From the time of William the Conqueror, and the Domesday Book(*), down to Henry VIII., the history of Wakefield is confined mainly to the doings of the Lords of the Manor, which covered a district thirty miles long and twelve broad. The town at that time clustered near the little Norman Parish Church, and its staple trade was cloth making. Three streets converged upon the sacred fane, in front of which were narrow thoroughfares, like that of Bread Street; with houses built in basement of stone, and, in the upper part, of oaken timber and plaster, as the Six Chimneys in Kirkgate, and the Cottages near Goldthorpe and Co.'s mill in Westgate, the shops exhibiting signs and names on projecting boards in some cases, but all of the most substantial character; while the better residences had carved fronts, with the initials of the first owners and date of erection, in many instances.
Take the Six Chimneys as a specimen of a nobleman's country residence.
It consisted of six gables. The foundation of one was found in excavations for a drain, at the entrance of Leigh Street, and two were on the site of the Rose and Crown Inn. Each gable contained a stone chimney in the centre. The ground floor was formed of hard clay. The beams in the ceiling are slightly moulded. On the south (front) face are, or were, wooden figured ornaments - a spearman, jester, huntsman with hatchet (in Tudor cap), and hounds in full chase. Along the carriage drive from a gable entrance (at the back of Mrs Holden's) were carved soldiers, in oak on pedestals, and Harper's smithy is a part of the outbuildings. Mr W. Fennell's house in Westgate was of a superior kind, and although modernised in front, traces of its ornamental work may be seen. At the rear is a cottage which bore the date 1569. Mr Fennell has preserved some specimens of carved wood which are worth inspection. The Cock and Swan Hotel (now converted into shops), close by Mr Fennell's house, was a large Tudor hostelry, and the stone building in the yard (used by Mr Barratt, tinman, and Misses Turner, confectioners), probably was the Assembly Room, where, it is said, Queen Anne graced a ball when visiting the town on a royal progress. On the demolition of the houses in Cross Square in 1884, belonging to Mr C. B. L. Fernandes, a quantity of coins were found in a hole cut in one of the beams, and carved on it was the date, This HVSE: was BVILDED. M.D.L.I., 1551. On a ledge in one of the chimneys was also found the skeleton of a fowl sitting upon an egg, the opening of the fire place having been walled up years ago. I have them now in my possession.
When the Church Institution was erected in 1862, a manorial bakehouse was pulled down which dated back 200 years. There was also in front an old weigh-house. In Mary-gates was the first lock-up that we read of; at the rear of Mrs Sharpley's quaint house, which is at least 200 years old. In the cottages referred to in Westgate are mouldings on the ceiling representing a mermaid, with an alhambric figure in centre.
The Old King's Arms at the bottom of Kirkgate is another specimen of Tudor structure.
It may, indeed, be as old as the battle of Wakefield. The strength of the masonry is remarkable,
and the mantled windows true to that period. At that time, probably, stood the thatched cottages
over the Skitterick, in Vicarage Street, which were pulled down in 1853, and which were then
used as common lodging houses. So, here and there, up Kirkgate, would be such low cottages, the
spaces between being gardens or fields.
Then you might see the gibbet and stocks in Mary-gates, the pillory in Little Westgate, and the May Pole in the Bull Ring, where also, occasionally, were given bull fights, and in later times a monster bonfire on the 5th of November.
At that time the parish priest resided in a house on the north side of the churchyard; while Queen Elizabeth's School, bearing the arms of the Saviles, in "Goody Bower," takes us back to the days of the Reformation, and reminds us that amidst all the brutal sports, grovelling ignorance, and degrading superstition of the times, an effort was made to educate the sons of the gentry and tradesmen. As to the industrial occupation of the times, the domestic manufacture of woollen cloth was prevalent in Yorkshire, and there is good reason to believe that the trade we know existed in later times had commenced then. It was a coarse cloth, and after it had been twice dyed, the croppers had to give it a finish with shears and hot plates &c. It seems almost incredible, but the appearance of coal on the surface of the earth even then had led to mining, and I find the earliest record in the Wakefield Court Rolls in 1308, states that a license was granted by the Lord of the Manor to Richard, the nailor, to dig for coals in the graveship of Hepperholme, and in 1335 Richard Gibson paid a fine for digging coal in the same locality. Coal pits are referred to as at Handsworth Woodhouse, and Horbury in 1378 and 1402, and leases of coal were made in the time of Queen Elizabeth to persons at Lofthouse Moor, Wakefield Park, Barnsley, Ossett, Stanley, Rothwell, Flockton, Shitlington, Leeds, Northowram, Bradford, and other places. The town had its fairs, but no regular market. It was governed by its Head Constable and Parish officers, and by the Lord or his Steward, who often transacted business in their own homes or at an inn, there being no Town Hall or Sessions house. The Moot Hall and its Courts Baron were the precursors of our present judicature, the parish constables and pinders trailing men before the jury for riots, as well as unjust weights and scales, and for various unneighbourly and dishonourable actions, while the Lord of the Manor could order felons to be hung or beheaded. The Moot Hall was used for police cases up to the building of the Sessions House in Wood Street.
Dr Whitaker's "Loidis and Elmete" (p. 274) is a loose translation of Domesday, with a free speculation on its meaning in reference to the districts described by Bede.
(*) The Doomsday Book speaks of Wakefield Manor thus:- "In Wackfield, with its nine Berewics, namely, Sandala, Torbe, Werla, Fisbe, Wadeswide, Crumbetonsiton, Mielei, Langfeld, and Stainsfelt, there are sixty Carucates and three oxgangs, and the third part of all oxgang to be taxed. Thirty ploughs may till these lands. This Manor was in the demense of King Edward, the Confessor, there are now in the King's hands, four villanes and three priests, and two churches, and 7 sokemen, and 16 bordars. They together have seven ploughs. Wood pasture 6 miles long and 4 miles broad. The whole is 6 miles long and 6 miles broad. Value, in the time of King Edward, £60; at present £15."
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