Unity + Heritage

Page 1

UNITY+HERITAGE Celebrating the heritage of Unity House Written and compiled by Judi Alston

+ Laying of the foundation stone, 1901. Courtesy of Wakefield Council

+ CONTENTS + Foreward


+ Introduction


+ Early Days


+ A Thriving Co-operative


+ Neighbours


+ Big Bands and Dance Nights


+ Functions


+ Top Music Venue


+ A Cultural, Educational and Democratic Space


+ Dereliction


+ Unity Works


+ Acknowledgements


+ COVER IMAGE : Westgate with Smyth Street and Drury Lane Junction early 1900s. Courtesy of Wakefield Council

+ Ada Wilson and Steve Chapman Smith, two members of Keeping Dark, 1980 3


hen first invited from Shine (Leeds) in 2010 to look at whether we could rescue Unity House, I

immediately fell in love with its abandoned beauty. I was doomed to begin a three-year struggle with a new set of co-operators to raise the £4m we needed.

That first love though, was quickly followed by a

second – love for the stories the Co-operative building had to tell and the part it had played in Wakefield life.

However wonderful, buildings are just buildings –

people and their histories bring them to life. We were determined the unknown histories of Unity House should be recorded before it was too late.

With the financial help of Heritage Lottery, Jordans

Solicitors, and the Co-operative Group we were able to employ Judi Alston and One to One Development Trust to do a magnificent job of gathering those images and stories of Unity Hall over the last century. They have now established a permanent record, of which this book is a part.

When Unity Works swarms with musicians and

creative businesses in the years to come, we’d like them to be conscious that they stand on the shoulders of countless creative people before them, who have flourished in a building made possible by co-operative enterprise.

The story will continue. Let Unity Works be the

heartbeat of Wakefield for decades to come. Chris Hill (Developer and Society Chair) Feb 2014 4

+ Glazier. John Jowett


nity House with its wonderful Halls is one of the most loved buildings in Wakefield. Unity has been a part of

many people’s lives and the interest in its heritage and redevelopment transcends age, gender, social and economic class.

Unity’s palatial architecture, with its striking Art Deco

windows, stands proud marking the entry into the City Centre from Westgate. Coming into Westgate train station on the train the building is one of the first landmarks you notice.

Unity has long been a place for meeting, doing

business, shopping, socializing, learning, exploring, performing, dancing and falling in love. The building means

+ Be-Bop Delux. Donated by Bill Nelson

so much for so many different people from different eras of time representing their own social, local and family

been happy to share their memories, recollections and


photographs. A big thank you to everyone who has

supported and contributed to this special project. It has

The Unity Heritage Project has been a rich journey

into researching and capturing a vibrant history of a much-

been a privilege to work on and be part of.

loved community space. This book aims to share the spirit of Unity and capture some of its stories for readers now

Judi Alston

and in the future.

Creative Director

One to One Development Trust

Over 18 months research, recording of oral history

interviews, gathering written texts, film and photographs, through social media and word-of-mouth the content for

“Places like this can’t be replaced, they’re utterly fantastic.

this book, a film and exhibition has been gathered. It has

You’ve only got to look at the architecture, the history,

been a spellbinding, humbling and compelling process.

the smells, the sounds, the ‘oldness’, they’re absolutely

invaluable.” Tony Richardson

This story is a colourful snapshot set over a century

made up of contributions from many people who’ve



nity House was built by members of the Wakefield

Income from the shares and a loan from the bank gave the

Industrial Co-operative Society. The Society was

Co-operative enough funds to purchase properties in Bank

formed in 1867 by prison officers from the nearby

Street and Westgate for £1,520. This is the earliest part

Wakefield Prison.

of the present structure, which runs down the length of Bank Street. In 1876 architects Messrs W and D Thornton

“Wardens realised that the Bursar was able to buy good

were commissioned to build new premises on Bank Street.

food in large quantities, much cheaper than they could in

Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society continued to

the shops. They asked if they could cash in on this and buy

grow and in 1898 there were 4,700 shareholders.

through the prison. They were advised that they couldn’t, but that they could set up a Co-operative and therefore buy in bulk themselves.” Kate Taylor A meeting was called and Mr Henry Briggs, a Unitarian and colliery owner based around Whitwood, was invited to preside over it. “Henry Briggs introduced the idea of profit-sharing with his

+ Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society panel from Unity Hall. John Jowett

colliers on a large scale which attracted international interest. The Emperor of Brazil, the Comte de Paris, the Pretender to the

There was demand from The Wakefield Herald, one of four

French throne, and the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, all

local newspapers at the time, that Wakefield Industrial

came to see Briggs’s Co-operative scheme.” John Goodchild

Co-operative Society expand their provision to have a central store. Tenders were invited to extend the Bank

The meeting was held at The Mechanics Institute, where

Street premises for new central stores that would go

a packed room of prison officers and members of the

from Robson’s Yard to Smyth Street. The drawings and

public showed their support in setting up a Co-operative.

plans were on show in the old Smyth Street Academy.

It was proposed that “A society for the sale of food, clothing,

The winner of the first prize for £50 was awarded to Mr

household and other goods shall be established under the

Abraham Hart of Wakefield for his drawings and vision of

Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1862”. Prison officials

‘Unity,’ an ‘adaption of Flemish and Gothic architecture’.

pledged to take out shares to support the Society and 300

Mr Hart was appointed to be the architect.

were sold in one day. 6

In just under three years, the extension to the building was complete. The Co-operative at Unity House opened to loud applause. “The large and conspicuous new central stores of the Society in Westgate were informally opened on Tuesday night, when there was a large attendance of Members in the Great Hall in Smyth Street, which is capable of seating 1,200 persons and was brilliantly lit by electricity.” Wakefield Express, 6th February 1904

+ Engraving of the 1878 building Bank Street façade. The John Goodchild Collection

“When the old shops opposite the theatre and the Corn Mill in Smyth Street are swept away, and new modern premises erected, Westgate will present a much better appearance than it does at present.” Wakefield Express, July 22nd 1899

On October 20th 1900 The Wakefield Herald listed the

tenders for work on the proposed Co-operative building amounting to £23,595.

On 10th August 1901 the Wakefield Herald reported,

“The completion of the new Co-operative central stores will be a good thing for both the street traffic and the ‘divi-drawers’. On ‘divi-day’ Bank Street has been filled with motley crowds waiting their turn.”

In September 1901 Mr Fred Simpson Mayor of

Wakefield and President of the Co-operative Mr Thomas Laycock “with due ceremony lay the foundation stone on the right of the entrance in a cavity in which the stone was placed a sealed bottle containing copies of the local newspapers and various documents relating to the Society and to the new

+ Floor mosaic. Judi Alston

building.” Wakefield Herald 7


+ 1911 Half Yearly Report WIS. The John Goodchild Collection

In February 1904 the Secretary of the Society applied for

“If we look at the history of the Co-operative Movement we

a Music, Singing and Dancing Licence for two rooms in the

find that in different communities the industrial working class

new central stores. “He said the Large Hall was 100 feet long

set up Co-operative societies at that time to meet their needs.

and 54 feet wide and 34 feet high in the centre. The Minor Hall

In some places it might have been a community of miners

44 feet, by 38 feet, by 23 feet high.”

and their families; elsewhere railway workers or munitions


The application went before magistrates, where the

magistrates’ clerk enquired, “You’re not going to carry on a

“In the case of Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society

Music Hall there?” And the Secretary to the Co-op said, “No,

it was prison officers. They built this building as a sign of their

the object is to hold entertainments, dances and concerts.”

commercial success, and to advertise their pride in Wakefield.

Mr Abraham Hart, the architect for the new building,

As well as buying their goods cheaper from the Society they

said the building was erected under his supervision. He

could walk past a wonderful building like Unity and think

explained the capacity of the staircases, and the positions

to themselves, ‘I own this, I actually own this’. It was just

of the exits which are in Smyth Street and Bank Street. The

something new for working class people at the time.” Chris

application for the licence was granted by the magistrates


and so Unity Hall and the Minor Hall were born. Unity House, with its late Victorian exterior, spirelets, “If you stand in Westgate and look at this building, you’re

gables and gargoyles provides a grand entrance into

actually seeing two buildings. You’re seeing the original one

Wakefield City Centre from Westgate and the train station,

that faces onto Bank Street, dating from 1876, and the more

although its positioning was sometimes noted as blocking

modern one that comes down Westgate and along Smyth

the views of the cathedral.

