In 1818 the Female School of Industry was opened in Almshouse Lane. This taught young girls various crafts so that they had the skills to get work. The school closed in 1870.
One of the new wonders of the age - gas lighting - was introduced in 1823 to light the streets and some buildings. This used the foul-smelling ‘town gas’ produced from coal by the Wakefield Gas Light and Coke Company.
Wakefield was the administrative centre for the West Riding and the location for the court house (built 1810), the prison (completely redesigned and rebuilt in 1847) and the asylum for the county (West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum was built in 1816).
Wakefield became a parliamentary borough (returning one M.P. to Westminster) in 1832, a municipal borough in 1848 and a city in 1888.
Despite the importance of the town its population at the turn of the 19th century was only about 8000. In 1832, at the time of the first election the population was 15,932 (but only 722 were eligible to vote). By the time of the census of 1891 the population had risen to around 23,000.
The increasing population meant that the centre of town that had developed around the old yards had become overcrowded, unsanitary, slum housing. To ease the situation and to provide better conditions Wakefield began to spread into the surrounding countryside. The Eastmoor, Primrose Hill and Belle Vue areas were developed to house the workers for the developing industries.
These new industries were grain mills, maltkilns, glass making, chemical and dye works and iron foundries. The trade in wool gave way to mills spinning cloth (the machines could now be powered by steam). On the outskirts of the town new coalmines were being sunk – 46 were operating in 1869 - as the industrial revolution created an insatiable need for it to power factories throughout the country.
An Industrial and Fine Arts Exhibition was held in 1865. Housed in a small wooden replica of the Crystal Palace on the site of the current Town Hall in Wood Street, it attracted over 189,000 visitors. The profits from the exhibition helped pay for the establishment of Wakefield Technical College in 1868.
Although the Victorian age was notable for industrial advancement there was one new agricultural business that had developed in the area. A group of small farmers and market gardeners made Wakefield part of the Rhubarb Triangle (with Morley and Leeds). In the 1870s two trains left Wakefield every day bound for Covent Garden laden with rhubarb that had been 'forced' in dark sheds.
As with many towns and cities throughout the UK prosperity and civic pride was reflected in new buildings and Wakefield was no exception:
- in 1826 Wakefield’s first hospital, the House of Recovery at Westgate Common was built
- new Corn Exhange was built at the top of Westgate in 1837, then further enlarged in 1864
- Kirkgate railway station was opened in 1840, followed by Westgate station in 1867
- the Mechanics Institute built in 1841 (which became the Museum until 2012)
- Wakefield Union Workhouse was built on Park Lodge Lane, Eastmoor in 1853, with room for 360 paupers (not everyone was prosperous)
- Clayton Hospital in Northgate, was opened in 1879. It had 60 beds, and named after Thomas Clayton, a locally respected Mayor and philanthropist
- the new Town Hall, in Wood Street, for the Wakefield Corporation was opened in 1880
- the Opera House opened in 1895, designed by renowned architect Frank Matcham who specialised in music halls and theatres
- the County Hall for the West Riding County Council was opened by the Marquess of Ripon in 1898
Between 1860 and 1874 extensive repair and restoration was made to the church which had become unsafe due to centuries of alterations and neglect. George Gilbert Scott directed the work, rebuilding the spire and giving the interior a medieval and gothic look. In 1888 All Saints Parish Church became a Cathedral, and Wakefield a city.