Wakefield is unusual, but far from unique, in having two busy railway stations within the city centre – Kirkgate, which is the older of the two dating from 1840, and Westgate, which first opened in 1857. However, Wakefield’s first railway station, also opening in 1840, was at Oakenshaw, to the south of Wakefield along Doncaster Road, so anyone arriving at what was then ‘Wakefield’ station would have had a long walk or horse-drawn carriage or omnibus ride to reach the town (as Wakefield was until 1888).
The seventh in our ‘Discover Wakefield’ leaflets looks at the history of Wakefield’s railway stations – we found no fewer than 13 in and around the city centre – and that was just looking at the stations in the area covered by Wakefield Civic Society!
You can find out more by downloading a copy of the leaflet here.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space on the leaflet to include a map but we have one here that will help you to identify where the stations were located – and just how many railway lines there were.
This map, which is dated 1912, is a Railway Clearing House Map and the best one we could find to show the routes and stations mentioned in our leaflet. However, it doesn’t include the locations of Crigglestone West, Crigglestone East or Nostell Stations, so we have super-imposed these along with a couple of missing railway lines that weren’t there when the map was drawn.
Now read on for more information about Wakefield’s Railway Stations written by Executive Committee member John Seacome.
Wakefield’s Major Stations
Today Wakefield unusually for a place of its size, has two main stations, Westgate and Kirkgate, both named after adjoining major streets. For long Westgate has been regarded as the more important of the two, allowing direct access to a wide range of major British cities, apart from Manchester and Liverpool. Kirkgate serves mostly local towns, but now also London, Lincoln and Nottingham and it has undergone a physical renaissance from the days of its notorious reputation of the early 21st century when it was in a state of dereliction.
In 1840, two stations were opened in the Wakefield area, namely Kirkgate and the lesser-known Oakenshaw. Westgate was a relative late comer to the scene. The Manchester & Leeds Railway, later the Lancashire & Yorkshire, originated in South Lancashire but built its first line to Yorkshire in the 1840s via the relatively gently graded Calder Valley rather than via the steep ascent over Standedge. Wakefield rather than Leeds was the main goal with a connection to Normanton, the junction with the North Midland Railway. Services from Leeds to Manchester therefore ran via Normanton, Kirkgate, Sowerby Bridge, and Rochdale. It also linked with the Continent via its own newly developed port at Goole.
The original station building was “a small wooden hut with a platform in front, with miserable waiting room accommodation”, less impressive than those facilities at Oakenshaw (see below). However, this was rectified by the present buildings erected in 1854. The recent restoration scheme shows the buildings off in a much better light. Although Kirkgate’s’ list of designated destinations has varied over the years most are now north-south of the city. Originally it was intended to access easterly-westerly destinations like Goole and York, Manchester and other Lancashire
Westgate Station has existed in 4 different forms. It began on the south side of Westgate on the site of a private house, part of John Milne’s mansion house. This was demolished and replaced by ‘temporary’ accommodation. Until the building of the railway viaduct, known locally as the 99 Arches(*) across the Calder valley, it was approached from Kirkgate by the newly formed West Riding and Grimsby line, later the Great Northern, up the rising curved viaduct which later linked to the 99 Arches. After the Great Northern Railway got its own permanent station at Westgate via the 99 Arches, most trains used that. However, some trains continue to use this link today for local services.
The line which ran over the 99 Arches was operated by the Great Northern and Great Central Joint, originally the West Riding and Grimsby. In 1866-67, Westgate Station was built in its most distinctive form with a somewhat controversial landmark clock tower, a ‘rich Italianate façade’ and an ornate entrance staircase up from street level. This latter feature, represented by a green door off Westgate, is all that remains of that building. All other parts of its buildings were demolished and in 1967/8 they were replaced by an austere but functional building, which lasted 44 years, giving it a very unprepossessing appearance compared with its predecessor. No doubt the 100-year-old station was unsuitable for modern railway practice. The bay platform for Alverthorpe, Ossett, Dewsbury and Bradford was removed after that branch was closed in 1964 due to Beeching cuts and the station has since had only two through platforms. In latter years, with growing numbers of services, that has caused problems for timetabling.
In 2012, a more spacious glass-dominated station replaced the 1960s version. It is built about 300 metres up Mulberry Way at the other end of the platform, but the station buildings on platform 2 remain from the 1867 station. This new station was part of the Merchant Quarter key development area which saw offices, restaurants, residential accommodation and a new mult-storey car park being erected.
(*) Although known locally as ‘the 99 Arches’ there are in fact more arches than this. The exact number has been long disputed and depends on whether you count the arches under Westgate Station. Another complication is that some of the ‘arches’ are later bridge spans. Local artist Tony Wade has mapped the number of arches and came up with a figure of 111 – or 112. For more information see: https://tonywadeart.com/2021/04/26/viaduct/