The Heart of Wakefield – Wood Street. On Saturday 5th May Dr Phil Judkins demonstrated how the changes over 200 hundred years had transformed an area that had once consisted of only an inn and a yard. His research, with twenty other volunteers, revealed that Wood Street gradually became a busy and lively thoroughfare. The street was named for the Reverend Wood, who along with Thomas Lee, owned much of the land in question. With the aid of slides Phil revealed how over the 19th century plots of land were developed in which many of the public buildings we see today were built. There was the Court House of 1810, the Assembly or Public Rooms 1801, the Police station 1848, Clayton Hospital 1852, an Exhibition Hall 1865 since demolished and replaced by the Town Hall which was built in 1880 followed by the County Hall in 1898. Many people present will remember Holdsworths Iron mongers which started life in 1825 and continued until 1984. Then there was The Eagle Press, printers and stationers, which was in business for much of the 20th century. There was even a store in the 1930s that made small boats and steering gear! However the street was witness to many public events. These ranged from a hot air balloon being launched in 1827 from the site where the Town Hall is now. There was a visit from Pablo Fanque’s circus in 1847 which caused a great deal of excitement. There were prospective MPs on the hustings who were accused of bribery and corruption that led to public outrage and riots. Wood Street was witness to recruiting drives for both World Wars, a Royal visit in 1949 and the Olympic torch was paraded along the street in 2012. Phil’s talk was delivered in his usual professional way and with a great deal of humour. We next meet June 2nd when ‘Hats and Huts’ is the intriguing topic by Sue McGeever.
Wakefield in old picture postcards.
Wakefield in old picture postcards. On Saturday 7th April, Christine Leveridge brought along part of her large collection of old postcards. She is, as she explained, a deltiologist and being from Dewsbury confessed that she had little knowledge of Wakefield and district. However, Christine invited her audience to feel free to respond to the scenes displayed on screen. The postcards were mainly from the period spanning the early 1900s. There were street scenes of Wakefield and surrounding townships; celebrations attending the opening of Ossett town hall, industrial landscapes and pretty unspoilt villages. There were school children dancing around the Maypole; a group photograph of the local constabulary and local people dressed in their Sunday best. Members were quick to respond and share their memories invoked by a trip down memory lane. Judging from the reaction of many the show was an unqualified success. The next meeting is May 5th when Phil Judkins will give a talk on ‘ Wood Street – Heart of Wakefield.’
Wakefield Waterfront Project
In place of the advertised topic for Saturday 3rd March the Society was fortunate to have the services of Pam and Phil Judkins. This project has involved members of Wakefield Historical Society as well as our own members. For the first twenty minutes a dvd was shown with Pam as a guide explaining the aims of the project. She showed how the growth of Wakefield through the centuries led to it becoming an important inland port. A series of maps were on display that showed the increasing number of mills and warehouses that were built along the river along with pockets of terrace houses for the workers. Many of these buildings have now gone but those remaining have been or will be converted for other uses such as office space or leisure. An example of the latter is Rutland Mill that will become an extension of the Hepworth Gallery. Phil then continued the story elaborating on issues raised in the film. For example he showed how the importance that malting mills had on Wakefield’s economy. The barley grown came by boat, later by rail, from Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. After it was processed much of the finished product was transported to breweries in Lancashire as well as the rest of Yorkshire. In the 1930s slum clearance saw the removal of a number of mills and old housing. The Soke mill by the weir that had stood for centuries was demolished and a new bridge was constructed over the river Calder. Phil ended his talk by praising the work done by Stella Robinson and for the display she had arranged based on the waterfront project. The next meeting April 7th is Christine Leveridge and ‘Wakefield in old picture postcards.’ All enquiries to email@example.com
The Topping Tooters of the Town
Our Christmas treat on Saturday 2nd December was a musical presentation by the Doncaster Waites. This was an assembly of five players dressed in early 17th century costume playing a medley of songs from the said period. The Waites were originally medieval ‘watchmen’ who patrolled towns during the night. However the musical tradition dates from the 15th century. Doncaster’s Waites provided music for dances, marriages and various civic occasions from 1557 until 1832. The players, three women and two men, described the instruments used which ranged from recorders and an early form of trombone to bagpipes and a hurdy gurdy! Their explanations were followed in turn by renaissance style music and song. For those who would like to find out if any ancestor was a member of a Waites group several suggestions were offered. Anyone with the name of Waite or any derivation of that name or the surname Piper, could provide a link. Also try searching for a will or look into various trades that an ancestor might have. The enjoyment provided was evident and also the amount of interest shown was highlighted by the many questions asked at the end. There is no meeting in January. We meet 3rd February when Claudia Sternberg’s talk is ‘WW1Internment camps in Lofthouse and Ruhleben.’
Life in a Victorian Workhouse
Life in a Victorian workhouse. On Saturday 4th November we had a welcome return of a very popular speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Ian is from Keighley and has made an in depth study of the Keighley workhouse using the excellent records held by the local library. He covered the period from when the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was passed when a Board of Guardians was set up to provide the ‘social security’ of the day for the poor which was in place until 1930. A new Union workhouse was begun in 1858 which would accommodate people not just from Keighley but also from Bingley and surrounding areas. Ian was concerned to point out that although conditions could be hard they did at least provide work, accommodation and a reasonable diet for those on hard times. Some inmates might only spend a short time there but there were cases of those who needed care for many years. Work was made hard from crushing granite for road building to grinding corn while women were employed with washing floors, clothes and bedding. The diet ranged from gruel and dry bread to several meals that might even contain meat and vegetables. Sleeping conditions were rudimentary ranging from bare wooden boards to iron bedsteads. The Board of Guardians consisted of local business men such as small mill owners, farmers and perhaps various artisans or craftsmen. The Master had to be married and received a salary, accommodation and food. There was some light relief such as at Christmas when a touring pantomime company visited and there was for some a trip to Morecombe for a week! Life was not always as grim as perhaps Charles Dickens portrayed in Oliver Twist as there was good community spirit shown in the care and humane approach by local people. Even a local business man might go bankrupt and have to rely on the Union workhouse. Ian’s talk while often having his audience in fits of laughter also reminded us of the detail provided in workhouse records and of the conditions some of our ancestors had to endure. Next month’s meeting 2nd December when the Doncaster Waites entertain as ‘The Topping Tooters of the Town.’