Masons’ Marks at Westgate, Wakefield

Victorian stone masons left their marks on this embankment wall, south of Wakefield Westgate Station.

The Roman numeral ‘IV’ carved on this sandstone block appears to relate to the iron bracket that has been added to brace the wall but it’s the mark below that intrigues me: it looks like a flag, a key or a crossed out semiquaver. It has weathered more than the numeral, which suggests that the ironwork is a later addition.

The sun was at a perfect angle this morning for picking out the marks and we spotted dozens of them.

They’re carved at the centre of the facing side of each block. Some masons used letters of the alphabet. You can see that the quality of the sandstone varied because the ‘H’ in the top right of my photograph has faded away more than the one on the left.

There are crosses, arrows and triangles but my favourite marks are the fish-like hieroglyphs and that rabbit’s head (or perhaps it’s an upside-down ‘R’) in the bottom right-hand corner.

This embankment wall, between Westgate Wakefield and the first arch of the Ninety-nine Arches railway viaduct over Ings Road, was constructed in the mid-1860s.

The Great Snowstorm, Christmas 1906

Leeds Mercury, 27 December, 1906, British Newspaper Archive.

People were tobogganing at Ilkley, skating on the Mere at Scarborough and photographing snow-covered trees in the Gorge at Roundhay Park after the Great Snowstorm of Christmas 1906.

Despite the snow, a large crowd turned out to watch the annual Fishermen versus Firemen football match on the beach at South Bay, Scarborough.

My thanks to Gordon Berry of Chicago for sending me this photograph of work to clear the tram tracks between Wakefield and Horbury. I’ve seen another photograph, presumably taken at the same time, of an electric tram making progress through the drifts.

Gordon’s grandparents and their family lived at  Smeath House, Horbury, in the early 1900s (later, in the 1950s and 1960s, Smeath House was my childhood home).

Leeds Mercury, 27 December, 1906, British Newspaper Archive.

Gordon tells me:

My grandfather’s family (Alfred Edward Berry and Fanny Albiia Murgatroyd) lived at Smeath House from at least 1906 till 1909. My father was the third son, Henry Vernon, born in Huddersfield in 1901.  The fourth and youngest child was Cynthia Berry born at Smeath House in 1909.

My brother John Berry was a medical doctor as a GP  in Horbury and Ossett (he retired about 15 years ago and died 2 years ago) – his practice went all the way through to Netherton.  He said when he first got there , some old people remembered the Berry family.

Alfred Edward Berry (right), with his sons Henry (in front of Alfred) and Rex (centre, behind the dog’s tail).

I am pretty sure that some of the boys in the photo are my father Henry Vernon Berry, his older brother Rex (Reginald), and their father Alfred Edward Berry.

The man leaning on his shovel behind Rex might have been part of the team clearing snow from the tram tracks.

I am sure they were in Kristiania (now Oslo) in Norway from 1910 to 1914. I have a record of Rex being at Pannal Ash school Harrogate in the school year 1910-11, recorded as a boarder in the 1911 census, plus a letter to the family in Kristiania in February 1914. Since I cannot find the family anywhere in the 1910 census, they must have gone to Norway then. They certainly returned before the outbreak of World War I.  

Has this young man on the far left been marking the route with flags?

Presumably, Alfred Edward was a mill or brewery manager in Horbury. 

 In later years, Daddy still knew a few phrases of Norwegian, and he also learned to ski and to ice-skate in Norway (occasionally there was enough ice on Bretton Park Lake for us to watch him to skate). There was also a Norwegian plaque on the wall of our parents’ bedroom in Louisville.

 There is a family story that Alfred Edward was a golf-pro at Filey Golf Club when they returned from Norway – he apparently had an excellent golf handicap of 1.

Wakefield Road, Horbury

I believe the photograph shows what today is the Horbury Road, looking southwest towards Horbury. Just visible in the background are two tall chimneys which might belong to Richard Sutcliffe’s Universal Works. Sutcliffe patented the first conveyor belt for use in coal mines in  1905. He bought a former dyehouse here and in that year produced his first six belt conveyors here for Glass Houghton Colliery.

The present day Horbury Road dips under the M1 motorway here.

