History & Heritage

From Romans to rhubarb, Wakefield is rooted in heritage… From refined treasures at National Trust Nostell to the toil for "coyl" at the National Coal Mining Museum, uncover a district steeped in history.

By Eleanor Taylor, Experience Wakefield

The Wakefield district has a history that spans thousands of years, takes in agriculture and industry, houses two medieval castles, a flurry of fascinating museums, a clutch of beautiful churches and more…

National Trust Nostell is one of the great houses of northern England. This spectacular Palladian mansion is home to a stunning array of treasures – from masterpiece artworks and sumptuous fabrics to an unparalleled collection of Thomas Chippendale furniture (unlike other collections, Nostell’s Chippendales were quite literally made for the house in which they still reside). As if the house itself wasn’t beautiful enough, Nostell’s extraordinary grounds carry on the theme. With the house situated in 300 acres of parkland, you can revel in magnificent views across the Lower Lake, explore mysterious native woodland, or relax in the quiet of the cosy Kitchen Garden.

Galleries at the National Coal Mining Museum

National Coal Mining Museum, Wakefield

Pontefract Castle, Pontefract

History and heritage isn’t necessarily about princes and palaces. Some heritage runs through an area’s lifeblood – and is much closer to home, and nearer in time. That’s where the National Coal Mining Museum for England comes in. Set in a massive 45-acre site, the museum is a shrine to the collier, a love-letter to the ordinary men (and women!) who braved some of the harshest working conditions in some of the most inhospitable environments to fuel the nation. But unlike an actual shrine, the museum is a hive of vibrant activity, keepings the stories of the district’s mining community alive through an authentic, enjoyable and very accessible range of exhibits and activities, including fascinating underground tours, innovative interactive displays, lively living history interpretation, and even allotment-themed soft play.

From deep underground to touching the sky, Wakefield Cathedral’s lofty, elaborate architecture stands in contrast to the Coal Mining Museum’s industrial utilitarianism. Yet the cathedral’s commitment to the Wakefield community almost makes them tourism twins. Originally constructed in the 14th century, and the proud owner of Yorkshire’s tallest spire, the cathedral owes its dazzling interior to Victorian ingenuity and artistic flair. The beautifully carved stone pillars hold up a quire ceiling so breathtakingly blue, you may find yourself dizzy before you even attempt to walk the nave’s Labyrinth stone path! 

Despite the spacious, soaring serenity, time has not stood still here – far from it – and the cathedral embraces the new as enthusiastically as it exudes the old, with traditional concerts sharing space with avant-garde art pieces (the cathedral routinely takes part in Wakefield’s Artwalk).

Wakefield Cathedral, Wakefield

Queen's Mill

Queens Mill, Castleford

Wakefield’s got some fascinating stories to tell, and Wakefield Museums and Castles do just that. These Council-run venues are a treasure trove of the inspiring, the gruesome and the downright quirky, and are guaranteed to appeal to young and old alike. Castleford Museum takes you from the glory of the Roman Legions to the grit of Rugby League.

You’ll be enraptured by the exciting events at Pontefract Castle – where else can you relive a murderous Civil Wars siege, or a genteel Victorian garden party? Or perhaps you’ll be enchanted by the truly beautiful collection Bagley’s glass on display at Pontefract Museum.

Sandal Castle provides the perfect spot for a picnic with your family – along with stunning views of the surrounding countryside – while Wakefield Museum invites you to get stuck into the history of the city and the district. Explore a traditional Victorian front room and listen to the sound of (famed local delicacy) rhubarb growing (trust us – it’s not a sound you’ll forget in a hurry!).

Experience our Heritage

Castle Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle

Located in the historic market town of Pontefract, from its construction in 1070 to its demise following the Civil...

Wakefield Cathedral

Wakefield Cathedral

For over 1,000 years people have gathered in Wakefield Cathedral to offer their prayers and praise. ...

Galleries at the National Coal Mining Museum

National Coal Mining Museum

Experience the National Coal Mining Museum, the site of two former working coal mines! Explore Caphouse, a modern colliery that witnessed more than two hundred years of coal pro...

Queen's Mill

Queen’s Mill

Sitting on the banks of the River Aire in Castleford, Queen’s Mill (formerly known as Allinson’s Mill) is the world’s largest stone grinding flour mill, with twenty p...