Wakefield Town Hall - past and present
The Old Town Hall and the present Town HallWakefield Corporation was established upon the Incorporation of the Municipal Borough in 1848 (Wakefield had been a Parliamentary Borough from 1832).
The Corporation had purchased a long and narrow strip of land lying between the West Riding Courthouse and the Mechanics’ Institute (now the City Museum) in Wood Street for £650 in 1854.
This site had been a stone quarry, but in the 1820s it had been the location of an unsuccessful attempt to establish a market free of the control of the Lord of the Manor of Wakefield. When elections were held at Wakefield for the return of two Members for the West Riding County Council, the crowds listening to the election speeches used this space. In 1837 there was an election riot on the site when flying missiles killed two innocent bystanders.
After the Corporation’s purchase of the site in Wood Street in 1854 competitive designs for a modest Town Hall, to cost no more than £5,000, were advertised for and produced.
But a public meeting of the ratepayers in the July of that year decided against the expenditure involved. Wakefield was not very wealthy at the time - and the project was dropped.
In one way this was unfortunate, as the movement for establishing Assizes in the West Riding, which had been going on for almost half a century, came to the fore again in the 1850s and early 1860s. Wakefield claimed the honour (and the profit to its tradespeople) that the Assizes should be set up there as the County town.
But whilst there was a building suitable for Judges’ Lodgings, there was no suitable building in which to hold the courts. Leeds built its great new Town Hall in the 1850s and the Assizes were granted to Leeds, rather than Wakefield, in 1864.