Peregrine on the Spire

Wakefield Cathedral spire is 247 feet high. Whenever I try to picture a thousand feet, I think of four Wakefield Cathedral towers.
Wakefield Cathedral spire is 247 feet high. Whenever I try to picture a thousand feet, I think of four Wakefield Cathedral towers.

peregrine11.10 a.m., 49ºF, 9ºC, Wakefield Cathedral; A flock of  town pigeons circles and chacking jackdaws return to the belfry ia the louvred shutters, unperturbed by the presence of a peregrine preening on a crocket, halfway up the north-east side of the spire.

It’s wonderful to be able to sit on a bench in the precinct and sketch a peregrine. jackdawsWhen I started birdwatching in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the first peregrines that I saw were in a remote glen in Scotland and on the far south-west corner of Wales, on the Pembrokeshire coast.

Nest platform attached to crenelations.
Nest platform attached to crenelations.

Over much of the country they had been wiped out through partly through persecution but probably more because of pesticide residues in their prey species, which caused a thinning of the shells of their eggs.

Link: Wakefield Peregrines

Soaring Around Town

peregrine, meadow and loosestrife.2 p.m.: Peregrine flying past the town hall, over Wood Street, Wakefield, heading in the direction of the cathedral.

4.30 p.m.: Two weeks or so after the shortest day, the light already seems to be lingering longer in the afternoons. It helps that today has been a lot brighter than the wet, overcast days that we’ve had so much of recently.

The purple loosestrife seed heads were drawn with a dip pen, using Winsor & Newton peat brown ink.

Wood Street Roofline

roof windowA coffee break drawing from Marmalade, Cross Square, Wakefield of a Dutch or Flemish style attic window of the building at the end of Wood Street which for many years was a branch of Barclays Bank. There are impressive terra cotta panels on the facade and the dates 1810 and a later date (1870?) which must refer to a rebuild.

The Stables at ‘the Brig’

The long disused Crown Court at the top end of Queen Street is at last getting restored but it looks as if, for a humbler building back at Horbury Bridge, time is running out. A builder’s fence appearing just before a weekend around the old stables or barn next to the Ship Inn at Horbury Bridge might be a sign that they’re going to demolish it, to make way for a proposed convenience store.

It sounds a bit cynical but I always assume the worst because tree-felling and demolition of historic buildings often seems to take place over a weekend, sometimes a bank holiday weekend, when it’s impossible to get in touch with the local authority. I’m still waiting for a planning officer to get back to me, to clarify what might be going on*.

Horbury Bridge
Horbury Bridge

As I’m researching an article for the Dalesman about the first performance of the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers at Horbury Bridge, I’m interested in the history of the ‘Brig’. Local historian Christine Cudworth tells me that these stables have a unique kind of ladder in them. The land that they are built on formerly belonged to Horbury’s centuries old charity, The Common Lands Trust. The building has a slate roof so I’m guessing that it’s not as old as the Ship Inn next door which has a stone flagged roof.

I'm sorry that I missed photographing the old stables a couple of weeks ago. They've gone now unfortunately.
I’m sorry that I missed photographing the old stables a couple of weeks ago. They’ve gone now unfortunately.

Latest news; Wakefield planning department got back to me and explained that although the present scheme requests permission to demolish the stables, the developers had applied in 2014 for permission to demolish and, after due consideration, that was approved, so they didn’t need any further permission to proceed this weekend, even though their latest proposal has yet to be considered.

I vaguely remember seeing a planning notice last year but was so busy because of mum’s illness that I didn’t make any comments on the proposal. I’ll photograph what’s left of the stables – if there is anything by now – next time I pass.

* I’m impressed that Wakefield planning department got back to me on the Sunday afternoon.

Wakefield’s Old Park

  • Stanley Hall.

This walk, which starts and finishes at Wakefield cathedral and passes Pinderfields, the Old Park and the Chantry Chapel. There are a number of Robin Hood connections, including a sculpture of his sparring partner George-a-Green, the Jolly Pinder of Wakefield. On 25 January 1316 the maidservant of Robert Hode, was fined two pence for taking dry wood and green vegetation from the Old Park. This walk must pass very near the scene of the crime!

More about Robert Hode and the early Robin Hood ballads in my Walks in Robin Hood’s Wakefield, available in local bookshops, visitor centres and some farm shops. Also available online, post free in the UK, from Willow Island Editions, price £2.99.

