Wakefield, England


Lionel Nebeker

There is a town in Yorkshire County, in northern England, with an origin that goes far back into ancient history.  Some believe that there was a settlement there in Roman times, and there certainly was in the days wherein the Germanic tribes, known as the Angles and Saxons came to England to possess the land.  Years later, this area was over-run by Vikings and still later, by the Normans.  There are relatively few records that reach back that far in history, but those that do exist were often kept in Latin, and the old scribes’ spelling of various places frequently differs from one writer to the next.  

The earliest mention we have of this scenic spot is usually given with some form of the name of Wachenfeld.   This is clearly a Germanic appellation.  Even today, this would easily be recognized by a modern speaker of that language.  “Wachen”—still today would be translated as: to be alert, awake, watchful; and “Feld” means field.  Together, these words would have been applied in a military setting for a field in which guards would have been stationed to keep a “watch” for any approaching enemies.  In this sense, to watch out, or to be awake would have the same meaning.  Over the centuries the old Germanic language evolved into modern English.  And, with that transition the Saxon name of Wachenfeld transitioned into Wakefield.  

Wakefield is located about 25 miles SW of the city of York and about ten miles west of the ancient Pontefract Castle.  

From Wikipedia we find the following brief information:

Wakefield is 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.[1] Wakefield was dubbed the "Merrie City" in the Middle Ages[2] 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".[nb 1]

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 in 1974. The County Council was dissolved in 1986. On the south side of this city are the ruins of the ancient Sandal Castle.  It was from this castle that the Yorkist sallied forth to engage their Lancastrian enemies at the “Battle of Wakefield” that began the War of the Roses in 1460. 

In another Wikipedia article regarding the history of this area, we read: 

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.[6] This part of Yorkshire was home to the Brigantes until the Roman occupation in 43 AD. 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.[7] Wakefield was probably settled by the Angles in the 5th or 6th century and after 867AD the area was controlled by the Vikings who divided the area into wapentakes. Wakefield was part of the Wapentake of Agbrigg. The settlement grew up near a crossing place on the River Calder around three roads, Westgate, Northgate and Kirkgate.[8] the "gate" suffix derives from Old Norse gata meaning road[9] and kirk, from kirkja indicates there was a church.[10]

Before 1066 the manor of Wakefield belonged to Edward the Confessor and it passed to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings.[11] After the Conquest Wakefield was a victim of the Harrying of the north in 1069 when William the Conqueror took revenge on the local population for resistance to Norman rule. The settlement was recorded as Wachfeld in the Domesday Book of 1086, and covered a much greater area than present day Wakefield, much of which was described as "waste".[12] The manor was granted by the crown to William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey whose descendants, the Earls Warenne, inherited it after his death in 1088.[13] The construction of Sandal Castle began early in the 12th century.[14] A second castle was built at Lawe Hill on the north side of the Calder but was abandoned.[15] Wakefield and its environs formed the caput of an extensive baronial holding by the Warennes that extended to Cheshire and Lancashire. The Warennes, and their feudal sublords, held the area until the 14th century, when it passed to their heirs.[16] Norman tenants holding land in the region included the Lyvet family at Lupset.[17]

Duke of York Memorial, killed 1460

The Domesday Book recorded two churches, one in Wakefield and one in Sandal Magna.[18] The Saxon church in Wakefield was rebuilt in about 1100 in stone in the Norman style and was continually enlarged until 1315 when the central tower collapsed. By 1420 the church was again rebuilt and was extended between 1458 and 1475. In 1203 William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey received a grant for a market in the town.[19] 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 close to the Bull Ring and the church.[19]

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.[20]

In 1460, during the Wars of the Roses, the 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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[3] In the late 1700s Georgian town houses and St John's Church were built to the north of the town centre.[23][24]

In another part of the same Wikipedia article we read: 

Wakefield Cathedral

The most prominent landmark in Wakefield is Wakefield Cathedral, which at 247 feet (75 m) has the tallest spire in Yorkshire.[70][71] Other landmarks include the Civic Quarter on Wood Street which includes the Neoclassical Wakefield Crown Court of 1810, the Town Hall built in 1880 and the Queen Anne Style County Hall of 1898. 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.[72] 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.[73]

Chantry Bridge in Wakefield

Ruins of Sandal Castle

On the south side of the City of Wakefield

Nothing is currently known of our earliest ancestors, but in the period following the Norman Conquest people who had previously had only a single name, began taking on a second clarifying name to help them be distinguished from other persons with similar names.  These often came from their means of employment (e.g. Farmer, Hunter, Shoemaker, etc.) or sometimes it would come from their place of origin, especially if they had moved to some other location.  Hence, folks began to be known with a name such as William of Wakefield, or from Wakefield.  Overtime such surnames were merely shortened to just Wakefield, and in England these would then be passed along to that persons descendants for generations.  

While, at this time, we do not know the names of any of our ancient English ancestors it seems highly likely that someone in our heritage was born in this town and subsequently came to be known as “Wakefield”.