Discover Victorian Wakefield with new trail around Westgate

Imagine the sights and sounds of bustling Victorian Wakefield where shopkeeper Benny Watson had a thriving grocery store.

By Leanne Clarke
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 1:47 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th November 2021, 1:48 pm
Benny ran Watson and Kenworthy’s on the appropriately named Silver Street in Westgate and earned a large amount of money from operating a hugely successful and popular business.
Benny ran Watson and Kenworthy’s on the appropriately named Silver Street in Westgate and earned a large amount of money from operating a hugely successful and popular business.

Benny ran Watson and Kenworthy’s on the appropriately named Silver Street in Westgate and earned a large amount of money from operating a hugely successful and popular business.

He left the incredible sum of £35,000 when he died in 1896 and had so many pairs of boots that someone had to choose which ones to bury him in.

It is just one of the many colourful tales that feature in a new Wakefield Council-created self-guided walk around Westgate.

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It is part of the cultural programme within the Upper Westgate Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) funded by Historic England.

The self-guided trail is called Westgate Rising.

The trail explores the area’s streets and courtyards and how they came to prominence as one of the city’s main heartbeats.

Researchers from the Wakefield Historical Society, the Wakefield Civic Society and Dream Time Creative uncovered Westgate’s vivid past.

The research has been creatively interpreted by artists Grant Lowe and Deborah Templeton.

Writer Deborah put the lively tales into an accessible text download and separate audio guide.

Walkers can follow clues with beautiful architectural photography by Grant to discover Westgate’s long history.

With custom music and narration, the audio guide relays hidden stories about the people and places in an evocative and informative style.

Coun Michael Graham, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, said: “There’s some fascinating stories in the guide.

“One of the most amazing is Ann Hurst, who went from bookseller to newspaper editor to anti-slavery campaigner and all-round radical.

“She has also been honoured with a blue plaque in the city as part of the Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project, so will be remembered for generations to come.”

The guide is part of a four-year programme promoting the HAZ, which is a collaboration between the Council and Historic England.

It provides £4m for physical works to historic Westgate buildings and creates exciting cultural programmes, including the guide.

Most of the funds are available as grants to owners of historic properties on Westgate to enable them to carry out high quality repairs and in some cases bring them back into use.

Coun Darren Byford, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Economic Growth and Property, added: “What’s incredible is the ornate architecture that still survives and which perhaps goes unnoticed.

“We want to make the best of that by supporting owners to really showcase their buildings to the public.

“And this walking guide will help us do that by highlighting the history, architecture and great characters from Westgate in a unique and fun way.”

The walking trail is available for free with a specially-designed map via the Love Exploring smartphone app for Apple and Android devices here.

Please search for Westgate Rising within the Wakefield trails.

A printed version of the full trail can be obtained from the Theatre Royal Wakefield on Drury Lane along with illustrated maps.