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Wakefield in 1843

WAKEFIELD, a market-town and parliamentary borough, situated on the left bank of the river Calder, in the wapentake of Agbrigg, in the West Riding of the county of York : it is 9 miles from Leeds, 10 from Barnsley, 13 from Huddersfield, and 187 from London by Nottingham and Sheffield. The parish comprises an area of 9,390 acres, and consists of the township of Wakefield (630 acres) which is nearly in the centre of the parish ; the townships of Alverthorpe-with-Thornes, 2,390 acres ; Stanley-with-Wrenthorpe, 4,700 acres; and the chapelry of Horbury, 1,130 acres. Alverthorpe and Horbury are chiefly manufacturing districts. The boundary of the manor or lordship of Wakefield stretches westward to the borders of Lancashire and Cheshire, and several miles eastward of the town, and in 1821, comprised one-eighth of the population of Yorkshire.

Wakefield is mentioned in ‘Domesday Book.' The Romans had probably a station in the township of Stanley, and some years since a number of moulds for coining their money (in some of which the coin was still remaining in the matrix) were found in a field here, and are now deposited in the British Museum. The manor was a possession of the crown until it was granted by Henry I (1100-35) to William, Earl Warren. From the middle of the fourteenth century it was again in the hands of the crown, until the reign of Charles I, who granted it to Henry, earl of Holland. In 1700 it was purchased by the family of the duke of Leeds : the present lord is S. W. Lane Fox, Esq., son-in-law of the late duke. Sandal Castle, near Wakefield, built by the last Earl Warren, about 1320, is now in utter ruin. The manor courts are now held once in three weeks at the Moot Hall in Kirkgate, within the town, when the steward of the manor disposes of petty causes and actions for debt under £5. A bloody battle was fought at Wakefield in 1460, between the Yorkists and Lancastrians, at which Richard, duke of York, father of Edward IV, was slain.

Leland, in his ‘Itinerary,' written about 1536, describes Wakefield as ‘a very quick market-towne and meately large ; well served of flesch and fisch, both from the se and by rivers, whereof divers be thereabout at hande, so that al vitaile is very gode chepe there. A right honest man shal fare well for two pens a meale.' Leland adds :- 'The building of the town is meately faire, most of tymbre, but some of stone.' He then notices the fair bridge of stone over the Calder, 'and on the est side of the bridge is a right goodly chapel of our Ladye.' This chapel is the most interesting feature of the ancient town. It stands upon the site of one built by Edward III (1327-77), which appears to have been pulled down and rebuilt by Edward IV (1461-83) in memory of his father. The architecture is in the elaborate Gothic style which prevailed in the fifteenth century ; but as the endowments were withdrawn at the dissolution, it fell into decay, and was for some time used as a corn-factor's counting-house, though fortunately steps are now taking for its restoration at a cost of £2,500, and it is to be used for divine worship. The building projects over and partly rests on the starlings of the bridge. The bridge has eight arches, and was built in the reign of Edward III. There is an old mansion within the town, called Heselden Hall, erected in the reign of Henry VI (1422-61). At the present time Wakefield is a place of respectable appearance, and deficient in none of the requisites of an opulent town. It is paved, lighted with gas, and well supplied with water. On the south west the buildings of the town advance into the neighbouring township of Alverthorpe in a continuous street ; and on the north-east, in the township of Stanley, there is a spot called the East Moor, which also forms pant of the town. The suburb called St. John's, at the northern extremity of the town, consists of very handsome houses, with shrubberies, &c. Most of the houses in the town are built of brick. The principal buildings of a public character are a market-cross of the Doric order, erected early in the last century, with an open colonnade supporting a dome, the interior of which contains a spacious room, used for the transaction of public business ; the public rooms in Wood Street, built by subscription, comprise a library and news-room, with apartments in the upper story for lectures, concerts, and assemblies. A Corn Exchange was erected in 1823, and another on a larger scale has been recently built, and was opened for business in 1837 : the upper story comprises a room used for public meetings, &c., which is one of the largest in the county. The theatre was built by Tate Wilkinson. The Tammy Hall, 210 feet long and 30 broad, erected many years ago as a place of sale for the manufacturers of light woollen stuffs, is now converted into a power-loom factory for stuffs. The most important public buildings are those belonging to the county and West Riding. The Register-Office was established in 1704, for the registry of deeds relating to landed property. The court-house was erected in 1806. The House of Correction is a very extensive pile, constructed on the improved plan of county prisons, and is now being still further enlarged : the number of prisoners confined at one time during 1842 averaged 784, and the number some times exceeds 900. The clerk of the peace for the West Riding has his offices at Wakefield. About a mile north east of the town is the West-Riding Lunatic Asylum, erected in 1817, for 250 patients ; but it has been more than once enlarged, and the number of patients now averages 400.

