Guide to Selected Historical Buildings in Wakefield

This work is the Copyright of Wakefield Historical Society and is not to be copied in any medium without explicit written permission.



1. St John’s Church
The foundation stone of the first new post-Reformation Anglican church in Wakefield was laid in November 1791 and the church was consecrated in 1795. Built with stone from Newmillerdam, subscriptions covered part of the cost, plus the sale of pews and burial vaults. The tower was rebuilt in 1880 having been struck by lightning. During a Victorian restoration, galleries were removed, and doorways and windows were blocked. The original apse was replaced with a rectangular chancel in the twentieth century.

2. St John’s Square
This Georgian development, promoted by John Lee, a Wakefield solicitor, was completed soon after 1800, with a uniform frontage design, but irregular backs. Some were built as shells – just walls, roofs and floors; interior dividing walls were added later.

3. St John’s North
The house at the eastern end, and seven other houses were erected by a building society, “The Union Society” led by John Puckrin a local builder. Like St John’s Square, they were all constructed with a uniform design for the frontage by John Thompson, an eminent architect. This has survived almost intact, apart from an altered doorway and the addition of an oriel window.

Queen Elizabeth Grammar School4. Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (QEGS)
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School was founded by Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1591 at the request of leading citizens. The original Elizabethan building still exists on Brook Street close to the new Trinity Walk Shopping Centre. In 1854 QEGS moved to its present site in Northgate into premises built for the West Riding  Proprietary School in 1833-4 and designed by the architect Richard Lane.

5. Clayton Hospital
The oldest part of the present building was opened on 30th July 1879, profiting from various benefactors including the eponymous Thomas Clayton who left a will providing money for an earlier dispensary which had latterly been off Northgate. Two further wings were added in 1900 and 1932. Most of the hospital will shortly be demolished, but the central part of the original building will be kept.

6. St Austin’s Roman Catholic Church
The church, on Wentworth Terrace, has strong associations with Charles Waterton of Walton Hall, who was among its first benefactors. Built in 1827 by William Puckrin, it was originally a plain structure but was extended and altered in 1852, and later in 1878-9. The most noticeable feature from the later alteration is the domed Lady Chapel.

7. Wentworth House, Wakefield Girls’ High School
The house was built 1802-1803 by John Pemberton Heywood, a barrister, and lived in by him until his death in 1835 and subsequently by his wife until 1851. The house, its grounds and outbuildings were bought in 1878 for the considerable sum of £8000, to establish a girls’ high school which opened in the same year.

8. Egremont House, Northgate
Egremont House, until recently the Wakefield Register Office, was built soon after 1810 by John Egremont the husband of Hannah Crowther who had inherited her father’s wealth, gained as a woolstapler. Typical of many houses of the period, the front is built of good quality bricks, but the sides and back are of inferior quality.


9. County Hall
The West Riding County Council was established in 1889. In 1892 architects’ designs were invited for its headquarters. The winning design was by Gibson and Russell who proposed a Gothic design. County Hall was built in the four years from 1894 and opened by the Chairman of the West Riding County Council, Charles George Milnes Gaskell, on 22 February 1898. New wings were added to the original building between 1912 and 1915 by George Crook of Wakefield. The interior of the building is embellished by splendid mural paintings, tiling and mosaics.

10. The Court House, the Tammy Hall and Cliff Parade
Land was purchased in 1806, and the Court House built for the West Riding magistrates to a design provided by Charles Watson. A delay in completion was reputed to be because there were problems obtaining large enough blocks of stone for the pillars, but Quarter Sessions were held there from 1810. The building was extended in 1849-50 and again in the 1880s. County Courts ceased to be held there in 1992, and at present the building remains empty. Only part of the original Tammy Hall building remains, as it was partly demolished in the late 1870s, in order to erect the new Town Hall. The original hall was opened in 1778 for the sale of tammies, wildbores and camlets, all types of worsted material. Trade had declined by 1823 and the building was let. When the eastern half was demolished the remainder was converted into a police and fire brigade station, and fine carvings showing Victorian fire-fighting and a policeman’s helmet remain, the latter facing on to Cliff Parade.

George and Crown Yard11. Town Hall
The site between the Court House and the Public Rooms (the old museum) was purchased by Wakefield Corporation in 1854, but it was not until 1877 that the building work commenced. It was designed by T. W Colcutt, a London architect, in a French Renaissance style. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor, Alderman W.H. Gill, solicitor, in October 1877, and the building was opened in October 1880 by the Mayor, W.H. Lee, worsted spinner. Their names are commemorated by Gill Street and Lee Street which adjoin the building.

