THE advent of the Church Congress in Wakefield, and the near consummation of the movement to found the Wakefield See, naturally create a demand for information as to what this place has been, and is. As a native of the town, and being of an archaeological, as well as a scientific, turn of mind, I have from my youth studied whatever I could find of every antique remains in our midst. A buried shot at Sandal, an old bone from Heath Common, an ancient inscription, or a relic of bygone carving has had for me a recreation equal, if not surpassing, the delight of shooters of Niagara, of climbers of perilous heights, and explorers of unknown lands. It was this predilection that induced me in 1881 to labour for an Exhibition that should promote a Museum as well as a Technical School - the one to enshrine our local relics, and the other to revive our local manufactures. These objects we may now hope are within measureable distance of realization. Just as the first Exhibition in 1865 founded the School of Art and Industry, so this last effort has called the attention of our Charity Commissioners to our technical requirements, and in the new Charity Scheme I hope to see a provision whereby the Institution in Bell Street may be greatly enlarged so as to embrace the two desiderata named. It is a little remarkable that whilst many persons have been industrious collaborators, and have collected much valuable information, no History of Wakefield - or one worthy and acceptable - has hitherto been written, tile efforts in this direction having been fragmentary and very incomplete. The present is, like these other efforts, only a small contribution to the valuable tome of bulky proportions which must follow. That this instalment has not been commensurate with the mass of material available is due, not to lack of love for the work, but to want of leisure, through the pressure of professional duties.
THE AUTHOR. 1, Bond Street, St. John's, Wakefield, August 20th, 1886.
The history of Wakefield may be said to commence with the Wars of the Roses and the Battle of Wakefield Green, for the relics of the Roman occupation are confined to a discovery of coins, with the matrix, at Lofthouse and other places, and from the time of the Norman Conqueror to that of the Tudors the annals mainly relate to the Lords of the Manor and the transfer of property. Therefore I purposed to write an account of the battles of Wakefield, and to show what part this "Merrie Towne" has taken in the settlement of the succession of the Crown, and in shaping the destinies of this great Empire. This will lead me to take a cursory glance at the anterior history, in order that the reader not versed in the records of the country may intelligently appreciate the events to be narrated in connection with this town.
The Wars of the Roses hold a foremost place in English Chronicles as an illustration of
those fierce and protracted struggles for supremacy that often occurred in feudal times between
the barons. What a dreadful thing it seems to us that two near kinsmen should marshal squires,
yeomen, and working-men in thousands, under their respective banners, to fight for the crown of
England. The Plantagenets were noble and rich, and the denial of the right of succession still
left the uncrowned Duke a mighty prince. But here we see the whole nation divided for years in
a sanguinary conflict, and all through the fanatical partizanship that had no reason in it.
To please two aristocratic Princes, who could command armaments and feed armies, Englishmen
murdered Englishmen, brothers and fathers and sons flew at each others throats as if they
fought for truth and heaven. And yet it was a matter of little moment to the people which man
conquered. It was not alien versus native. They were equal in every respect. "There was
not a pin to choose between them." Through a gross fanaticism many a field was dyed with
the blood of friends and relationships, as if the Evil One had hit upon a clever trick for the
self-annihilation of the Anglo-Saxon race. Near a whole nation made itself the slaves of two
proud and ambitious men, instead of sending both to the gallows. One of the battle fields on
which Yorkshiremen shed the blood of Yorkshiremen was on the outskirts of Wakefield. On that
field, near four hundred years ago, the House of Lancaster gained a signal victory over the
House of York, for at Wakefield fell the great Duke of York himself, and his second son the
brave young Earl Rutland, who was cowardly slain while fleeing from the scene of his father's
death. How dearly we pay for knowledge and experience. It is not pleasant to recall the fact
that in those green fields by the Calder, where cattle now quietly graze, a civil war has raged
to teach men the folly of imperial ambition, and the costliness of serving the ends of Princes
rather than the good of subjects. We have also a lesson of gratitude that in our day the Crown
rests so securely and worthily on the head of a Lady, the jubilee of whose matchless reign we
celebrate with national joy next year. We may see also the value of a firmly-established line
of monarchs, for if the succession is destroyed, our monarchy assailed, the floodgates of
faction and strife are opened at once. Queen Victoria-God bless her!-has indeed no need, like
Queen Margaret, to put herself at the head of an army to dispute the pretensions of some
plotting aspirant for power and plunder. That such a struggle was possible shows clearly the
degraded condition of the classes and the masses, that yeomen were the slaves of the barons,
as the tillers of the soil were the slaves of the farmers, and that the lords were the mere
creatures of the reigning family. The noble held his estate in a fee of military service, and
of obsequious subjection, and all under the lord worshipped him for the privilege of existence.
It was the reign of might, when right was too weak to whisper save at times in priory, abbey,
or parish church. In regard to the clash of arms at and near Wakefield Bridge on December 31st,
1460, we shall show for the first time in a succinct, comprehensive, and popular form, how deep
and interesting are the local associations that cluster around that scene of slaughter, of
passion, and of carnage. (* Among my Dental Museum I have a lower molar tooth, bullet and tooth
mullet or forceps that were ploughed up in a field on the south side of famous ruins of Sandal
Castle by one of the farm labourers of the lessee-a man named John Green-on the 4th of May 1854.
The tooth mullet I forwarded to the curator of the Odontological Society, Leicester Square,
London, as a donation to their museum, and it is recorded in volume 18, page 80, of their
transactions. Similar relics are held by some of my friends testifying at once to the course
and the effect-gunpowder and corpse. The teeth found buried of Roman and Saxon date (as near
as can be judged) confirm the dictum as to the degeneracy of teeth in these times, of which I
have treated in papers to odontological journals.)
It is time that events which have been floating dimly in romance and tradition were sharply defined, that incidents and facts scattered over many a musty document and rare record were placed in order, and that the veritable deeds of long ago were painted in truthful colours, in precise and photographic accuracy, as with the pen of an observant war correspondent of the Times; though the writer makes no such pretensions. But this direful day of battle did not end the feud, and therefore as we trace the rivalry from its beginning we like to know its termination. In the second part of the work an attempt is made to picture the Wakefield of that period and succeeding times; to show the growth of the locality; to point out its chief institutions of historical interest; and to preserve a succinct record, especially of what has disappeared either from decay or from that progress which calls for new structures and wider thoroughfares. Such is the labour that enchants the archaeologist, and inspires the imagination of the student- to reproduce the scenes of the past; to restore its buildings and call back their inhabitants. Thus we shall see that Wakefield, although it has not often figured, like some other old towns, in foremost incidents of history, has had a quiet opulence, has given birth to able men, has, without a noisy ambition, acquired a legislative right to be an influential Episcopal City.
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids