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Wakefield, Yorkshire

WAKEFIELD, YORKSHIRE. a city and municipal and parliamentary borough in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, 175! m. N.N.W. from London. Pop. (1901) 4M'3- It is served by the Great Northern, Midland and Great Central railways (Westgate station), and the Lancashire and Yorkshire and North-Eastern railways (Kirkgate station), the Great Northern Company using both stations. It lies on the river Calder, mainly on the north bank, in a pleasant undulating country, towards the eastern outskirts of the great industrial district of the West Riding. The river is crossed by a fine bridge of eight arches on which stands the chapel of St Mary, a beautiful structure 50 ft. long by 25 wide, of the richest Decorated character. Its endowment is attributed to Edward IV., in memory of his father Richard, duke of York, who fell at the battle of Wakefield (1460)- It was completely restored in 1847. In 1888 the bishopric of Wakefield was formed, almost entirely from that of Ripon, having been sanctioned in 1878. The diocese includes about one-seventh of the parishes of Yorkshire, and also covers a very small portion of Lancashire. The cathedral church of All Saints occupies a very ancient site, but only slight traces of buildings previous to the 14th century can be seen. In the early part of that century the church was almost rebuilt, and was consecrated by Archbishop William de Melton in 1329. Further great alterations took place in the 15th century, and the general effect of the building as it stands is Perpendicular. The church consists of a clerestoried nave and choir, with a western tower; the eastward extension of the choir, the construction of the retrochoir and other works were undertaken in 1900 and consecrated in 1905 as a memorial to Dr Walsham How, the first bishop. During restoration of the spire (the height of which is 247 ft.) in 1905, records of previous work upon it were discovered in a sealed receptacle in the weather-vane. Among the principal public buildings are the town hall (1880), in the French Renaissance style; the county hall (1898), a handsome Structure with octagonal tower and dome over the principal entrance; the large corn exchange (1837, enlarged 1862), including a concert-room; the market house, the sessions house, the county offices (1896) and the prison for the West Riding; the mechanics' institution with large library, church institute and library, and the fine art institution. A free library was founded in 1905, and a statue of Queen Victoria unveiled in the Bull Ring at the same time. Benevolent institutions include the Clayton hospital (1879), on the pavilion system, and the West Riding pauper lunatic asylum with its branches. The Elizabethan grammar school, founded in 1592, is the principal educational establishment. Among several picturesque old houses remaining, that known as the Six Chimneys, an Elizabethan structure, is the most striking.

Formerly Wakefield was the great emporium of the cloth manufacture in Yorkshire, but in the 19th century it was superseded in this respect by Leeds. Foreign weavers of cloth were established at Wakefield by Henry VII.; and Leland, writing in the time of Henry VIII., states that its " whola profit standeth by coarse drapery." During the 18th century it became noted for the manufacture of worsted yarn and woollen stuffs. Although its manufacturing importance is now small in comparison with that of several other Yorkshire towns, it possesses mills for spinning worsted and carpet yarns, coco-nut fibre and China grass. It has also rag-crushing mills, chemical works, soap-works and iron- works; and there are a number of collieries in the neighbourhood. Wakefield is the chief agricultural town in the West Riding, and has one of the largest corn markets in the north of England. It possesses agricultural implement and machine works, grain and flour mills, malt-works and breweries. A large trade in grain is carried on by means of the Calder, and the building of boats for inland navigation is a considerable industry. There are extensive market-gardens in the neighbourhood. In the vicinity of Wakefield is Walton Hall, the residence of the famous naturalist Charles Waterton (1782-1865). The parliamentary borough returns one member. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 9 aldermen and 27 councillors. Area, 4060 acres.

In the reign of Edward the Confessor, Wakefield (Wachefeld) was the chief place in a large district belonging to the king and was still a royal manor in 1086. Shortly afterwards it was granted to William, Earl Warenne, and his heirs, under whom it formed an extensive baronial liberty, extending to the confines of Lancashire and Cheshire. It remained with the Warenne family until the 14th century, when John Warenne, earl of Warenne and Surrey, having no legitimate heir, settled it on his mistress, Maud de Keirford and her two sons. They, however, predeceased him, and after Maud's death in 1360 the manor fell to the crown. Charles I. granted it to Henry, earl of Holland, and after passing through the hands of Sir Gervase Clifton and Sir Christopher Clapham, it was purchased about 1700 by the duke of Leeds, ancestor of the present duke, who is now lord of the manor. In 1203-1204 William Earl Warenne received a grant of a fair at Wakefield on the vigil, day and morrow of All Saints' day. As early as 1231 the town seems to have had some form of burghal organization, since in that year a burgage there is mentioned in a fine. In 1331, at the request of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, the king granted the " good men " of the town pavage there for three years, and in the same year the earl obtained a grant of another fair there on the vigil, day and morrow of St Oswald. There is no other indication of a borough. The battle of Wakefield was fought in 1460 on the banks of the river Calder just outside the town.

Leland gives an interesting account of the town in the 16th century, and while showing that the manufacture of clothing was the chief industry, says also that Wakefield is " a very quik market town and meatly large, well served of flesh and fish both from sea and by rivers ... so that all vitaile is very good and chepe there. A right honest man shall fare well for 2d. a meal. . . . There be plenti of se coal in the quarters about Wakefield." The corn market, held on Fridays, is of remote origin. A cattle market is also held on alternate Wednesdays under charter of 1765. The town was enfranchised in 1832, and was incorporated in 1848 under the title of the mayor, aldermen and councillors of the borough of Wakefield. Before this date it was under the superintendence of a constable appointed by the steward of the lord of the manor.

See Victoria County History, Yorkshire; W. S. Banks, History of Wakefield (1871); E. Parsons, History of Leeds, etc. (1834); T. Taylor, History of Wakefield (1886).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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