is a city and the main settlement and administrative centre of the City of Wakefield, a metropolitan district of West Yorkshire, England. Located by the River Calder, on the eastern edge of the Pennines, the urban area is 2,062 hectares (5,100 acres) and had a population of 76,886 in 2001.
Wakefield was dubbed the "Merrie City" in the Middle Ages and in 1538 John Leland described it as, "a very quick market town and meately large; well served of fish and flesh both from sea and by rivers ... so that all vitaile is very good and chepe there. A right honest man shall fare well for 2d. a meal. ... There be plenti of se coal in the quarters about Wakefield". The site of a battle during the Wars of the Roses and a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, Wakefield developed in spite of setbacks to become an important market town and centre for wool, exploiting its position on the navigable River Calder to become an inland port.
During the 18th century Wakefield continued to develop through trade in corn, coal mining and textiles, and in 1888 its parish church, with Saxon origins, acquired cathedral status. The town became the county town and seat of the West Riding County Council in 1889 and the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Council from 1974 until it was dissolved in 1986.
Wakefield seen from Sandal Castle
The name "Wakefield" may derive from "Waca's field" – the open land belonging to someone named "Waca" or could have evolved from the Old English word wacu, meaning "a watch or wake", and feld, an open field in which a wake or festival was held. In the Domesday Book of 1086, it was written Wachefeld and also as Wachefelt.
Flint and stone tools and later bronze and iron implements have been found at Lee Moor and Lupset in the Wakefield area showing evidence of human activity since prehistoric times. This part of Yorkshire was home to the Brigantes until the Roman occupation in AD 43. A Roman road from Pontefract passing Streethouse, Heath Common, Ossett Street Side, through Kirklees and on to Manchester crossed the River Calder by a ford at Wakefield near the site of Wakefield Bridge. Wakefield was probably settled by the Angles in the 5th or 6th century and after AD 876 the area was controlled by the Vikings who founded twelve hamlets or thorpes around Wakefield. They divided the area into wapentakes and Wakefield was part of the Wapentake of Agbrigg. The settlement grew near a crossing place on the River Calder around three roads, Westgate, Northgate and Kirkgate. the "gate" suffix derives from Old Norse gata meaning road and kirk, from kirkja indicates there was a church.
In 1203 William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey received a grant for a market in the town. In 1204 King John granted the rights for a fair at the feast of All Saints, 1 November, and in 1258 Henry III granted the right for fair on the feast of St John the Baptist, 24 June. The market was close to the Bull Ring and the church. The townsfolk of Wakefield amused themselves in games and sports earning the title "Merrie Wakefield", the chief sport in the 14th century was archery and the butts in Wakefield were at the Ings, near the river.
During the Wars of the Roses, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York was killed on 30 December 1460 in the Battle of Wakefield near Sandal Castle. As preparation for the impending invasion by the Spanish Armada in April 1558, 400 men from the wapentake of Morley and Agbrigg were summoned to Bruntcliffe near Morley with their weapons. Men from Kirkgate, Westgate, Northgate and Sandal were amongst them and all returned by August. At the time of the Civil War, Wakefield was a Royalist stronghold. An attack led by Sir Thomas Fairfax on 20 May 1643 captured the town for the Parliamentarians. Over 1500 troops were taken prisoner along with the Royalist commander, Lieutenant-General Goring.
In medieval times Wakefield became an inland port on the Calder and centre for the woollen and tanning trades. In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed creating the Aire and Calder Navigation which provided the town with access to the North Sea.The first Registry of Deeds in the country opened in 1704 and in 1765 Wakefield's cattle market was established and became the one of largest in the north of England. The town was a centre for cloth dealing, with its own piece hall, the Tammy Hall, built in 1766. In the late 1700s Georgian town houses and St John's Church were built to the north of the town centre.
The most prominent landmark in Wakefield is Wakefield Cathedral, which at 247 feet (75 m) has the tallest spire in Yorkshire. Other landmarks in the Civic Quarter on Wood Street include the Grade II* Neoclassical Crown Court of 1810, Wakefield Town Hall designed by T.W. Collcutt and opened in 1880, and the Queen Anne Style County Hall of 1898 which are Grade I listed. St John's Church and Square, St John's North and South Parade are part of residential development dating from the Georgian period.
The old Wakefield Bridge with its Chantry Chapel, Sandal Castle, and Lawe Hill in Clarence Park are ancient monuments. Another prominent structure is the 95-arch railway viaduct, constructed of 800,000,000 bricks in the 1860s on the Doncaster to Leeds railway line. At its northern end is a bridge with an 80-foot (24 m) span over Westgate and at its southern end a 163-foot (50 m) iron bridge crossing the River Calder.
Wakefield's oldest surviving school is Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, a boys-only school established in 1591 by Queen Elizabeth I by Royal Charter. The original building in Brook Street is now the 'Elizabethan Gallery'. QEGS moved to Northgate in 1854. The school was administered by the Governors of Wakefield Charities who opened Wakefield Girls High School WGHS on Wentworth Street in 1878. These two schools today are independent schools. National schools were opened by the Church of England including St Mary's in the 1840s and St John's in 1861. The original St Austin's Catholic School opened about 1838. A Methodist School was opened in Thornhill Street in 1846. Pinders Primary School, originally Eastmoor School is the only school opened as a result of the Education Act 1870 which remains open today.
Wakefield College has its origins in the School of Art and Craft of 1868 and today is the major provider of 6th form and further education in the area, with around 3,000 full-time and 10,000 part-time students, and campuses in the city and surrounding towns. In 2007 Wakefield City Council and Wakefield College announced plans to establish a University Centre of Wakefield but a bid for funding failed in 2009. Other schools with sixth forms include: QEGS, Wakefield Girls High School, and Cathedral High School, which is now a Performing Arts College for ages 11 to 18.