Wakefield Historical Society has secured a grant of £8,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable us to compile a detailed account of the development of the Wakefield Waterfront.
The aim of our project is to research, together with Waterfront communities, a history of the Wakefield Waterfront, and to communicate this in an accessible form to those communities and to the wider public. Our project will focus on the growth of waterside industries and residential community, following the opening up of the port of Wakefield after the development of the River Calder as a navigable waterway from 1702 by the Aire and Calder Navigation. From 1770 boats could progress further west via the extension along the Calder and Hebble Navigation to Sowerby Bridge, and then from 1804 across the Pennines, with the opening of the Rochdale Canal. A third waterway, the Barnsley Canal, was created between Wakefield and Barnsley in 1799. The history of the watermills which developed from the medieval period has already been published in John Goodchild’s Aspects of Medieval Wakefield and its Legacy (1991).
What is the ‘Wakefield Waterfront’? For the purposes of this project, the Wakefield waterfront is defined as the area bounded by the Leeds/London railway line, the Sheffield/ Kirkgate railway line, the Aire and Calder Navigation Yard, the Fall Ing locks, Barnsley Road and Portobello Road.
Included in this area are the Wakefield Mills grouping (the Soke Mill/ King’s Mill, Upper Mill and other mills on the Goit); the Aire and Calder Navigation Yard; the now-departed Crystal Spring; Wakefield Bridge and Chantry Chapel; The Hepworth Wakefield; Rutland Mills; the Navigation Warehouse; Fernandes’ Brewery; the mills down to the Belle Isle Dyeworks and the dyeworks itself; on the opposite bank, the malt-houses; the Portobello Mills (Double Two); the former community behind the river frontage (comprising the wharf, Tadman St/ Commercial St/ Mark St/ Church Lane, and including the church, chapel and school); the railway yard at low level with its hydraulic lift; all in addition to the river and canal works themselves and such more modest structures as the Sea Cadets’ HQ.
We hope to work with Community Groups in this area, and we have already approached; the Wakefield Sea Cadets (whose 70th anniversary falls this year) to receive an enthusiastic reception. Many businesses are in the area and their histories are also of great interest to us – Hirst’s Mill, Double 2, Crabtree, Screwfix, Print Factory, the boatyard, Groundwork, Arriva, Sunlight, Rawson’s Fibres, Oxley’s masons, and of course the Wharfside gastropub; and there are new communities of residents in Chantry Waters, and the other new-builds on the canal side.
Our research comes at a time when, following the opening of The Hepworth Wakefield at the Waterfront itself, the local authority is seeking to regenerate the Lower Kirkgate and Waterfront area. It will collate information on the use of the waterway for boat traffic and the cargoes carried to and from Wakefield, boat-building itself, the erection of such buildings as warehouses, maltings and textile mills, the development of housing, and the church, chapels and schools which served the people living close by, and would consist of three interweaving strands:
1. Documentary research – map regression analysis, directories, deeds, files both locally, using the wealth of material in John Goodchild’s archive, and at Regional and National Archives such as WYAS and Kew;
2.Oral and memoir history, where members of the Society seek recollections from people who have lived or worked close to the waterfront, including bargees, and locate images such as photographs to reinforce memories;
3. Visual history – using visual and technological skills and archive images to bring to life what has vanished or changed.
What we’d like to do is a ‘before and after’, displaying what we know at the start of this project, and then what we have found in the course of our work.
To launch, we plan an event at the Chantry with a poster display and a talk by our own local expert, John Goodchild, setting out what we currently know, perhaps preceded by flyers to local residents and businesses.
When our research is over, we plan a further event built on the theme of ‘Wakefield’s Waterfront – What We Know Now’
- a one-day conference presenting aspects of the history of the Wakefield Waterfront – for example, as transport interchange, as travelling community, as working communities, schools and faiths, coupled with
- interpretation of the history in folk song, and perhaps in drama
- an exhibition both of posters and visuals
- a videodisk usable for a programme of talks and presentations by WHS members to the local communities
- a self-guided trail leaflet to encourage both tourism and also locals to explore the area in greater depth