The walk passes the site of St Swithen’s chantry chapel. Walk it while you can because there are plans for a relief road which it is proposed will go through the Old Park, later the site of Parkhill Colliery, linking with the roundabout near Wakefield Hospice at Stanley Hall.


At last I’ve seen a peregrine in Wakefield!peregrine

As we came out of the Apple dealers at Trinity Walk I looked up at the blue sky and got a good view of it flying at just above rooftop level.

A few pigeons were disturbed as it disappeared in the direction of the cathedral and when we got to the precinct Barbara spotted it on a crocket – one of the decorative projecting stones – half way up the spire.

Wakefield Street Life, 1876

The butter cross, Cross Square, WakefieldCross Square

Richard Knowles of the Rickaro Bookshop in Horbury recently came across these photographs of Victorian Wakefield. They were probably used as business cards by George & John Hall, photographers, who had premises at 26 Westgate.

Someone, presumably George, has dated three of the photographs Saturday, 15 July 1876.
Reverse side of the Chantry Chapel photograph.

The Butter Cross was built in 1707 and, according to some sources, demolished in 1866/67, but that was ten years before the date on the photograph. Wakefield council still have one of those pillars but I’m not sure where it is kept since the old art gallery, where it was displayed in the garden, closed.

The medieval Chantry Chapel now has a mid-twentieth century facade so these photographs are a valuable record of these buildings but it’s the incidental detail that I particularly like.

The shops by the Butter Cross would be a useful reference if I was illustrating Dickens or painting the Paddington Green backdrop for Oliver!

G & J Hall, photographers, were awarded a medal in the highly successful Wakefield Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition, 1865.
G & J Hall, photographers, were awarded a medal in the highly successful Wakefield Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition, 1865.

 Six Chimneys

The Six Chimneys

The 6 chimnies, Kirkgate, Wakefield

The Six Chimneys, an Elizabethan house, stood on Kirkgate, on the site of the present roundabout and pedestrian underpass. It collapsed following structural alterations at 7.45 p.m. on 16 May 1941.

To judge by the shadows, this was taken on the Saturday afternoon. Holden’s (the butchers?) has more or less sold out apart from a flitch of bacon and a single sausage (if that’s what it is!). There doesn’t appear to be any glass in the window, unless Mr Holden had gone to the expense of fitting plate glass.

Bell’s the coopers are displaying an impressive array of baskets and barrels, no doubt all made of locally sourced materials, most of them biodegradable.

Parish Church

Cathedral 1876

 The parish church wouldn’t become a cathedral until 1888.

Considering that this is the centre of town at half past eleven on a Saturday morning Wakefield seems uncannily quiet. Where is everybody?

handcartThree boys eyeing the camera and this porter or street-sweeper has stopped to chat to a woman who appears to be carrying a bag.

Street Urchins

Wakefield’s street urchins gathering at the Butter Cross. Was that ladder used by the town’s lamp-lighter?

handcartHandcarts seem to be a common feature around town. It probably wasn’t worth the trouble of loading barrels, baskets and boxes onto a horse drawn cart for delivery around town, so the porter and the delivery boy would have been a familiar sight.

I remember local author Stan Barstow telling me that one of his first jobs was to take a handcart as far as Lupset on the Saturday morning delivery round for one of the Horbury butchers. From a later period, I remember a big black butcher’s bicycle with a large rectangular basket between the handlebars, parked outside one of the High Street butchers in Horbury.

Wakefield Words

on the Chantry bridge

Finally, here are a couple of Saturday morning strollers, stopping for a chat on the Chantry Bridge.

As we’re looking down on them, this must have been taken from the Kings Mill.

What were they chatting about? Wakefield is lucky in that one of my predecessors William Banks who, like me, wrote a book of walks around Wakefield, took the trouble to make a note of the town’s dialect and phrases.

Wakefield Words page 77

So they could well have been saying;

Hah goes it? Owt fresh?’

‘Naah, nowt; what’s t’best news wi’ thee?’

Wakefield WordsSo, if you’d like to know a little about the words these street folk of old Wakefield used for weather, food, childhood and schooldays, the countryside, proverbs and a few supernatural tales, you can order a copy of my book Wakefield Words.

Price £3.99, post free (and as it’s a small paperback, for once I can make that post free outside the UK too).