The parish church, erected in 1470, is 156 feet long and 69 wide, with a tower 22 feet wide inside, surmounted by a spire, the total height being 228 feet. The south front was re-edified in 1724 ; and other parts have been so extensively repaired, that few external remains exist of the original building. The living is a vicarage in the gift of the crown, and the gross as well as net annual income for the years 1828-29-30 was £537. In 1652 a lectureship, now of the value of £100 a year, and in the gift of the Mercers' Company of London, was founded by Lady Camden. A second lectureship, supported by voluntary contributions, was established in 1801. St. John's Church, erected at a cost of about £10,000, was opened in 1795, and was made parochial in 1815. The vicar presents, and there is a bequest of £1,000 for endowing the officiating minister. Trinity Church, in the town, was opened in 1839. The livings of Stanley, worth £85 a year, and of Alverthorpe, valued at £72, are also in the gift of the vicar ; but the living of Horbury, the average value of which is £225 a year, is in the gift of the crown. A new church was opened in 1830 in the township of Thornes. The Independents and the Wesleyan Methodists have each two chapels ; and the Quakers, Unitarians, Roman Catholics, and Primitive Methodists one each. The grammar-school, founded by Queen Elizabeth in 1592, possesses endowments which produce about £300 a year. The trustees, who are a corporate body, appoint a head master, who has a salary of £160, and a second master who has £80 a year. The children of all resident parishioners are admitted into the school, and receive a free classical education : a separate master is appointed to teach writing and arithmetic, for which he receives a quarterly payment from the parents of the scholars. There are exhibitions from the grammar-school to Clare Hall, Cambridge, and Queen's College, Oxford, one to each ; and three, each of £50, to either Oxford or Cambridge. Bentley, Archbishop Potter, and Dr. Radcliffe, the founder of the great library at Oxford, were educated at the school. The school-room is commodious, and the number of boys who receive a classical education is usually from thirty to forty. The Green-Coat Charity, which clothes and educates about 125 children of both sexes, was founded in 1707, and has an income of £600, of which £500 arise from lands bequeathed in 1674. There is also a Lancasterian and two national schools, one for boys and the other for girls. In 1823 a proprietary school was established at Wakefield, with a capital of £15,000. In 1833 there were three infant-schools in the parish, attended by 270 children. In the parish the number of children attending day-schools in 1833 was 2,100, and Sunday-schools 1,946. A literary and philosophical society was established in 1827, and there is a mechanics' institute. There are almshouses for men and women, which are very liberally endowed. The property belonging to them is vested in the hands of the trustees of the gram mar-school, who have the control of charitable funds amounting altogether to about £1,000 per annum. There is a dispensary and house of recovery, supported by subscription.

In the middle of the sixteenth century Leland stated that ‘al the hole profite of the towne standeth by course draperie.' The manufacture of woollen stuffs, which was once extensively pursued at Wakefield, is now almost entirely removed to Bradford and Halifax, but the woollen cloth manufacture, though not on any large scale, and the spinning of woollen and worsted yarn, are carried on : dyeing of woollen stuffs is a very important branch of industry. There are also roperies, iron-foundries, breweries, ship-yards, starch-works, and copperas-works. The most marked feature of the industry of the town is the present day has arisen from its situation between a vast population of consumers and an extensive district of production, with both of which it is connected by very complete lines of river and canal navigation. The Calder was rendered navigable to the Ouse in 1699, before which period manufactured goods were conveyed for shipment a distance of 30 miles by land-carriage. The Aire and Calder navigation is perhaps one of the finest lines of inland navigation in the kingdom, and by it sea-going vessels of one hundred tons burthen reach Wakefield from the Humber. Goods shipped at Wakefield reach the port of Goole, in the river Ouse, in eight hours. The navigable communication between Wakefield and the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire is maintained by the Calder and Hebble navigation, which at a short distance from Wakefield, is divided into two branches, the Huddersfield canal and the Rochdale canal, the latter having a short branch to Halifax. At Ashton- under-Lyne the Huddersfield canal is joined by the Peak Forest canal ; and from Manchester the communication with Wakefield, by the Huddersfield and Rochdale canals, is extended to Bolton, Bury, and other towns in Lancashire, and by the Duke of Bridgwater's canal with the Mersey, thus uniting the eastern and western coasts. The Barnsley canal and others which join it connect the towns of Barnsley, Sheffield, and Rotherham with Wake field. The North Midland railway from Derby to Leeds passes within a mile and a half of the town ; the Leeds and Manchester railway passes through the town, and is carried over the Calder by an iron bridge ; at Normanton, three miles from Wakefield, it joins the North Midland ; and at Methley, a mile and a half farther, the North Midland line is joined by the York and North Midland railway, making a continuous line from London to Darlington, with many important branches. From the agricultural districts Wake field receives large quantities of corn and wool; and coal from the extensive collieries in the parish, and other commodities are exported to Lincolnshire, Norfolk. and Suffolk, and recently coal has been sent to London. The collieries in the parish gave employment to 300 adult males in 1831. The corn trade of Wakefield employs about three hundred vessels of from fifty to ninety tons each. The corn-market, held on Friday, is second only to that of London, and it frequently happens that for many weeks in succession the quantity sold is greater than at Mark Lane. There are ranges of large corn-warehouses on the banks of the river. Malt, which was formerly brought from other districts, is now made at Wakefield to a very large extent. The wool-fairs are also on a large scale ; and every other Wednesday there is a great cattle and sheep fair. There are fairs in July and November for horses, cattle, and pedlery. An inland bonding warehouse would add still more to the importance of Wakefield as an entrepot.

The population of the parish of Wakefield was 16,597 in 1801; 18,474 in 1811 ; 22,307 in 1821 ; 24,538 in 1831 ; and 28,321 in 1841. In 1831 the population of Alverthorpe was 4,859 ; Horbury, 2,400 ; Stanley, 5,047 ; and Wakefield, 12,232 : the population of the latter township was 20,000, in 1841, including the prison, asylum, &c. The town does not possess a municipal corporation. A chief constable is appointed by the inhabitants, who is sworn in by the steward of the lord of the manor at a court leet. Wakefield returns one member to parliament under the Reform Act, which first conferred upon it the privilege. The number of electors in 1839-40 was 809. The parliamentary borough comprises the town ship of Wakefield and parts of Alverthorpe and Stanley. The chief constable is the returning officer. Wakefield is also the place of election for the members for the West Riding.