The final part of our day lead us to Wakefield, the county town of West Yorkshire and the third and final city in the county. It is only half an hour away from Leeds by train so it didn’t take us long to get there.
Status: City of Wakefield District, West Yorkshire, City, England
Travel: Northern Rail (Preston – Bradford Interchange), Northern Rail (Bradford Interchange – Leeds), Northern Rail (Leeds – Wakefield Westgate), Northern Rail (Wakefield Kirkgate – Leeds), Northern Rail (Leeds – Preston Via Bradford Interchange)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Town Hall, Cathedral, County Court, County Hall, Market Hall, Hepworth Art Gallery, Stanley Royd Hospital Clock Tower, St John’s Church, Civic Quarter, Sandal Castle etc
Our journey around Wakefield started at Wakefield Westgate, one of the two main railway stations in the city. From here, as we looked out at our surroundings, we spotted the tall, slender form of Emley Moor Transmitting Station. It is a few miles away near Emley, and is notable as being the tallest freestanding structure in the UK as well as 7th in the EU, the 4th tallest tower in the EU and the 23rd tallest tower in the world. So thats a lot of achievements!
Whilst its official name is “Arqiva Tower” is is more commonly known as Emley Moor, due to its location. It was constructed in 1964 as a replacement for the first tower from 1956, which stood at 135 metres tall. The new tower was over twice the size at 385.5 metres. It’s function is to broadcast television signals throughout the area.
A disaster occurred however in 1969, when a combination of ice and strong winds caused the tower to collapse on 19th March. There were no injuries and a new temporary mast that stood 204 metres tall was put up less than a month later. By the end of that year the new permanent mast was taking shape and two years later it was operational. Standing a total of 325 meres tall it was slightly shorter than the last, and consisted of a pillar section 275 metres tall, with the 55 metre steel section above it with the antennas.
We left the station and followed the signs for the city centre, following a street called Westgate, and soon came across some ornate buildings on the way. The middle building (57-59 Westgate) is with the clock at the top is Grade II Listed and has a blue plaque to identify it. It was originally built for the Wakefield and Barnsley Union Bank between 1877 and 1888 by H F Lockwood. The bank was founded in 1832 and retained its independence until 1906. The plaque itself was placed in 1995.
Today the building is beautifully preserved, and contains the X-Bar Club, whilst it’s neighbour on the right (61-63 Westgate) is now the Bingbadaboom Club, but I am unsure when this one was built.
The third building, in white (51-55 Westgate) is also Grade II Listed, and was built in 1772, as the Black Bull Tavern and Barclay’s Bank. Today it contains a number of businesses, and a blank circle at the top of the building, at the front of the triangular roof, shows where the clock would originally have been (similar to the Wakefield and Barnsley building).
Together the trio are very striking and we have only been in Wakefield about 10 minutes but already we have had an architectural journey back into history. We kept moving up Westgate towards the centre.
At first glance you might think this is some kind of chapel, and indeed so did we until we got home and looked the building up properly.
It turns out it is actually a nightclub called Religion, which holds signature nights including Resurrection and Salvation, which has caused a stir amongst local residents. The building itself is very in keeping with the rest of the city, and this pedestrianised section with the pattern on the floor can be found in a variety of places including outside the Cathedral, as we found out later.
As we pushed on, we came off Westgate and onto Marygate, we passed Wood Street, which contains some of the most important buildings in Wakefield.
At the back on the picture you can see County Hall with its distinctive circular tower, a building that was used by the council of the West Riding of Yorkshire, as Wakefield is the traditional County Town, starting in 1898 before its abolition into the county of West Yorkshire in 1974. Since then, West Yorkshire County Council inhabited the building until the council was abolished in 1986 and functions transferred to the five district councils in the county, and it now houses Wakefield City Council, becoming effectively the City Hall. It is an impressive building, as are most Town and City Halls around the country.
The original town hall is the building with the clock tower next to it, in the foreground used by the city itself, with the district council in the County Hall.
There is actually a third building to go with these, and it is sat in front of the Clock Tower, and is quite short. This is the former city museum, built between 1821 and 1823. It began life as a joint Music Saloon/Library/Newsroom/Bank/Baths and Public Dispensary, before in 1855 it became the Mechanics Institution, and the Institute of Literature in 1910. The building became a museum in 1955, but it relocated in 2013, and the new building was opened by Sir David Attenborough. The new museum can be found only a few minutes walk away form here and showcases exhibits about local history and important people from Wakefields history.