Street, dated 1901 – a much later extension, but still typical of the Victorian period.” Kevin Trickett On 27th April 1906 the General Manager of Wakefield Industrial Co-operative Society, Mr J W Haigh, retired due to ill health from the position he had held for 38 years. The Wakefield Express reported, “In the apex of the doorway to the central stores on Smyth Street his likeness has been cut in stone.” It was acknowledged that his committed service to the Co-operative had seen it grow “from very small to very large proportions.” He was presented with his portrait and a gold watch. + Stone carving in entrance. Nigel Ward


+ Stained glass window with bees and hive. Liam Benson


Inside the building the beautiful craftsmanship and iconography of the Co-operative Movement is prevalent. The name ‘Unity’, signifying the coming together of people, was a choice to create a building that marked the philosophy of the Co-operative Movement.

+ Co-operative symbols. Judi Alston

In Unity Hall symbols of the beehive feature in the beautiful stained glass windows. Corbels on the walls of the hall have the symbols of scythe, hay rakes, plumbbobs, shovels and other items that celebrate the trades of the local community including miners, land workers and trades people. A symbol of an open book on one of the pillars in the hall represents the Co-operatives commitment to education and self-help for all sections of society. The Co-operative Movement has always been more than just shopping or providing a surplus, its ethics are set in creating a fairer and more equitable society... and Unity House optimised that vision.

+ Stained glass window. Judi Alston


+ Fashion show, 1920s. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor



he first consumer Co-operative documented is

an important part in supporting campaigns for women’s

Fenswick Weavers Society of Ayrshire which formed in

issues; equal pay, marriage rights and birth control, and

1761, but the Co-operative Movement didn’t really gain

had many successes during the Edwardian and Victorian

momentum as a ‘movement’ until the 19th century. In


1844 the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers formed and were to outline a set of principles that have since

“Most members of today’s Co-operative Group are women, as

driven the Co-operative Movement until the present

were most members of the old Co-operative societies which

day. Co-operatives offer democratic control to all their

over the years have merged into the Group. This was because,

members and for over seven decades this was successful

rightly or wrongly, it was the women doing the consuming,

in Unity House.

doing the shopping. To make sure that women’s voices were heard within the Co-operative Movement the Co-operative Women’s Guild was founded in 1883 with local branches to be found across the country.” Chris Pilkington It was often the women who held the ‘divis’ and would manage the family budget. “My mother had no income of her own in the 1930s and ’40s. She was dependent entirely on what my father gave her for housekeeping money, but she always assumed that her dividend on her Co-operative account was hers. I remember so

+ Millinery advert, 1913. The John Goodchild Collection

well the days when we used to go to collect the dividend.

“You went inside the large door from Smyth Street and

At the time Unity was built the role of women in society

then along a long, wide mosaic corridor, up some stairs at the

was changing, the campaign for a vote for women was

Bank Street end, and then along a very narrow and terribly

gaining popularity, but the struggle was huge. From the

dark corridor until you got to a little window in the corridor

turn of the century to the start of the First World War

– there you stood with your dividend book and got paid out

around 1,000 Suffragettes were imprisoned mainly in

whatever it was.

London and the large cities, but its influence was felt

across the country. The Co-operative Movement played

dividend. She sometimes took us out for afternoon tea. There

“My mother was always over the moon when she got her 13

+ Map of Unity House. Drawn from memory by Joyce Reece, 2013

was a place called The Copper Kettle in town and she would

with ties or shirts or whatever in. I guess it hadn’t changed much

feel she could treat us because it was the dividend money, it

since pre-war years, as a lot of Wakefield hadn’t at that time.”

was hers.” Kate Taylor

Bill Nelson

There were shops for everything and Unity was a place

The Co-operative Movement were one of the first major

where lots of people worked. Joyce Reece drew a map of

national bodies to support the idea of moving pictures as

how she remembers all the shops and streets.

they were seen as educational and accessible. Prior to the 1910 Cinema Act, before a licence was needed to screen


“It seemed huge, really was impressive in those days and very

films, travelling salesmen would bring a suitcase of films

well kept and clean. There was a real sense, when you went

and a projector and charge 6d. a night for a screening.

in the shops, of old-fashioned service and deference to the

They’d use grandiose names like New Dominion Animated

customer. There were nice wooden counter tops and display

Picture Company and advertise they were coming in the

cases with brass handles that pulled down with glass fronts,

local papers.

