle can still be visited, and are a popular walking spot for locals.

Wakefield was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1848 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

Wakefield Cathedral is a 14th century parish church, which was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century. There is also a 14th century Chantry Chapel, one of only four remaining in England. The chapel tops a buttress on a bridge over the River Calder.

Industrial history

The town was a centre for cloth dealing and had its own Piece Hall. For much of the 18th and 19th century, Wakefield had an unusually diverse economy for Yorkshire, but it was a much smaller town during that period. Textile mills grouped around the River Calder, and a large glass works in the east of the city was a large employer. There were several collieries around the outskirts of the town, and engineering works in the centre that had strong links to mining. The Eastmoor area was once home to large brickyards. Its position as the seat of local government for the West Riding also provided many local jobs in the councils, courts and prison.

Many Wakefield families were and indeed still are prominent in the Wakefield area. The Parkinson's of Wakefield held a well respected position due to their wealth and fairness. Many of the family now live in Normanton on the outskirts of Wakefield, however Andrew Parkinson, does still live within the centre of Wakefield and many hold the same respect for him as those held for his ancestors of old.

In the early 20th century, large areas of council housing were built on the fields that surrounded the town, and the formerly independent villages of Sandal Magna, Belle Vue and Agbrigg became suburbs of Wakefield. As many of the new council estates depended on the expansion of coal-mining for their employment, the National Coal Board eventually became Wakefield's largest employer. The city was also surrounded by pit villages, but also by the old mill towns of Batley, Dewsbury and Ossett to the west.

Wakefield is known as the capital of the Rhubarb Triangle, an area notable for its early forced rhubarb. Wakefield is one of the points of the triangular area with the neighbouring towns of Morley and Rothwell as the other two. In July 2005 a statue was erected to celebrate this facet of Wakefield.

Post-industrial history

As with most industrial areas, Wakefield suffered many years of decline. The glass and textile industries faded out in the 1970s and 1980s. Margaret Thatcher's contraction of the coal industry began with a particular focus on Wakefield: all six pits within a two mile radius of the centre were closed between 1979 and 1983. By the time of the 1984 Miners' Strike, there were still 15 pits in the rest of the district, and demonstrations in support of the strike frequently took place in the city. The city suffered a double blow through the closure of local pits and the abolition of West Yorkshire County Council, which had been based in Wakefield; many local people had been employed in administration ever since the establishment of the old West Riding council. The city long remained a depressed area, but fortunes have risen recently and unemployment is now around the national average.


There are two railway stations in the city centre, Wakefield Westgate (trains mainly to Leeds, Doncaster, Sheffield and stations on the East Coast Mainline, including the terminus at London King's Cross) and Wakefield Kirkgate (trains to Barnsley, Meadowhall, Sheffield, Normanton, Pontefract, Knottingley, Leeds and Castleford) - as well as the "Sandal & Agbrigg" station on the East Coast Mainline, just to the south of the main Westgate station. Wakefield Westgate station is maintained by National Express East Coast (NXEC), who operate the Leeds-London service, and is manned with facilities such as secure car parking, ticket office and shops. In contrast, Wakefield Kirkgate station is unmanned, and there is no ticket office or machine. Most of the windows at the front of the station are boarded-up, and the grade 2 listed pub opposite, "The Wakefield Arms", has stood derelict for the last 3 years. Kirkgate station is operated by Northern Rail. A second service to London is provided by East Midlands Trains with trains running via Sheffield, Leicester and into St Pancras International.

Following the success of the FreeCityBus in Leeds, and the FreeTownBus in Huddersfield, a six month trial of a zero-fare Wakefield FreeCityBus scheme began on 23rd April 2007. The route connects key locations in the city including the bus station, railway stations, retail parks and shopping areas. The service runs every 10 minutes between 7:30am to 7:00pm, Monday to Friday and 8:30am to 5:00pm on Saturdays. Four hundred and fifty passengers used the service on its first running day.


See List of schools in Wakefield

Further Education

Wakefield College is the major provider of further education in the area, with around 3,000 full-time and 10,000 part-time students, and campuses in both the city centre and surrounding towns. The college has a 6th form, and in addition to A-levels also offers GCSE courses and a wide range of vocational qualifications.

The Wakefield district has several other 6th form colleges, including the Outwood Grange College 6th form in Outwood and the NEW College 6th Form in Pontefract.

Wakefield City Council has recently announced that it is planning in co-operation with Wakefield College, to establish the University Centre of Wakefield, which would offer students in the Wakefield district a new local university as an option to the offer by the University of Leeds.


