08 The Lost Buildings

Like many places, Wakefield has lost many of its heritage buildings – all too often swept away in pursuit of modernisation.

While we might have done things differently in the past when, it would seem, society had less regard for heritage, today, we are generally more attuned to the cultural, economic and environmental merits of repurposing our old buildings where we can. Yes, if we had applied today’s thinking and methods to old buildings back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Wakefield would probably have retained far more of its heritage. Nonetheless, when you walk around the city, it is possible to find good examples of buildings from just about every period from the late 16th century to the modern day.

While we might regret the loss of some of our more important buildings, such as the former Corn Exchange that stood at the top of Westgate until the 1960s, it is easy to become too sentimental about the past. Some of our old buildings, particularly the rows of terraced houses in the city centre were demolished for good reason: they were poorly constructed, poorly maintained and had none of the facilities we take for granted in our homes today – and we don’t mean modern inventions like wi-fi; no we mean modern facilities such as tap water and mains sewage!

One thing we ask you to consider: If we keep everything just because it’s old, where do we put the new buildings? And not every old building is architecturally or historically interesting – there might be better examples that are worth preserving elsewhere in the city or wider district. What we do say, though, is that the decisions on what to keep and what to knock down shouldn’t be taken without the opportunity for public debate.

The planning system does, of course, usually provide the opportunity for members of the public to comment – but it’s a tall order to expect everyone to monitor all the planning applications that pass through the system. That, however, is where the Civic Society comes in: we do monitor planning applications and, when we see something we don’t like, we say so! (We also say nice things about planning proposals that we do like, of course: fair’s fair after all. We even give out awards on an annual basis for the best projects.)

The eighth of our ‘Discover Wakefield’ leaflets highlights just a few examples of what we have lost. You can download a copy of the leaflet here.

There are, of course, many other buildings that have been lost. Below, we list several more – and we’ll add to this list in the coming weeks.

More lost buildings – Pete Taylor, Wakefield Civic Society Vice President

(NB – Images to follow)

As recently as 1973 we were still not adequately protecting our old buildings.  This black and white photograph from the Wakefield City Engineers Collection shows the house at number 35 Northgate, once a fish fryers. The house was built in the Tudor style with exposed wooden beams, and mullioned lead windows. There was a gate to the left which lead to a yard, possibly Lawns Yard. There was a light above the door. This building was demolished in 1973, its door and surround were kept by Wakefield Museum. 

Some of the less grand buildings that were cleared during the city development and slum clearances were the most interesting.  They can give more of an insight into the trades and shops active in the City centre.

These shops stood on Marygate, between the top of Westgate and towards the bottom of Wood Street.

This postcard shows a parade of shops on Marygate, near Westgate, Wakefield in the early 1900s. They appear to be cottages which have been converted into shops. The goods of the centre shop, Sidebottom’s cooperage and basket warehouse hang outside the front window. Two boys are on the pavement, looking at the items. William Sidebottom’s shop stood on this site for more than 20 years and was moved to Northgate in 1927. On the right is Pullars of Perth Dyeworks.

We often here people mourning the loss of the built heritage in Wakefield, however, a walk down Westgate is a reminder of the many fabulous buildings that survive, and the Heritage Action Zone has seen significant improvement and preservation of many of those buildings.   Lower Down Westgate, below the railway bridge travelling out of Wakefield, it is a mixed scene.  Several mansion large houses survive, but some notable buildings have been lost, including the incredible Milnes Mansion that was demolished to build the railway viaduct and the Second Westgate station. At the time hosting “the largest ballroom in the country”, (a claim made by a number of mansions at the time!) 

Further down Westgate from Milnes Mansion,  Rev T Kilby’s drawing of a terrace of cottages on the South side shows some detail of the gables and finials.  At this time all three had “timbered” fronts.

The drawing by Clark, engraved into his book, shows the same terrace of timber framed houses on Westgate, Wakefield.  These stood approximately where Wicks delivery yard is now.    WR (LS) Clarke drawings

A black and white photograph of those houses on Westgate, Wakefield, in 1880.  Showing more of the general surrounding buildings at the time.  The there is a gas lamp on the pavement. By this time the centre and right hand house frontages had been rebuilt in brick

Louisa Fennels painting of 1899

A print of a watercolour painting by Louisa Fennell, of those same old houses on Westgate, Wakefield, from 1899.

Westgate was well known for its mansions and spacious wide layout.  Pesvner described it as one of the grandest streets outside of London.  Several large mansions survive but Pemberton Milnes early mansion, just below the bridge on the Northside of Westgate is a notable loss.

A black and white engraving of a drawing which shows two girls playing on Westgate, Wakefield. The railway bridge and station clock are seen on the right. The house in the centre was erected by Robert Milnes in about 1720. 

Robert Milnes house photographed just before demolition.

Many people will still remember the doctors surgery at the bottom of Westgate, and the access across the little bridge over the beck.

A black and white engraving of a drawing which shows a house on Westgate End, Wakefield, owned by Benjamin Kemp, a surgeon. Many will remember it as the doctors surgery.

Here’s an interesting Tree ring analysis by Historic England.  Westgate End House which was a Grade II listed building comprising a large central hall range with cross wings, which once stood at Kemps Bridge off Westgate End Road in Wakefield.

“In recent years the building had fallen into a state of considerable decay, and was in a very poor state prior to its demolition by the current owners in November 2013.

However, although raised to the ground, a number of substantial timbers associated with the early timber framed building were rescued from the debris and temporarily set aside for this dendrochronological analysis in an off-site council owned open air storage unit in Wakefield. This analysis produced a single-dated site chronology, WKFBSQ01, comprising 14 samples with an overall length of 191 rings. These rings were dated as spanning the years AD 1377–1567.”

 A picture by Brian Davidson just before it became so badly derelict it was demolished.

There is a small timber gable that can be seen next to the old Employment Exchange building, (now apartments).  The remaining building which was most recently a bookshop, is only a half of the original as can bee seen in the photograph.

A sepia photograph from the Wakefield City Engineers Collection showing shops at the bottom of Westgate, Wakefield, taken on Friday 14th January 1949. From the left it shows demolished properties in the area where the Chamber of Commerce was later built. The entrances to Tidswell’s, or Tidgewell Yard, and Spawforths Yard can be seen. There is a shop that has written on the window ‘Removed Opposite Railway Station’ and ‘Broughton’s Fried Fish and Chip Potato Restaurant’ is next door.  The building at the centre of this photo and half of the one on the right were demolished, up the chimney stack which still stands.

The remaining half of the building from the right of the chimney.   The building is listed grade 2 and dated early to mid 16C.