Although agriculture was the main occupation with cattle being very important it was wool, the trade in raw materials and finished cloth, that was making money for the town. However, there were also signs of other industries. Coal was still being mined, and there were a number of stone quarries in and around the town. Bricks were being made on the East Moor and pottery at Potovens (now Wrenthorpe). Mills hadn't developed as they had in Bradford or Halifax because of the lack of fast flowing streams to power the machines.
The 17th century saw the town visited by plague on several occasions. The sanitary conditions of towns in these times was appalling, and Wakefield was no exception.
The Civil War swept through the town too. Originally a Royalist stronghold, an attack led by Sir Thomas Fairfax with a much smaller force on 20 May 1643 captured the town for the Parliamentarians. Over 1500 troops were taken prisoner along with the Royalist commander, Lieutenant-General Goring.
Wakefield’s position on the River Calder had been an important factor in its development over the centuries but it really needed more direct access to the North Sea. In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed to create the Aire and Calder Navigation. This was done by improving the navigability of the River Aire (from the River Ouse at Airmyn via Castleford to Leeds) and River Calder (from Castleford to Wakefield).
The 18th century was a more settled time and the town built on its continuing wealth.
The first Registry of Deeds in the country was opened in 1704. A new Market Cross was erected in 1707, the same year as Greencoat School was opened, one of many charity schools springing up in the town.
In 1723 the population of the town was about 4,170.
In 1765 Wakefield’s Cattle Market was established and became the one of largest in the north.
The Universal British directory of 1793 had this to say about Wakefield’s markets:
"The market-day is on Friday; besides which there is a considerable show of wool on Thursday: here are four fairs, viz. The 4th and 5th of July, and the 11th and 12th of November. The first and third are for horses and horned cattle, and are very considerable, the fourth is for the hiring of servants; the other is merely a toy fair. Besides these, there is every Wednesday fortnight a fair for horned cattle and sheep, which is not inferior to any in the kingdom except Smithfield, as it supplies the butchers of almost all this riding, and the borders of Lancashire.”
The streets began to be paved from 1771, and were lit by oil lamps from 1796. The St John’s development of town houses, and the church at its centre, was a striking symbol of how sophisticated parts of Wakefield had become.
In 1787 Wakefield General Dispensary was set up. This dispensed medicines but it was not a hospital. (It would eventually become part of Clayton Hospital over 100 years later.)
Enclosure acts had broken up the common fields system, selling the land to private individuals. This made many landowners even richer although it made many smaller farmers homeless and forced much of the poorer country population into the more overcrowded areas of the town. Enclosure also meant the end of the horse racing on the course at Horbury.
Transport links were improving. New turnpike roads had been built and coach travel flourished with Wakefield becoming a centre for travelling to London. The bridge over the river Calder was widened in 1758 and again in 1797, making it 34 feet wide.The Barnsley Canal opened in 1799 connecting it to the Aire and Calder Navigation. But these improvements in transport would pale into insignificance when compared with the coming of the railways in the 19th century.