Wakefield is less celebrated, but nevertheless well known, for its prisons. Its combined prison population was 1,657 in 2001. Wakefield Prison is a maximum security prison, one of the most secure in Britain, and has included many notorious inmates including Klaus Fuchs, Ian Huntley, Harold Shipman and Charles Bronson. Wakefield was originally built as a house of correction in 1594. The former governor R.S. Duncan has suggested that the well know nursery rhyme Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush finds its origins at the prison. During its days as a female prison, the women convicts would supposedly take their children on exercise with them and sing the now well-known tune. The original tree is claimed to be still there today. The current prison was designated a dispersal prison in 1966 (longest of remaining original group). It is now a lifer main centre with the focus on serious sex offenders. The current governor is David R. Thompson, Director-General elect of Her Majesty's Prison Service.

The nearby HMP New Hall is a multi-use prison for women, young female offenders and girls on Detention and Training Orders (DTOs).

Social Housing

In 2004, Wakefield's council tenants voted to transfer the entire council housing stock to a new registered social landlord, the registered charity Wakefield and District Housing (WDH), although the properties concerned are still often referred to as "council houses". Wakefield itself contains seven ex-council estates. The largest estate is Lupset, in the west; the others are Flanshaw, Plumpton, Peacock, Eastmoor, Portobello [known affectionately as "bella"] and Kettlethorpe.

WDH are working with partners such as Wakefield's Metropolitan District Council, to invest over £700 m regenerating the district and improving the houses. Improvements have been taking place since 2005 and to date over £150 m has been spent improving homes. In August 2007 WDH completed the first in a programme of new Social Housing developments, located at Chiltern Avenue in Whitwood.

WDH is building a reputation for excellent customer care, with the latest survey reporting 83% of tenants satisfied with the service being provided and 79% believing the services provided offer value for money. At its recent Audit Commission inspection WDH was awarded the highest level of award, three stars with excellent prospects for improvement. This was only the third time this award has been granted, and WDH were the first Northern Housing Association to receive it.



The indie-punk band The Cribs are from Wakefield. Prior to their emergence, Jane McDonald was the most celebrated Wakefield born contributor to the music industry. Jane regularly mentions Wakefield when acting as a panellist on ITV1's Loose Women, for various reasons, usually when talking about her childhood.

The Wakefield Cathedral Choir consists of boys, girls and men who perform at religious services, concerts and recitals at the cathedral. Choral Evensong with the boys is on Tuesdays and on Thursdays the boys are joined by the men. The girls perform Evensong on Wednesday evenings and Parish Eucharist on Sunday mornings. The boys and men also sing at Choral Eucharist and Evensong on Sundays. The girls, on occasion, sing choral Eucharist or Evensong with the Lay Clerks on Thursday or Friday evenings. Once each term, the boys and the girls swap their Sunday duties.

The choir, directed by Jonathan Bielby and assisted by Thomas Moore, is one of the most successful cathedral choirs in the UK, but paradoxically has also been described by many as 'Wakefield's best kept secret'. The choir have had appearances on BBC 1's 'Songs of Praise' and BBC Radio 3's 'Choral Evensong'.

Notable songs about Wakefield

"Ancient History" by The Cribs is about Wakefield

Film and Television

The film, This Sporting Life is set in Wakefield and depicts the hard realities of the mines and Rugby League. It was directed by Lindsay Anderson, written by David Storey and starred Richard Harris. Many of the images of the city centre are very different from how it is today, yet the Belle Vue area, which surrounds the rugby ground, has not changed nearly as much. The film is now something of a relic; it is not closely identified with Wakefield in the way that, say, Kes is with Barnsley, The Full Monty is with Sheffield or Rita, Sue and Bob Too is with Bradford.

In June 2005 Wakefield was the scene of the television programme Most Haunted, who hosted a summer solstice special in various locations around the city, including Wakefield Opera House. During the course of the show they attempted to contact the spirit of James Ellison, a former city councilman.

Museums and the arts

Wakefield city-centre is host to a small art gallery and a city museum. These will be added to by a Barbara Hepworth gallery is being built as part of the rejuvenation of the city centre's waterfront.

The National Coal Mining Museum for England (an Anchor Point of ERIH, The European Route of Industrial Heritage) and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, one of Europe's foremost sculpture parks, are with the metropolitan area.

The Wakefield Theatre Royal hosts a variety of performing arts. Wakefield is also known for the Wakefield Cycle, a collection of 32 mystery plays, dating from the 14th century, which were performed as part of the summertime religious festival of Corpus Christi and revived in recent times.

Parks and historical sites


Wakefield hosts an annual Rhubarb Festival to celebrate its historical association as a grower of the plant and consists of various themed tours, talks, exhibitions and markets.

Clarence Park Festival is held annually in Thornes Park, playing free live music for the 16th time in 2008.

Night Life

The area of Westgate was historically held to have the largest number of adjacent pubs in England. The Westgate Run attracts drinkers from across the region.

The Westgate Run (locally referred to as 'The Wessy' (pronounced 'Wezy')) consists of starting at the bottom of Westgate Road, in a pub called 'The Redoubt' and progressing though each of the pubs, having a drink in each of the 15 or so pubs. Other pubs along the route include 'The Smiths Arms' and 'The Swan wih Two Necks'.

