David Huddart, our guest speaker for our March meeting, explained that Market Crosses had been a feature in English history from Saxon times. They were often sited at a cross road in a town where local people would gather for a variety of reasons. These included religious purposes, public meetings or as a place to sell butter, eggs and poultry. David used a series of photographs to illustrate his talk which included drawings, paintings and photos of existing Crosses such as the one Beverley, Leeming and Chester etc. We know of one at Wakefield during the reign of Richard II but there certainly was one situated near present Cross Square at the top of Westgate. This one of was constructed in 1707. It had a raised plinth with eight columns supporting a dome that had space for a meeting room that was accessed by a wooden spiral staircase. A bell was also evident which would be used as a means to start a meeting or gathering. The dome was crowned with a spire and a weather vane.
The architect was believed to have been Theophilus Shelton, a Gentleman Architect who we know designed the one at Beverley. John Smyth of Heath Hall was instrumental in organizing the finances to pay for the Cross with subscriptions gathered from a variety of people including, the town constable, Overseer of the Poor and Church Warden etc. The bell would have been rung at 10.30am every Friday to announce the opening of the market. Not only was local produce up for sale but there is also evidence that wives were sometimes announced for sale!
In 1847 a borough market was created which later had a hall constructed. This stood between Brook St and Teall St. In 1865 a decision was taken by town council committee to take down the Cross in 1866. This did not meet with universal approval and an angry crowd gathered, according to an article in the Wakefield Express, which objected to the demolition and auction of the various parts of the Cross. One such purchaser was Thomas Armytage, of Savile Street, a builder who was an ancestor of David Huddart. Other purchasers were the owner of Primrose Hill Almshouse, Alverthorpe Hall and Clarke Hall and Holmfield House. The only surviving remnant is a column now on display in the Secret Garden in Thornes Park. A model of Wakefield’s Market Cross now resides in the Gissing Centre, but there is painting by local artist, Louise Fennel, a photo from the 1860s and several sketches one being in Walker’s History of Wakefield.