The spire of Wakefield Cathedral loomed over us as we left the Tourist Information Centre in Bullring Square a bit further along Marygate. When you get close, it really does tower over you, as it is the tallest building in the whole city, with the spire totalling 247 feet. The Cathedral was built in 1329 as the original Norman church on the site, and since then various parts of the building have been rebuilt and enlarged in different styles. The church was given Cathedral status in 1953, and has covered the diocese of Wakefield since 1888, so the city council asked for city status to also be granted, and a year later they got their wish and Wakefield became the City of Wakefield.
Incidentally, the building has the tallest spire in Yorkshire, covering the four different modern day Yorkshire counties of East, North, South and West. The building was locked when we got there so we didn’t get chance to have a look inside, but it is still very impressive from outside.
Outside the cathedral is this lovely square with a cross pattern on it that stretches the length of the building. Although the pattern isn’t exactly the same as earlier, you can see the end of the previous type of pattern just before the crosses start.
The Cathedral is a vast structure and the entire length is beautifully decorated with spires above the windows. The square itself is decorated with finely trimmed bushes, which match perfectly with the stone and brick used in the floor patterns to create a relaxing environment. On the right hand side is a row of spherical lights, so the whole area must look fantastic at night, too bad we couldn’t stay that late.
Moving on from the Cathedral, we took a rather indirect route to the river, starting back at Bullring Square, which is paved over with a variety of shops and cafes around the outside. The modern looking street lamps also enhance the area.
We moved on for a look at the Market Hall, heading up Northgate to Union Street, away from Bullring. It is a new building, from around 2006. At the back (far end of the picture) of the hall is a large space open to the elements with a roof that houses the main market stalls, whilst inside there are units for different businesses. Unless it’s raining we don’t generally tend to go into shopping centres which this pretty much is so we didn’t go in, however we have been into a few traditional market halls before including in Warrington.
From here we passed through Trinity Walk Shopping Centre, and back past the Cathedral, towards Kirkgate, which we followed all the way to the River Calder (Todmorden – River Aire) that runs around the city.
At last we reached the river, a part of the city I was hoping we would have time for. The large grey building on the riverside is the Hepworth Art Gallery, one of the newest developments in the city, opening in 2011. It was designed by the British architect David Chipperfield and contains many art and sculpture installations, as well as a cafe and a good view back at the city as it is situated on the far bank of the river looking back towards it.
Further up the river on the right are a number of canal boats, although this section of the river is impassable to them due to the weirs on it which you will see in a minute, so they use the Calder and Hebble Navigation, a short piece of canal that cuts out this curve in the river and takes you round to the other side to skip the weirs. The navigation also runs through other sections of the Calder as it runs through Dewsbury and other places in West Yorkshire, whilst east of Wakefield it hands over to the Aire and Calder Navigation which runs up to Castleford.
We crossed the river to look back into the city centre and the Spire of Wakefield Cathedral was immediately visible, rising far above the other buildings. You can see the weir below the bridge. Adjacent to the bridge, off to the right and out of shot, is an older bridge, known as Wakefield Bridge.
Moving onto the bridge, the historic Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin is joined to it. It is the sole survivor out of the four chantry buildings that once inhabited Wakefield, and the oldest Bridge Chapel in England. It was licensed the same year the bridge was completed, 1356, and closed at the same time as the other four Chantry buildings, although this one is intergrated into the bridge and an important structural component, so it was kept. It had various functions since it shut, including a Warehouse, Library, Office and Cheese Shop. The bridge itself was widened in both 1758 and 1797 however the Chantry was still retained. A complete reconstruction of the Chapel occurred in 1842 however a few errors were made so the West Front looks slightly different to the original design.
When this was completed it reopened, as the Parish Church of St Mary until a proper church was built in 1854.
This was the end to our sight seeing in Wakefield, and West Yorkshire as a whole, and we walked to the nearby Kirkgate Railway Station to head back to Leeds, and from there to Preston. From the station we could just about make out the ruined Sandal Castle, built around 1107, on a hill not far away.
Other attractions in the city include the Clock Tower of the old Stanley Royd Hospital, the Civic Quarter, the Crown Court and St John’s church, and other museums.
There is plenty to see in Wakefield, with lovely architecture similar to Bradford and Leeds, as well as being on the East Coast Mainline with direct connections to London using Wakefield Westgate. The M62 and M1 are very close to the city, with the M1 heading Northwards towards Newcastle, and Southwards towards London. The M62 connects the city to Leeds, Bradford, Manchester and Liverpool, as well as from there to the M6 (For North west Scotland, Cumbria, Lancashire and London) and the M61 (Towards Preston).
We thoroughly enjoined our day trip to West Yorkshire, having visited three beautiful cities full of culture and great architecture, and its a shame the day had to come to an end.
Hopefully you get chance to visit one of the three cities one day and I hope you enjoyed reading about them.