Other rules accompanying the westgate run include that no women are allowed. If a woman joins a group of men on the run the man responsible for the attendance of a woman must drink a shot of brandy. Another rule is to keep the traditional rules of the Wessy upheld at all times. This involves elephant walking from each pub to the next and having a fitness workout in the middle of westgate at some point in the night.


Wakefield is known for its rugby league club, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. Formed in 1873, the club has had a chequered history, with their glory period in the 1960s with Neil Fox, Derek 'Rocky' Turner, Keith Holliday and Harold Poynton under coach Ken Traill. They now play in the elite Super League division of the sport. Playing as the Wildcats, Wakefield's best season was in 2004 when they reached the Super League playoffs defeating Hull F.C and narrowly losing to Wigan Warriors. However with a Challenge Cup Semi Final appearance on the 26th of July, the clubs first since 1979, bigger, brighter things could be just around the corner for "the Wildcats" in 2008!

Wakefield RFC was the city's rugby union club from 1901 to 2004 when the club ceased playing after relegation and lack of funding. Sandal RFC are now the area's largest rugby union club.

Wakefield F.C. play their football in the Unibond League First Division after their merger and move from the village of Emley in 2001. They played at Belle Vue as tenants of Trinity until the end of the 2005/6 season following their relegation. They have moved to College Grove for the start of the 2006/7 season, Wakefield RFC's former ground.

Wakefield is the largest city in England without a team in the Football league but Frickley Athletic F.C.in South Elmsall operated in the football conference in the 1980s just one division below the football league. Frickley Athletic F.C. and Ossett_Town_F.C. are the leading football clubs in the district, both clubs playing in the UniBond Premier Division.

Wakefield Harriers A.C. is the athletics club located at Thornes Park Athletics Stadium and is home to international athletes including Martyn Bernard, Emily Freeman and Charlene Thomas.

There are a number of Cricket and amateur rugby league teams that play in many of the villages around the city. One other notable team was skater hockey's Wakefield Warriors, which during their short life, were crowned British and European Champions.

Wakefield has two successful current senior international swimmers (Ian Perrell and Rachel Jack).

West Yorkshire Canoe Club is a canoe club bases in Wakefield, they have sessions in Wakefield, Batley & Pontefract throughout the week. The club is well known in the kayaking world because of 2 of there members; Joe Morley, GB Slalom paddler & 5th In Premier Division , and Russell Johnson, GB U23 Slalom Paddler Hopefull & 27th in Division 2.


Wakefield has its own newspapers, The Wakefield Express , the Wakefield Guardian, and radio station Ridings FM. It also has a number of free magazines including Excelle, Solo and The Wakefield Review


Wakefield is currently undergoing major development and re-development projects, aiming to bring new life into the city.

City Centre

  • Trinity Walk - A £175 m development to the south-east of Wakefield city centre that will see original market hall and surrounding area demolished and replaced with a new indoor market, retail units and library. Work began in autumn 2007, with the entire project scheduled for completion in 2010.
    • Marsh Way - Part of the Trinity Walk development, the Wakefield By-Pass, or Marsh Way, is being re-routed to accommodate Trinity Walk, phase one due to start late September 2007.
  • ABC Cinema Flats - The original ABC cinema, which closed in 1997, has been given a new lease of life and a £13.5 m redevelopment converting the cinema into flats.
  • Ings Road - Plans to demolish most of the current Ings road shopping park and redevelop into a "city centre like" shopping plaza, also to re-route the "motorway like" Ings road to leave a un-congested street.
  • Ridings Shopping Centre - Owners of the centre (Moorfield Real Estate Fund) have announced they are spending several million on revamping the ageing city centre shopping mall by replacing the current doors with a glass front.
  • Community Stadium - Still in the planning stages, the new stadium is the replacement to the old Belle Vue ground the home of the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats. The stadium is planned to be built in place of the current Thornes College in Thornes Park. The design is somewhat similar to that of Doncaster's new Keepmoat Stadium.


  • Waterfront Wakefield - £150 m Development of the Old Fernandes brewery in Kirkgate. The development will see new retail and industrial units built alongside the Hepworth Gallery, an art gallery built to honour the designs of Barbara Hepworth
  • Chantry Waters - Adjacent to the development at Wakefield Waterside, Chanty Waters is a regeneration of Calder Island alongside Vauxhall. Phase one is completed and Chantry Waters Flats were completed in February 2007. Phase Two includes office blocks and begins in 2008.


  • Westgate Station - A regeneration of the station by the city council and the English Cities Fund, moving the station down the railway line, extending the platform and building a new hotel.
  • Westgate Key Development Area - The current station and goods yard will be converted into a retail and commercial hotspot.
  • Wakefield Theatre Royal - The theatre is to be extended for the inclusion of new facilities including studio space, bar/restaurant and an education suite.

Notable people born in or near Wakefield

Sister cities


Location Grid


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