Public Houses in the Wakefield Waterfront area c.1820 – 1930

Public Houses in the Wakefield Waterfront area c.1820 – 1930, by Linda Smith

Wakefield has always been known as “the Merry City” because of its plentiful public houses, so it was not difficult to calculate that the waterfront area would have had its fair share of hostelries too, especially at a time when the waterways were busy commercial thoroughfares, with plenty of trade and plenty of activity, providing plenty of customers needing to eat and drink and possibly stay overnight. Besides, there are still some surviving public houses in the area, although nowhere near the number there once were, and these hint at an historic past. Another aspect which appealed to me was the way in which public houses impinge on so many aspects of local life, and I wanted to explore how they had become intertwined with the lives of those who lived nearby.

I began by finding out if any work had already been done on this subject, and it wasn’t long before I discovered helpful printed studies by Ray Wilcock, Rod Kaye and Kevin and Phillip Grundy. Although their studies had a much wider base, generally covering the whole of Wakefield, I could deduce plenty of information about the waterfront pubs from them. Wilcock had derived his information from all the trade directories of the period, and so saved me much work. Then I found more information on the Wakefield Family History Society and the websites. But the most useful online site I have used so far is Gale’s “Nineteenth Century British Newspapers”, through which I have been able to track many entries of human interest connected to the public houses I had discovered from the printed sources I had read earlier. I am also using indexes in Wakefield Local Studies Library to uncover articles in local newspapers not covered by Gale.

I am developing my research according to the various roles the public houses adopted to serve their community. They certainly weren’t just a place to drink, but served at times as coroner’s court, auction house, shop, sports centre, and meeting place. They were also at times at odds with the Law and I am uncovering those stories too. I am, however, finding it difficult so far to find instances of public houses providing professional entertainment, something that we have grown to expect nowadays.

Linda Smith

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