12. The Old Museum and Crown Court
Over a hundred subscribers contributed to a new “Public Library, News Room and Other Public Rooms” buying shares at £25 each. The building opened in 1823 with a series of concerts, and was the home of many cultural activities in Wakefield. In 1855 the Mechanics Institute purchased the building (which they had been using since 1842) and it was only in 1935 that it was sold to Wakefield Corporation, becoming the town’s museum in 1955. The museum moved in 2012 to the new “Wakefield One” building. In Crown Court, the building displaying “Town Hall” on its facade acted as a Council chamber for several years from 1861. It had originally been built as new Assembly Rooms, opening about 1801. The George and Crown Yard, leading from Crown Court, was named after an inn that once stood at the Silver Street end, and was an early home of the Freemasons.


Existing streets in the town centre once bounded the medieval market and village green: the top of Westgate, Silver Street, Little Westgate, Bull Ring and the section of Northgate outside the Cathedral gates. Buildings abutting on Bread Street and Cross Square developed from medieval booths to become permanent shops. Other street names such as Frederick Street and Brook Street derive from the directors and officers of the Borough Market Company.

13. King Street, Silver Street, Barstow Square, and Thompson’s Yard
The Black Swan building on Silver Street, with its stepped upper levels, is of 17th century origin, dating from a time when timber was still the basic structural material. The large four-storey warehouse on King Street was built for Joseph Jackson about 1811. Here he took Titus Salt as his apprentice to learn the wool trade, later to become the builder of Salts Mill and Saltaire. Named after the Barstow family who purchased the Green Dragon Inn in 1708, the square is typical of the infilling and rebuilding that happened elsewhere in the town from the early 18th century onwards. West of Barstow Square, Thompson’s Yard is typical of the many yards that once existed in Wakefield, leading off from the three main thoroughfares, Northgate, Westgate and Kirkgate. They were originally paved with cobbles, (later replaced with setts), which were often brought in by boat on the navigation. George Gissing (1857-1903), the renowned Victorian novelist, lived here as a boy behind his father’s chemist’s shop. Although he left Wakefield as a young man, his early experiences in Wakefield are often reflected in his writing. He wrote 23 novels, short stories, and two studies of Charles Dickens.

14. Cross Square and the Black Rock
Erected in 1906, the building on the corner of Cross Square and Bull Ring, intended as a shopping centre and offices, was designed by Peter Robinson and shows Italian Renaissance influence. The late 18th century Black Rock public house is on the site of the house where John Potter lived as a child. He was to be Archbishop of Canterbury from January 1737 until his death in 1747.

Cross Square15. Cathedral
The cathedral stands on the site of a Saxon Church being replaced by a Norman church soon after 1090. Before the sixteenth century it was known as All Hallows and subsequently as All Saints. The main part of the present building is in the Perpendicular style of the early 15th century and was restored between 1858-1874 by Sir George Gilbert Scott in ashlar sandstone. The large four-stage west tower and spire are the highest in Yorkshire. Most of the cathedral’s stained glass windows were created by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837- 1907). The church became a cathedral in 1888 when the Diocese of Wakefield was created, although it also remained as the parish church. The chancel was extended in 1905, adding transepts and St Mark’s Chapel. Cathedral Passage leads from the western end of the cathedral through to Westmorland Street, and still retains its railings from the 1840s.

16. Brook Street, now leading to the Trinity Walk shopping centre, was once known as Goodybower, and is mentioned in the medieval Wakefield Cycle of Mystery Plays

17. Zetland Street
Now the home to an eclectic mixture of shops, the timber-framed Old Vicarage dates back to 1349. It has a fine example of an exterior, protruding chimney stack. Opposite is the Masonic Hall, the pediment above the doorway decorated with masonic symbols.


18. Cheapside
Cheapside was laid out In 1802, and was gradually occupied by woolstaplers and their warehouses. Wool was brought from throughout Great Britain and Europe to Wakefield to be sorted and resold. Many of the warehouses have survived almost intact, and the top-floor hoists for the woolsacks can still be seen.

