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  • Writer's pictureTony Smith

St. John's Square, Wakefield

Introduction to the One-Place Study

The One-Place Study for St. John's Square, Wakefield is an open ended piece of research that will delve into the personal lives, occupations, crime and possible scandal of some of the residents who occupied the twenty one houses between 1800 and 1939. Material will be derived from a number of sources. Some of the past residents such as Edith Mackie (Philanthropist), Gertrude McCroben (Headmistress of Wakefield Girls High School) and Louisa Fennell (Watercolour artist) have been researched previously by The Forgotten Women of Wakefield (forgottenwomenwake.com) and have blue plaques. Therefore, the focus will be researching many of the other residents.


Brief History of how St. John Square began

It was solicitor John Lee who initiated the building of St. John's Square, originally called St. John's Place . He had set up a solicitor's practice in 1780 and went into partnership with Francis Maude, a local wool merchant. Maude starting buying up land and the objective was to create a new town less than one mile from the centre of the existing town of Wakefield. This land would house the middle classes including merchants, doctors, lawyers and clergy.


In 1788 they purchased entailed land which had a condition that a new church would be built. This would become St. John the Baptist Anglican church with construction starting in 1791 and consecration on 28th July 1795. It was designed by architects William Lindley and Charles Watson (1, 2 & 3).

Following the consecrecation a sacred music festival was held on the 29th to 31st July. The third day was an Oratorio of the Messiah with vocal performances from Mrs Crouch, Mrs Shepley, Mr Kelly, Mr Saville and Mr Meredith (3 & 4).


Leeds Intelligencer, Monday 3rd August 1795. © British Newspaper Archive & Find My Past (3).


Leeds Intelligencer, 27th July 1795. © British Newspaper Archive & Find My Past (4).


St. John the Baptish Anglican Church © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


In addition Lee started the building of St. John's North originally called St. John's Street which was located opposite the east end of St. John's Church on the opposite side of Wentworth Street (A650).


St. John's North looking from Wentworth Street © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


The three developments can be seen on the map below from slightly later in 1849-1851 where the long rectangular shaded boxes represent the two sets of houses in St. John's Square and the additional box representing St. John's North starting to the right of the 'N' of Wentworth Street (5).


Ordnance Survey, Yorkshire Sheet, 248. Surveyed 1849-1851. Published: 1854. © National Library of Scotland (5)


Lee moved into St. John's House (No's 1 & 2), the side entrance of the house looks onto the current St. John's Square. The main entrance is accessed fom the grounds of Wakefield Girls High School.


The more grand entrance to John Lee's house from the south side which is now part of Wakefield Girls High School © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


Lee eventually bought out Maude and had thirteen house built on the north side of St. John's Square from 1799-1803 followed by the eight houses on the west side of the Square in 1801-1802 that are the feature of this One-Place Study (1 & 2).


Image shows the front of the west and north side of St. John's Square. © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


A closer view of the frontage shows how impressive the houses are. See the two photos below.


Image shows the front of the west side of St. John's Square. © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


Image shows the front of the north side of St. John's Square. © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


The back of the houses are admittedly not as impressive as the front. See the two photos below


Image shows the back of the west side of St. John's Square. © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


Image shows the back of the north side of St. John's Square. © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


From around 1800 the houses became available for occupation.

The advertisement below from the Leeds Intelligencer, 17th May 1802, show that architect William Watson is looking for a tenant (6).


Leeds Intelligencer, Monday 17th May 1802. © British Newspaper Archive & Find My Past (6).


Some of the houses were not fully completed and were sold as shells with just roofs and floors as the advertisement from the Leeds Intelligencer, 28th June 1802 below reported. The additional work had to be finished off by others afterwards (1 & 7).


Leeds Intelligencer, Monday 28th June 1802. © British Newspaper Archive & Find My Past (7)


John Lee's death was reported in the Leeds Intelligencer on 23rd January 1836 at the age of 76 (8).


Leeds Intelligencer, 23rd Janaury 1836 © British Newspaper Archive & Find My Past (8)


John Lee was buried in the crypt of St. John's Church and is commemorated with a blue plaque awarded by Wakefield Civic Society which can be viewed at No. 2 St. John's Square.


John Lee Blue Plaque at No.2 St. John's Square. © Ancestral Enquiries 2023


The terraces of St. John's Square were Grade II listed on 14th July 1953. By the 1960's like many Georgian and Victorian buildings in the country, No's 1 & 2 were neglected and a planning application was submitted in 1964 for demolition. The Secretary of the Wakefield Civic Society, R. R. Crookall advised that it's demolition would have implications for the whole Square. No's 1 & 2 were purchased by Wakefield Charities for £27,000 who restored them. This led to the whole of the Square being appointed part of the St. John's Conservation Area in May 1968 (9).


Today the majority of the houses in the Square are split into apartments with different individuals living on each of the four floors.


Sources:

1.Wakefield in 50 Buildings, 2018, Amberley Publishing, Peter Thornborrow & Paul Gwilliam, pages 50 to 56.

2. Wood Street. The Heart of Wakefield, 2017. Published by Wakefield Civic Society, Kevin Trickett, BA (Hons), MBA, MA (Phil), page 7.

3. Leeds Intelligencer, 3rd August 1795, page 3. British Newspaper Archive. Published by Find My Past.

4. Leeds Intelligencer, 27th July 1795, page 2. British Newspaper Archive. Published by Find My Past.

5. Ordnance Survey, Yorkshire Sheet 248. Surveyed 1849 to 1851. Published: 1854. National Library of Scotland.

6. Leeds Intelligencer, Monday 17th May 1802, page 1. British Newspaper Archive. Published by Find My Past.

7. Leeds Intelligencer, Monday 28th June 1802, page 3. British Newspaper Archive. Published by Find My Past.

8. Leeds Intelligencer, 23rd January 1836, page 3. British Newspaper Archive. Published by Find My Past.

9. John Seacome & Wakefield Civic Society. Architect Charles Watson. 01 Architect Charles Watson – Wakefield Civic Society Accessed 10th December 2023.



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