Kirkgate Calling

On Saturday 4th May Dr. Phil Judkins headed a team of three speakers to deliver on the findings on a project started in 2015 in Wakefield. A group of volunteers from the Wakefield Historical Society became involved in the development of Kirkgate Station, a grade 2 listed building, and its network of local railway tracks. Phil traced the beginnings in the 1830s when a small hut-like station developed with emphasis on the transport links with Leeds, Manchester and eventually with Goole. The primary concern was for transport of freight in the form of coal, grain and building materials. The current building opened in 1841 when passengers were also catered for. We learned about the involvement of different railway companies; construction of bridges and viaducts and the effects of these constructions not only within the immediate surroundings of Kirkgate but also much wider areas around Wakefield.

The second speaker, Ken Rowley, traced developments that related to the human cost regarding early accidents; arguments over what gauge would be suitable not only locally but nationally. Other factors that had to be considered were a workable signalling system; the standardisation of time; structural problems of locomotives; braking systems; and cooperation between railway companies. All this necessitated continuous government intervention through the passing of a number of Acts through the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The third speaker, Lorraine Simpson, showed us the effects of WW1 on Kirkgate station and of its employees. Using knowledge gained from one employee’s diaries who had joined the KOYLI regiment and his subsequent involvement at Thiepval and then the Battle of the Somme.

We learned how he was wounded and shipped home and transported by rail to a hospital in an ambulance train. These had carriages that had been converted to carry the many wounded back to Britain. Lorraine also emphasised the changing nature of railway employees, many now were women in an industry which had been had been dominated by men. They not only staffed signal boxes but also worked in munition factories whose products were then transported to the Front by rail.

Phil rounded off the talk by showing how by the 1980s and 1990s the station was in a state of dereliction through neglect and vandalism. The volunteers’ project along with the involvement of Groundwork, an historical conservation group, helped to rescue the station which was upgraded and refurbished. Thus a station that had been conceived at the start of the revolution in steam locomotion, was saved.