19. York House and the Theatre Royal
York House on Drury Lane was probably built in the late 1760s by James Banks, whose family were in the wool trade. It was later owned by a leading solicitor, William Stewart, but following his death it became a select gentlemen’s club “The Wakefield and County Club”, which survived until the 1950s. It was also James Banks, who in 1776, built Wakefield’s first purpose-built theatre, the Theatre Royal on Westgate. Many famous actors starred there, including Mrs Siddons and Edmund Kean. It was condemned as a building in 1892 and Benjamin Sherwood, the owner at that time, had it demolished. A new theatre was built in 1894, to the design of the well-known theatre architect Frank Matcham, and renamed the Royal Opera House. During the twentieth century it was used firstly as a cinema, and then as a bingo hall. It was restored as a theatre in the early 1980s.

20. Carnegie Library on Drury Lane
Wakefield had had a subscription library from 1786, but it was only in 1905 that a free library was built. An amount of £8,000 was secured from Andrew Carnegie, who financed libraries throughout Great Britain and America. Charles Skidmore, a local man, was the second benefactor giving the library no fewer than 2,000 books and pamphlets about Wakefield or originating in Wakefield. The use of the building as a library ended in 2012 when it was moved into the new Civic building, “Wakefield One”.

21. Westgate Chapel
The chapel was built in brick between 1750 and 1752, replacing an older one at Westgate End. Originally a place of worship for Protestant Dissenters in the 18th century, the chapel is now Unitarian. The present pulpit came from the older chapel. New pews in the 1880s replaced the old box pews. The chapel has a fine organ by the Wakefieldbased Francis Booth which has recently been restored and repaired. Many noted Wakefield residents are associated with the chapel including Daniel Gaskell, the first member of Parliament for the new Wakefield Parliamentary Borough in 1832, who was also one of the Trustees of the chapel.

Pemberton House22. Pemberton House and the Orangery (on Back Lane)
Pemberton House, at the entrance to the previous Westgate Station, is one of the many fine and large Georgian houses on both sides of Westgate, most of which still exist; a reminder of the many successful merchants that prospered in Wakefield during the 18th century. An American visitor in 1777 stated that “Westgate Street has the most noble appearance I ever saw out of London”. Pemberton House was built about 1752 for Pemberton Milnes. The Milnes family were successful cloth and wine merchants and various branches of the family owned houses on Westgate. Pemberton Milnes became a magistrate and a Deputy Lieutenant of Yorkshire; he was a Whig and a Dissenter, supporting the Westgate Chapel where he would eventually be buried in the vaults. Between 1842 and 1864 the house was owned by another prominent Wakefield resident, Henry Clarkson, the author of “Memories of Merrie Wakefield”, published in 1887. Pemberton House was taken
by compulsory order for the West Riding and Grimsby Railway Company, and was owned by the railway for many years. The house was also used by a local weekly newspaper, “The Wakefield and West Riding Herald”, from about 1872 to 1910, and used later as the Labour Exchange. On the northern side of Back Lane is the Orangery, built in an 18th century style as a garden house. It was later opened as horticultural and zoological gardens. A bear kept in the grounds escaped, and unfortunately mauled the keeper’s wife to death. Later it became a Sunday school for Westgate Chapel, and part of the grounds were used as a graveyard. At various times it was let on weekdays as a school, the last being the Collegiate School from the 1930s to 1957. More recently it was used by an art and design organisation.


Market Street23. The Great Black Bull Inn and Market Street
On the corner of Westgate and Market Street is the substantial building, once known as the Great Black Bull Inn. Built in the 1770s, it was once the foremost inn in Wakefield. Behind it was a long yard, with stabling and wool warehousing. The bottom of Market Street linked to the turnpike road to Manchester, and once led to the cattle market that was held on the site of the present Royal Mail Sorting Office; during the nineteenth century it was the greatest in the north of England. On the east side of Market Street is what was the Primitive Methodist Chapel, and on the west side is the classically styled United Methodist Chapel. Next to it was the first purpose-built Wakefield Post Office – still exhibiting the name on its facade.

24. South Parade
Running from west to east, and backing on to George Street is South Parade, a fine Georgian terrace, erected over a period of time in the 1790s on land owned by the Charnock family. Unlike St John’s North, the frontages were not of uniform design. A plan to extend the scheme at right angles to South Parade never bore fruit. By 1795 a road was opened up into the White Bear Yard in Westgate to serve the development, later named Queen Street.

