I was born in the city and attended the Lawefield Lane and Cathedral Schools and Wakefield Technical College. Prior to entering Parliament I worked in local authority social work and served as a councillor on both the old Wakefield City Council and Wakefield MDC. I’m a former rugby league player and life-long supporter of Wakefield Trinity. I’m married to Julia and we have a grown up son and daughter.
My favourite things about Wakefield reflect my memories of growing up in the city and my interests and passions in later life. My earliest recollection as a very young child was being taken by my parents into Thornes Park to see the terrible fire which destroyed the original Thornes House School.
I grew up near to the Thornes, Holmfield and Clarence Parks (pictured) and spent many happy hours exploring them and still really enjoy visits there. I have always loved the open air and think the Pugneys Country Park is one of Wakefield’s finest assets. What we have there is a great example of allowing leisure activities to co-exist with nature.
Not far from Pugneys, another local favourite of mine is Sandal Castle (pictured). Among my other interests are a passion for genealogy and local history. My own historical research has brought me into contact with the Wakefield Court Rolls which record activities within the Wakefield Manor from the medieval period. The Manor stretched west over the Pennines, covering a huge area but its headquarters were, of course, the castle and its significance to our history, local and national, is immense.
Just down from the castle is the River Calder which I also list as a favourite, having owned boats for much of my life. As a child I recall watching the old coal barges passing through Thornes Cut and, having had a house next to the river, I have seen it in all its moods. It is especially pleasing to have seen what was a ‘dead’ river many years ago transformed into one which is nowadays teeming with fish and wildlife.
Remaining in the open air I have to name Heath Common as among my favourite local spots, particularly because of my strong family connections to that part of Wakefield. My father was born in Cobblers Hall, Heath and grew up in a cottage not far from the wonderful Kings Arms pub. My grandmother was born in Hough Cottage, at the bottom of the Common just across from the new Neil Fox Way.
Mentioning my boyhood hero (pictured) Wakefield Trinity’s Belle Vue ground is obviously one of my favourite places, having been first taken there by my father when I was around eight-years-old. I have followed Trinity through thick and thin ever since and have some remarkable memories of seeing great players and matches at the ground. It angers and frustrates me that bringing the ground up to 21st century standards is taking such a very long time.
So many of the players I watched at Trinity had connections to the coalfield which was at the heart of the local economy when I was growing up.
While the pits are gone we are so very fortunate to have the National Coal Mining Museum which is up there among my Wakefield favourites. As the generation who gave their lives to coal gradually pass away, it is right that their contribution is properly commemorated up at Caphouse. I always enjoy visiting the museum and also the West Yorkshire History Centre on Kirkgate which is a brilliant facility for anyone researching local history.
Food and drink
Anyone from the Merrie City would be lacking credibility if they didn’t make mention of their favourite eating and drinking places. I have a passion for Asian food and have had some really good meals in Lala’s on Westgate and the Bengal Spice on Smyth Street. If we are spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants in Wakefield, narrowing down my favourite pubs and clubs is even more difficult because in recent years the ‘real ale’ revolution has seen a remarkable increase in top quality bars. The Redoubt on Horbury Road, especially when Jim Wild ran it, has always offered a warm welcome. In town, I have always particularly liked the Black Rock. But, it will be no surprise that I name the Red Shed in Vicarage Street as my number one choice with top quality ale, company and politics!