If they ever invent a time machine and you get whisked back to Victorian Wakefield, it might make a useful phrase book! I was fascinated by William Banks collection of words and phrases and, as you’ll see from the book, I had fun adding cartoon illustrations to bring them to life. I’d always wanted to do a real little paperback book and I’m really pleased with this one. It’s quite jolly and I love the smell of a fresh paperback. Mmm! – you don’t get that with a digital version, do you?

More of my publications can be found at Willow Island Editions or, if you happen to be in Horbury, you can find the full range of titles at the Rickaro Bookshop.

My thanks to Richard Knowles of Rickaro for the loan of these evocative photographs.

Link; Rickaro Bookshop, Horbury

Coca Cola

Coca Cola siteI’VE BEEN getting a new edition of Walks in the Rhubarb Triangle off to the printers today. I checked out all the routes and was delighted that there was hardly anything that needed changing and all those changes were for the better, for example some of the wobbly old stiles had been replaced by new metal kissing gates.

But I thought the new building – I think it’s the distribution centre – at the Coca Cola Enterprises site at Lawns village, Wakefield, should go in, so I redrew that corner of my picture map and managed to included a few facts about this ‘largest soft drinks plant by volume in Europe’.

Coca Cola plantFrom miles away it can look surprisingly conspicuous but strangely when you get nearer to on those leafy footpaths it often disappears altogether.

It sits pretty much in the centre of the Rhubarb Triangle, but as far as I know it doesn’t manufacture a rhubarb beverage. Dandelion & burdock perhaps but I can’t think of a rhubarb drink that they might try. Rabarbaro Zucca, an Italian aperitif, is alcoholic.

Link; Coca Cola, Wakefield

Old Rugged Cross

TODAY RICK, a freelance scenic painter, is putting the finishing touches to the Saxon Cross exhibit in the new Wakefield Museum. The last time that you’d have seen a man painting this cross in Wakefield would have been over a thousand years ago.

In this reconstruction what remains of the shaft of the original, covered in plastic sheeting in my drawing (and no, Rick’s not going to paint that bit!), is in a plain Anglo Saxon knotted tendril design, with no birds, beasts or warriors popping out from the tracery. It might date from any time from the 800s to just before the Norman conquest.

Saxon crosses were painted and, judging from surviving artwork of the period, such as The Lindisfarne Gospels, they would have used the brightest colours available. We’re used to seeing monuments of such antiquity in worn, mellow stone so this reconstruction reminds us that, in a world where these brighter colours were the exception, this was intended to be a focus of attention – like the sign of a MacDonald’s restaurant today.

When this cross was erected in Wakefield’s market place there might have been a Saxon Church in Wakefield but I suspect that it stood alone as a focus of community life and worship. Paulinus, the Roman missionary who became the first Bishop of York, is said to have preached to the pagan Anglo Saxons at Dewsbury in 627 A.D. The last pagan king in Englad, Penda of Mercia, had been defeated and killed in 655 at the Battle of Winwaed, which was possibly alongside the River Went at Ackworth.

The cross was still standing in 1546 but then disappeared until 1861 when Edmund Waterton, son of the naturalist Charles, rescued it from the demolition of an old butcher’s shop, which stood on the site of Unity Hall, Westgate. It had been used as a doorstep.

Rick painted jungly scenic backdrops for the 1990s revamp of the (Charles) Waterton exhibit Wakefield Museum and he’s painted a fresh jungle backdrop for the new exhibit here in the Museum’s new quarters at Wakefield One. My acrylic on canvas Waterton’s World mural, painted for the 1980s Waterton gallery at the Museum is now in the collection of the Hepworth art gallery. As well as museum work Rick, who lives in Wensleydale, has worked as a scenic artist on numerous Yorkshire Television and Granada series such as Emmerdale and Heartbeat.

As I sketched him, Rick worked mainly with a brush, as his Anglo Saxon predecessors would, but occasionally, to build up a transparent shadow, he’d add a touch of airbrushing.

I’m sure that many visitors will, at a glance, assume that the reconstructed head and base of the cross are three dimensional. The touch of trompe d’oeil that impressed me most were the chipped edges of the base. They look convincingly three-dimensional to me but go close enough and you’ll see that they’re freely painted in blobs of colour.