Top Things to See in Wakefield
National Coal Mining Museum for England
For close to three centuries, West and South Yorkshire were synonymous with coal production. The collieries shaped and scarred the landscape and entire villages grew up around the pits. The industry came to a shuddering halt in the 1980s, but the imprint of coal is still very much in evidence, even if there’s only a handful of collieries left. One of these, the former Caphouse Colliery, is now this fascinating museum, a superb testament to the inner workings of a coal mine.
The highlight of a visit is the underground tour (departing every 10 minutes): equipped with helmet and head-torch, you descend almost 140m in the ‘cage’, then follow subterranean passages to the coal seam where massive drilling machines now stand idle. Former miners work as guides and explain the detail – sometimes with a suitably authentic and almost impenetrable mix of local dialect (known in Yorkshire as ‘Tyke’) and technical terminology.
At ground level there are audiovisual displays, some fascinating memorabilia (including sketches by Henry Moore), and exhibits about trade unions, strikes and the wider mining communities – only a bit over-romanticised in parts. You can also stroll round the pit-pony stables (their equine inhabitants also now retired) or the slightly eerie bathhouse, unchanged since the miners scrubbed off the coal dust for the last time and emptied their lockers.
The museum is 10 miles south of Leeds on the A642 between Wakefield and Huddersfield, reached via Junction 40 on the M1. By public transport, take a train from Leeds to Wakefield (£3.30, 15 minutes, at least hourly), and then bus 232 towards Huddersfield (£3, 25 minutes, hourly).
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
One of England’s most impressive collections of sculpture is scattered across the formidable 18th-century estate of Bretton Park, 200-odd hectares of lawns, fields and trees. A bit like the art world’s equivalent of a safari park, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park showcases the work of dozens of sculptors both national and international. But the main focus of this outdoor gallery is the work of local kids Barbara Hepworth (1903−75), who was born in nearby Wakefield, and Henry Moore (1898−1986).
The rural setting is especially fitting for Moore’s work, as the artist was hugely influenced by the outdoors and preferred his art to be sited in the landscape rather than indoors. Other highlights include pieces by Andy Goldsworthy and Eduardo Paolozzi, and Richard Hiorns’ famous work Seizure 2008/2013, an apartment coated in blue copper sulphate crystals (open weekends only). There’s also a program of temporary exhib itions and installations by visiting artists, plus a bookshop and cafe.
The park is 12 miles south of Leeds and 18 miles north of Sheffield, just off Junction 38 on the M1 motorway. If you’re on public transport, take a train from Leeds to Wakefield (£3.30, 15 minutes, at least hourly), or from Sheffield to Barnsley (£3.80, 20 minutes, at least hourly), and then take bus 9, which runs between Wakefield and Barnsley via Bretton Park (£3, 30 minutes, hourly Monday to Saturday).
West Yorkshire’s standing in the international arts scene got a boost in 2011 when the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was joined by this award-winning gallery of modern art, housed in a stunningly angular building on the banks of the River Calder. The gallery has been built around the works of Wakefield-born sculptor Barbara Hepworth, perhaps best known for her work Single Form, which graces the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The gallery showcases more than a dozen Hepworth originals, as well as works by other 20th-century British artists including Ivon Hitchens, Paul Nash, Victor Pasmore, John Piper and Henry Moore. The Gott Collection of 19thcentury art includes a 1793 painting of Wakefield Bridge and Chantry Chapel, which you can compare with the real thing by looking out the neighbouring window.
The gallery is near the centre of Wakefield, a 10-minute walk south of Wakefield Kirkgate train station, easily reached from Leeds (£3.30, minutes, at least hourly).
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