Since medieval times, Wakefield has held a reputation for being ‘the Merrie City’.
Although the precise origins of the label are long lost, it’s perhaps not difficult to imagine why the name might have been coined. As a busy market town and known for its markets in livestock, textiles and grain, and administrative ‘capital’ of the West Riding, Wakefield was a place to which traders came in considerable number. With increasing industrialisation and the coming of the canals and railways, the local population also grew. All these people provided a ready market for local inns and public houses.
Our new leaflet (download a copy here) sets out to show just some of the pubs and inns you would have encountered on a walk along Northgate from today’s Cathedral to the junction with Wentworth Terrace and Howard Street.
In preparing the leaflet, we commissioned Wakefield design agency Rhubarb Design House to create some new illustrations to show what these pubs and inns might have looked like based on old photographs. We know that there were other hostelries along Northgate but, as we haven’t been able to find any photographs or drawings of these establishments on which we could base new illustrations, we haven’t included them in the leaflet. Of course, we’d love to hear from anyone who might know more about the ones not included in the leaflet – do get in touch if you have any information.
We have relied on research undertaken by Phil and Kev Grundy who are the ‘go-to’ experts for historic information about Wakefield’s pubs.
Two of the pubs featured in our leaflet (The Talbot and Falcon and The College) are still standing and open for business as pubs. Two other pubs which are current (Calder and Hops and Jolly Boys Tap) are both quite recent so don’t fit the description of ‘historic pubs’ and are not included in our leaflet. A third, The Strafford Arms, retains its name, but is a new building dating from the 1960s, while the Jockey building survives, but now converted to a restaurant.
1. Ye Olde Ring O’Bells
Dating from 1793 and originally backing onto the grounds of the then parish church (today’s Cathedral), when it was known as The Six Ringers’ Inn, Ye Olde Six Ring-O-Bells moved to the other side of the road, so that it backed onto Cross Square in 1818 when the houses backing onto the church were demolished. It was eventually demolished in 1908 when Cross Square was opened up.
2. The Boy and Barrel Hotel
Standing in the centre of the Bull Ring (originally referred to as the Market Place) as part of a small group of buildings which included the Toll Booth, the Boy and Barrel dated from 1790. It was demolished in 1898 when the Bull Ring was opened up to provide better access for vehicles (and to allow the laying of tracks for the new trams that were to be introduced shortly afterwards).
3. The Strafford Arms Hotel
The pub we know today is a new building which dates from 1967. The Strafford Arms on the corner of Northgate and the Bull Ring has undergone a number of changes since it first opened in 1727, replacing an earlier inn, The Black Swan. As one of Wakefield’s main coaching inns, the Strafford Arms had stables at the rear.
4. The Griffin Hotel
Dating from 1690, and also a coaching inn, the Griffin stood on the north-east side of the Bull Ring (Market Place) until being demolished and replaced with a new building on a new site in Union Street in 1940, where it still stands.
5. The Talbot and Falcon
There’s no mistaking the location of the Talbot and Falcon, which dates from 1700, as the pub is still there although Northgate was once much narrower at this point and the pub would have been set back from the main street. This was another of Wakefield’s coaching inns. (A talbot was a type of dog used in tracking and hunting. The breed no longer exists)
6. The Empress of India
Next door but one to the Talbot and Falcon stood the Empress of India, dating from 18.14. It was demolished in 1959 as part of a street widening scheme. Today, a new pub, Calder and Hops, stands on the site previously occupied by the Empress of India.
7. The Jockey Public House
Today, it’s a smart Indian restaurant, but the building first served as a pub, the Jockey, previously known as the Horse and Jockey, and dates from the 1930s although there has been a pub of that name on this site since at least 1886. Today, the building, which still stands, is the Amaia Indian Restaurant.
8. The Malt Shovel
Standing on the east side of Northgate, more or less opposite Egremont House (now the Coroner’s Office), was the Malt Shovel, dating from around 1700. It was demolished in 1937 as part of city centre improvements.
9. The College
Opened in 1840 but as The Chestnut Tree, it later became The College Hotel and then just The College. The pub still stands today although the extension to the south side of the building is much more recent.
Some of the other pubs that we know about, thanks to the research undertaken by Phil and Kev Grundy, but for which we don’t (yet!) have any images of are:
1. The Bay Horse Inn (1793 to 1818) – this stood in the Great Passage (Northgate today) and backed onto the parish church (the Cathedral today). It took over the premises vacated by Ye Olde Ring O’Bells when the latter moved to the other side of the Great Passage. The building was demolished in 1818. Note that today’s TSB and Virgin Money are a continuation of the row of buildings that stood in the Great Passage with their backs to the church.
2. Crowther Vaults (1887) – the pub stood on the corner of Northgate and Westmorland Street and became part of the Raven public house.
3. The Bull’s Head (1790 to 1871) – stood near to the Griffin in the Market Place
4. The Old Crown (1795 to 1912) – stood between the original Griffin and the Talbot and Falcon.
5. The Alicante Castle (1750 to 1937) – thought to have been somewhere between the Old Crown and the Postman
6. The Postman (1828 to 1913) – stood between the Alicante Castle and the Malt Shovel.
You might like to watch this film made for us for Heritage Open Days 2021 by Terry Blackwood, a member of the Society’s Executive Committee: