My mother always said Wakefield used to be a lovely place.
I wondered what she was on about until recently, through the brilliant Facebook group ‘window to wakefield’, I have been able to see photos of a very different Wakefield, and it was indeed a lovely market town with some beautiful medieval buildings.
Sadly many of these were torn down in the 1960s on the whim of the town developers. As I wander round Wakefield today I see a city in pieces - some beautiful old buildings remain such as those on Wood St and Westgate but these are interspersed with some shockingly ugly ones such as the whole of Kirkgate and the one which is now Sports Direct at the top of Westgate.
Looking at the photo of the original majestic columned building, it is hard to imagine why it was ever destroyed.
Unfortunately the council have not learnt the lessons of the 1960s. The Ridings squats in the centre like an alien spaceship, sucking the life from the city in the 80s. Now Trinity is drawing the lifeblood away to the other side of the city.
The market is a soulless effort, something to walk through on the way to the bus station. Wherever an ugly building sits, a beautiful one used to stand. Historic old pubs were demolished to make way for Trinity and Westgate retail park, while many of the eyesores from the 60s remain.
Some new buildings work, the new library is spacious and airy, with panoramic views over to Emley moor. The museum tells the story of a city that once was, with ornate carved wooden beams that would have made Wakefield as well loved as York.
Wakefield Council should have looked to Leeds for a successful blueprint on how to restore a city. It has lovingly restored its old arcades back to life, only now introducing a new shopping centre.
Wakefield seems to neglect its old buildings until they are beyond repair, such as the crumbling Tudor house on Westgate end, which is more visible now the Warburtons bakery has gone.
Hopefully the long overdue restoration of Unity House will show the council how it should be done, and kick-start a regeneration of Westgate, itself an embarrassment with its garish fast-food signs. People are looking for something unique now, not a faceless, corporate store you can find in any city.
Wakefield’s old buildings are the heart and history of the city, once they are gone, they can never be replaced and the soul of the city slowly dies with them.