So let's hear it for Merry Wakefield. If you thought the city was a down at heel former coal mining town you couldn't be more wrong. In fact it's been regarded as a 'happy'' place since medieval times. Back then it took on the sobriquet of Merry Wakefield for the quality of entertainment on offer. And although not immune to the problems facing urban centres, it remains in parts one of the smartest places in the county, with elegant architecture adorning Georgian streets.

It was made a city in the 19th century and retains an historic feel, befitting what was for many centuries a thriving inland port. Defying further lingering stereotypes, it has become a UK centre for visual arts in the shape of the £35m Hepworth Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in West Bretton. Factor in pleasant suburbs and an enviable location just ten miles from Leeds and 25 miles from Sheffield and it’s easy to see why for many a move here has a compelling logic.

To mark your card the city itself is fairly compact, but the wider district includes the so called ‘five towns’ (Pontefract, Knottingley, Featherstone, Castleford and Normanton). There’s also a good choice of schools, including the highly rated Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, and speedy direct rail links to points north and south, including London.

Great British Life: The Hepworth Wakefield in the heart of Wakefield is a must-visit. (c) Hufton CrowThe Hepworth Wakefield in the heart of Wakefield is a must-visit. (c) Hufton Crow


If you want to experience the bright lights in London you go to Drury Lane. And you do exactly the same in Wakefield. The beautiful Theatre Royal is on Wakefield’s Drury Lane and is the smallest playhouse built by the legendary Frank Matcham, creator of the London Palladium and Buxton Opera House. Check out the website for its packed programme of shows. The nicest part of the city centre is around the civic quarter, complete with the largely 15th century cathedral, city hall and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (founded in 1591). It really is worth a stroll around these parts and remember to take your camera.

This is also the centre of the rhubarb universe with Wakefield hosting an annual rhubarb festival every year. If you are heading down to The Hepworth Wakefield on the River Calder make a slight detour and check out the stunning chapel on Wakefield Bridge. It was built in 1350 to provide travellers with a place to pray before undertaking a journey. It's a rarity and one of only three such ‘chantry chapels’ anywhere in the UK.

Great British Life: Barbara Hepworth's sculpture, The Family of Man. (c) Jonty Wilde/Yorkshire Sculpture Park Barbara Hepworth's sculpture, The Family of Man. (c) Jonty Wilde/Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The Hepworth Wakefield itself offers a wwide-rangingand eclectic array of exhibits and shows. It stands as a celebration of the work of Barbara Hepworth, who was born in the city. Look out for regular fairs and markets to support artists and makers, plus it has one of the UK’s largest free gardens, opened in 2019. For more artistic inspiration try the 500 acre Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which has an international reputation. Wander around its grounds at your leisure and be inspired.

Also worth exploring is Walton Hall, a magnificent country mansion, now a hotel and resort and built on an island in a picturesque lake. It was home to nineteenth century naturalist, Charles Waterton, a passionate environmentalist, who created the world’s first nature reserve in the grounds. If it’s exercise you crave then Pugneys Country Park is a perfect location, a 250 acre park near the M1 motorway offering water sports and adventure playground, plus cycling. Not too far away is popular Newmillerdam, with exquisite woodland walks around a lake filled with ducks and geese. The atmospheric ruins of Sandal Castle are just around the corner.

Great British Life: Newmillerdam is a popular place to live and explore on the outskirts of Wakefield. (c) John Clifton Newmillerdam is a popular place to live and explore on the outskirts of Wakefield. (c) John Clifton

Bag a property

The good news is that average house prices in Wakefield are significantly lower than Leeds, hence its popularity with commuters. The typical property changes hands for £220,000, which will buy you a decent semi-detached. Terraced dwellings sold for an average of £150,000, with free standing properties fetching £400,000. Popular areas include verdant Notton, Sandal and pricier Newmillerdam, whilst Crofton is up and coming. Walton – a very smart village – is one of the most exclusive, but it’s still possible to pay around £300,000 for a two-bedroom cottage.

On the same level is the amazing little estate village of Heath, an absolute gem, located in a large area of grassland, and which is of huge conservation, historic and architectural importance. Prices here run from £350,000 to well over one million. Its 300-year-old pub is a major attraction. Back in the city centre a one bed apartment in developments near the city’s railway stations can be had from £90,000. There are also a number of big new housing schemes around Wakefield. They include City Fields, a 1,000 acre development on the city’s eastern side on the River Calder and the Aire and the Calder Canal. For larger family houses it’s definitely worth a look.

Great British Life: Alex Guy. Alex Guy.

Town Life

Alex Guy is riding on the crest of Wakefield's creative wave. The 29 year old is carving a career as a visitor welcome assistant at The Hepworth Wakefield. Born locally, he's positive about the future. ‘There's loads of regeneration happening in the city and a lot of the energy is being fuelled by young creative people. Very near to where I work there's another project by Tileyard North to transform an old mill building into a centre for music, film, TV and design which looks exciting. The city has a reputation for its good nightlife and there are always new venues opening. For pizzas I love the Supper Club and for a drink it's Fernandes, which has its own brewery. My partner loves Corarima, an Ethiopian vegetarian and vegan restaurant. I really like working at The Hepworth. It's a lovely building filled with lovely people. There’s a real buzz about the city.’