25. Zion Chapel and Caleb Crowther’s Amshouses
The foundation stone of Zion Chapel was laid on 20th July 1843, replacing a previous chapel built in 1782 on the same site. William Shaw was responsible for the design, and was one of the major benefactors with Caleb Crowther, M.D. On the opposite side of George Street, are the Caleb Crowther almshouses, the shells of which were built in 1838-39 for poor nonconformists, but were not fitted up until 1862-63. Under the provisions of the Trust, the Trustees were not to be Roman Catholic, nor solicitors, and to agree in writing that they did not intend to be a Tory or a member of the Church of England. Caleb Crowther’s grave is behind the almshouses, although the gravestone has been moved.

Kirkgate26. Kirkgate Station
The first modern railway line to come to Wakefield was in 1840, the Manchester and Leeds Railway, passing through Kirkgate Station which was built partly on the site of the cement works of Joseph Aspdin, the inventor of Portland Cement. The derelict Wakefield Arms pub close to the station is believed to have been constructed using Aspdin’s cement. The first station at Kirkgate was functional rather than grand, but the present station with a classical stone facade dates from 1854, built with grain warehouses adjoining it. The station has recently been restored and updated.


By 1704 the Aire and Calder Navigation had linked Wakefield to the Humber and the sea, but Wakefield merchants needed a route to the clothproducing areas of the Pennines and to channel the corn produce of the eastern counties to industrial Lancashire and Cheshire. The Calder and Hebble Navigation was complete by 1770, reaching Sowerby Bridge, and subsequently extended by canals to the North West. Wakefield’s waterfront adjacent to the river and the cut was once a hub of activity with warehouses, mills, maltings and boat-building enterprises.

River Calder27. The Aire and Calder Navigation Offices
The head offices of the Aire and Calder Navigation in Navigation Yard were built in brick in the 18th century. The adjacent, early 19th century, stone building was the board room. Administration was transferred to Leeds in 1851, and later William Teall took occupation as a grease recovery plant and the area became known as “Grease ‘Ole Yard”.

28. The Bridge and Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin
The original 14th century stone bridge carrying the main route to London and the South exists alongside what is now a four-lane bridge, first built in 1933. The Chantry Chapel is one of only four surviving bridge chapels in England, and is a scheduled ancient monument and a Grade 1 listed building. The original stonework can be seen at the base, although much of upper part was rebuilt in 1847-8. George Gilbert Scott’s west front had deteriorated so far that it had to be replaced in 1939.

29. Wakefield Flood Lock Basin, Fall Ing Cut and Fall Ing Lock
Fall Ing Cut was opened in 1761 to bring boats into Wakefield Mill Dam, known as “Wakefield Pond”. The original route was almost straight, opening into the Calder below the weir, but was altered to avoid shallows in the river, and the present Fall Ing Lock was opened in 1812. Above the weir, on the north side of the river is Thornes Lane, still the scene of boat-building and repairs, where the new footbridge to the Hepworth Gallery crosses the river.

30. The Calder and Hebble Navigation Warehouse, Rutland Mill and Upper Miil.
On the south side of the river is the Calder and Hebble Navigation Warehouse, built about 1790. Consisting of four storeys and an attic, there are single windows above the canal dock linking the three windows on each side. The interior of the building has massive wooden beams and cross beams supported on square wooden piers and later circular iron columns. Next to the warehouse is the large brick-built Rutland Mill, erected in 1871-2 as a worsted spinning mill by Isaac Briggs, a retired railway contractor who invested in the mill for himself and his sons. Wakefield Upper Mill, an early 18th century example of a cloth fulling (felting) mill stands in the grounds of the new Hepworth Gallery.

All Illustrations from “Drawings of Henry Clarke”, Wakefield Historical Society Journal, Volume 4, 1977

Appreciative thanks to John Goodchild for his help and advice in the preparation of this guide.

“A Wakefield Town Trail” devised by John Goodchild, published by Architectural Heritage: Wakefield District Group, 1980
“Wakefield District Heritage” Volumes I and ll, compiled by Kate Taylor, published by Architectural Heritage:
Wakefield District Group, 1976 and 1979
“The Making of Wakefield, 1801-1900” by Kate Taylor, Wharncliffe Books, 2008
“Wakefield Canal Trail” by John Goodchild, Wakefield Historical Publications, 1985
© Wakefield Historical Society, 2018


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