05 The Hepworth Connection

Dame Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield in 1905. The fifth leaflet in our Discover Wakefield series maps out some of the key buildings associated with her time in Wakefield. You can download a copy of the leaflet here.

Perhaps the most significant property linked to Hepworth is the place where she was born – 15 Duke of York Street, Wakefield – which today is just off Marsh Way. The house bears a Wakefield Civic Society plaque, unveiled in the year 2000.

Wakefield Civic Society blue plaque commemorating the place of Barbara Hepworth’s birth

Of course, Wakefield is now home to The Hepworth Wakefield, an art gallery which opened in 2011. It was designed by architect David Chipperfield whose design was selected from a number of entries submitted as part of an architectural competition – a process often associated with public buildings and far from a new idea (the design for Wakefield Town Hall, which opened in 1880, was also selected through such a competition).

The gallery sits on Wakefield waterfront, In fact, you could say it sits ‘in’ Wakefield waterfront as the building rises directly out of the water on it’s northern edge.

The Hepworth Wakefield from across the river
The Hepworth Wakefield, photographed through one of the windows showing the exteriors walls rising out of the river bed

One of the features of the gallery building is the way windows have been strategically placed not only to allow light in, but also to provide views of the riverside and surrounding area.

Today, the setting of the gallery is enhanced by an award-winning(*) garden – The Hepworth Wakefield Garden, situated between the gallery and Tileyard North.

(*Presented with a Wakefield Civic Society Design Award in April 2023.)

The Hepworth Wakefield Garden, looking across to Tileyard North, the former Rutland Mills

Hepworth’s work includes the Family of Man series, nine sculptures in abstract form representing different stages of human life. Three sculptures from the series, Parent I, Parent II and Young Girl, were for many years displayed on a plinth in Castrop-Rauxel Square in the city centre (corner of Rishworth Street and Wood Street).

The Family of Man sculptures on display in Castrop-Rauxel Square
The plaques showing the background to the project to place three of the Family of Man sculptures in Castrop-Rauxel Square in 1977.

As the plaque above testifies, the sculptures were installed in the square in 1977 in a project jointly orchestrated and funded by Wakefield Council, the Arts Council of Great Britain, The Yorkshire Arts Association, the Wakefield Permanent Art Fund – and Wakefield Civic Society!

The sculptures were later removed and taken to The Hepworth Wakefield where they stand on the river bank in the garden area to the north of the gallery building.

If you would like to learn more about the life and work of Barbara Hepworth, there is an excellent book, published in 2021 by Thames and Hudson and is highly recommended. Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life by Eleanor Clayton can be purchased in the bookshop at The Hepworth Wakefield gallery.

Image showing the front cover of the book about Barbara Hepworth’s life and work