Today I ended up in gaol

Rain and thunder were forecast today. There was no coffee morning to go to so, after my conversation with Neal, the vicar of St Hilda’s Warley, about his time as chaplain at Wakefield cathedral I decided to hop on a train and head for Wakefield.

Today I visited Wakefield. I don’t think I’ve ever been there before but it features in my family history since my great, great, great, great grandfather was incarcerated in what is now England’s most secure prison. He was the guest of her majesty Queen Victoria on two separate occasions. He was also buried at Wakefield All Saints church which is now a cathedral and has recently undergone a huge face-lift. It has Saxon origins and during the refurbishment skeletal remains were found that were carbon dated to around 900 AD. The medieval rood screen still survives. There’s a strong music school and choral department in the crypt!


This looks fun

So stop number one was the cathedral where, having explained why I  was there,  a docent, Richard York,  took up my case with gusto. While I had lunch  – yeh, for the baked potato – he went in search of church archives, and wandered around outside in the pouring rain trying to decipher the horizontal gravestones that now make up the path into the church.


Richard, the helpful docent

No luck, but I gave him my business card in case he unearthed anything  in the future.   It turned out that his dad had exactly the same business card! Richard had been brought up, literally, at Bretton Hall (a college for the arts). I remember having a conversation over dinner at a  piano conference with Jane Bastien (piano pedagogue extraordinaire) about her going to give a presentation at Bretton Hall years and years ago. His father had worked there, surrounded by 23 pianos including 4 Steinways. my school friend Hilary Markland had gone there from Bolton School. Richard mentioned Keith Swallow whose name I recalled. Richard collects archival recordings, over 3000 of them, and his all-time favorite is the Bach/Busoni Chaconne in d minor which is my favorite piece that Keith performs.  A very elegant lady, Jill,  joined us , a would-be docent that Richard knows well and both of them knew Ramsbottom, Tottington and Rawtenstall (all close to my native village).I think she ‘was’ somebody, bedecked in pearls and very, very elegant. When I asked if I could take their photographs for my journal Jill was the only person on the trip who answered ‘No.’ Richard related the story of his trip to the US taking in King City and Las Vegas. Describing driving in those areas he said ‘You just sit there, hold the steering wheel, and don’t turn it for two hours! That’s not driving!’



The newly restored Nave, Wakefield cathedral

The barista at the cathedral recommended the Six Chimneys for watching the vital England v Wales  UEFA cup game and I was thrilled to get the reactions of the assembled crowd on video as England scored the winning goal after being 0-1 down. I consumed my first pint bitter shandy of the trip.

A quick peek in at the Hepworth Gallery, dedicated to the work of sculptress Barbara Hepworth (free


Sculptures by Hepworth

admission, and a free bus to get there from Wakefield center, though I walked it) and then off to take photos of the gaol.

I looked around carefully for ‘No photography’ signs but couldn’t see any so I began taking photos of the entrance. Within 30 seconds a prison guard came running out demanding my cell phone! As I explained that there was nothing to say I couldn’t she shepherded me into the prison itself. Yeah! Just what I’d hoped for , but not quite in this way. Explaining myself to another guard he told me it was fine to take photos from across the street, which I duly did. The prison is mainly Victorian, though parts date back to the 1500’s. There’s a mulberry tree in the center of the exercise yard and legend has it that this accounts for the nursery song Her We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.


Wakefield’s top security gaol


The door I entered!

1 Comment

  1. Rachel

    Ha, so funny that you got pulled into their office at the prison!

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