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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.


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

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 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.