Celebrating #HeritageOpenDays

We’ve been educating girls through challenging times for nearly 150 years and our buildings have developed over centuries. Discover more from our Year 12 historians who celebrated our shared heritage & history as part of #HeritageOpenDays this week. With thanks to students Bethan W, Elizabeth S, Holly R for their account:


Throughout the history of Wakefield Girls’ there have been many developments in the buildings around the school. The original building of Wakefield Girls’ High School was Wentworth House, purchased from Elias Holt, a woollen manufacturer for the purposes of becoming a school.

One of the most notable places in the school are rooms 18 and 19 in Wentworth House. It was here that legendary artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth pursued her talent and enthusiasm for art. The light filled, wood panelled classroom on the top floor of Wentworth House inspired the young Hepwoth to become one of the nation's greatest female sculptors. The school buildings continue to inspire young students today. A new art block has emerged but the image of Dame Barbara dons the walls, aptly named, Hepworth.

During the first world war, there was not enough room in regular hospitals for the injured soldiers to be treated, so many buildings/ institutions offered their spaces to become auxiliary hospitals to house the injured soldiers. Wakefield Girls High School was one of these institutions. Situated on the top floor of the main school building, rooms 18 and 19 were once one room, which was lined with beds on both sides of the room, with tables and chairs in the middle for the soldiers to sit at once they were allowed to get out of bed. These rooms, along with other places across the country, were vital to healing and restoring the strength of the soldiers so they could regain their health and feel better and the quicker they healed, the quicker they could get back to fighting for the country. Now, classrooms 18 and 19 are used primarily to teach classics and latin but room 18 is sometimes used for other lessons and they are both used as form rooms. In room 19, there is a photo commemorating the rooms when they were used in WW1.

Sotterley House now houses the Sixth-Form Centre. Though the building has enjoyed modern make-overs through the years, this impressive building’s ornate cornicing and colourful tiled entrance hall has been beautifully preserved. Steeped in history, though it seems especially poignant today as we note the contribution of the NHS, that the building offered advice and assistance, as it housed another arm of the Welfare State in the form of the National Assistance Board and established under the auspices of Atlee government. The post-World War Two society ushered in an egalitarian spirit, and the walls and ornate staircases of Sotterley House bore witness to this.

St.Johns House

St John's House, which houses the Junior school, was part of the Georgian development of St John's Square, promoted by the solicitor John Lee.It was completed soon after 1800 and It's architecture is typical of the Georgian period, designed using rigid symmetry and including entrance embellishments.

The Junior school was founded on the 16th of September 1878 and St John’s became part of the school in 1967, and has since taught girls aged seven to eleven. The most recent renovation of it's interior was completed in 2017, making it more suitable to house modern facilities, without losing it's historic exterior.

‘I looked up at the tall building standing there clean and fresh above me’ - This is a quote from a girl in form III published in the school magazine in 1967, the year WGHS Junior school moved into St.Johns house. This description reminds me of when I made the transition to St.Johns house in 2011, the grandeur of the building was quite overwhelming from the outside however, despite its size, the interior of the building was always comforting and homely to me and i think this may be partly due to the fascinating history of the house and it’s previous inhabitants.

The people involved in the early history of the building were originally remembered in the Junior School's four houses: Newstead, Lee, Barff and Mackie . The Lee’s, the Barffs and the Mackies used to live in no.1&2 St.Johns Square. The fourth house however was named after the family who owned the land before the building was built - The Newsteads.

Alice Newstead (nee Lawson) was born on the 16th of May 1684, the daughter of a mercer and a textiles dealer. She married her third husband Reynold Newstead ( a wealthy landowner in Wakefield) In April 1737. Due to the rapidly rising population, Alice saw the need for a second church to be built, therefore she offered the land on which St.John's church now stands to the authorities providing that the building was begun within 18 months of their death on the 24th of January 1776. This request however was not complied with and so became invalid, the land being returned to her heirs who kindly allowed it to be purchased on the 22nd of May 1779 by John Lee and Francis Maude who promised to give the land selected for the church to the minister in Alice’s name. The church was consecrated on the 28th of July by the Archbishop of York and dedicated to St.John the Baptist, hence the name of the house. John Lee, the leader of the St.Johns development project was a well educated man and solicitor born on the 21st of August 1759. He partnered with Francis Maude and between 1786 and 1790, they succeeded in buying land from Snowhill to Cliffe Field, much of which was open fields owned by Alice Newstead. The Land was bought with the idea of building on the site and selling it for a profit. It was the perfect area for a development as it was quiet and surrounded by countryside but not too far from the Hustle and bustle of Wakefield. The Georgian terraces were all symmetrical with the aim that the complex would appear to be one complete entity however each house has a different interior as this was left to the purchasers of each terrace. The West terrace contained St.John’s house which was created especially for John Lee and his seven children, they remained in the residence until Lee’s death in 1838. In the same year, John Barff the constable of Wakefield in 1835 moved into the house until his death in 1864. He was a wool stapler and a governor of Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. A corn merchant and liberalist MP for Wakefield from 1880-1885 Mr Robert Browness Mackie moved into the house in 1865 alongside his parents, sister and 12 year old daughter Edith Grace. Edith Lived in the house for 69 years, mostly alone until at the age of 81 she could no longer afford to stay.

The History of the house can be remembered by the Mulberry Bush that was planted in the garden when John Lee moved in and over 200 years later it is still standing in what is now the Junior school playground.

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