“Travelling showmen, maybe two at a time, would come perhaps for a week or a fortnight. They brought with them a range of short silent films, which usually lasted between a minute and three minutes, and they would show a whole evening, one film after another. They had to turn a handcranked projector very steadily and, if they didn’t, the film flickered – that’s why they called them ‘the flicks’. The name lingered for a long time.” Kate Taylor As a child Les Taylor remembers being in Unity House in a prime position to watch the procession celebrating Wakefield Trinity’s 1946 win of the Rugby League Challenge Cup, Billy Stott’s winning goal making history. The streets were lined with supporters as the team were met at Westgate train station and paraded by bus through the City for a civic reception.

For Les, Unity is a huge part of his life from working

there himself to his father, Fred Taylor, being manager of

+ Fred Taylor. Donated by Les Taylor

the Furnishing Department. “My father worked in the Furnishing Department there from leaving school and learnt the trade, carpet-fitting, lino-fitting and delivery. In 1926, when the strike came and things got bad, he got sacked but he later returned as a delivery driver. “My father became manager of the Furnishing Department and was very proud of the building and shop. They changed the front showroom window every two weeks, and put different things in. If the sun shone at the weekend, Father would draw the curtains so the furniture didn’t fade and he used to fear for his life that the curved glass window on the corner of Smyth Street would break – can you imagine replacing that? It never got broken, but it used to trouble my dad.” Les Taylor

+ Bedding display. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor


+ Butchers bag. The John Goodchild Collection

Meat was sold in the shop in Unity but also supplied the Co-op branches. People who worked at the branches came to Unity often in hope of getting the best cuts of meat. “One of the funny stories that John Gunson used to tell is about traders sneaking in and, on one particular occasion, a chap had climbed in through a window and got his clothes stuck on a hook. He couldn’t move and when the others came in he was hanging there wanting them to get him down – but of course they wouldn’t get him down till they’d picked their meat first.” Les Taylor + The butchers: John Gunson, George (surname not known), Sidney Stringer. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor

“We would come to Unity House every Saturday morning with my mother and my grandma. Inside and downstairs,

John Gunson ran the Butchers Department. At one side of

in the corridor that runs the length of the building, were

the yard stood the pining sheds where the cattle needed

shops either side. There was a shoe shop and I remember

to stay for a few days so they weren’t slaughtered on a full

I’d just got my first long trousers and I really wanted some


winkle picker shoes to go with them but my mother said

‘no, there’s no way you’re having winkle picker shoes’.”

They used to kill livestock with a poleaxe holding

their head down, the slaughter often drew an audience as members of the Co-operative would watch from the steps. 16

Bill Nelson

Maggie Gunson started working at 13 years old in the Coop’s mantle department as a dressmaker and continued to work there all her life. In the 1920s, fashion shows were held in Unity Hall and Maggie, along with other staff, modelled in them. The shows were amazing pageants of colour, creativity, style, design and co-operative working.

+ Dressmakers, 1920s. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor

There was a real camaraderie between the shop managers and workers, when one department needed something another would often help. For events, people would pull together bringing their combined skills to create amazing gatherings for their family, friends and the wider community.

+ Male evening wear, 1950s. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor

In the war years the fashion shows died out, but by the 1950s Maggie Gunson was then in charge of the mantle department and helped bring them back. The shows ran + Spring 1954 fashion show. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor

in spring and autumn for several years, they were hugely popular and brought in a packed house. The fashion rep even offered his services as a male model. Each fashion show ended with a wedding show. 17

“The chap who was the transport manager was the electrician; the guy who was the grocery manager was the one with the flare; my father did things like help put the stage up and deal with the carpets so that you didn’t trip over the edges. Everybody mucked in.” Les Taylor

+ Fashion Show., 1950s. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor

By 1957 the Society had 12,615 members with branches throughout Wakefield but the Co-operative ideal was soon to be overtaken by new ways of shopping and lifestyle choices. With the popularity of motor cars in the 1960s, and increased affluence, came the birth of supermarkets, many of which began in the North of England. Supermarkets offered more choice and free parking.

In 1963 the Society transferred to Barnsley British

Co-operative Society, which in turn transferred its engagements to the Co-operative Retail Services in 1971. Co-operative Retail Services made the decision that Unity House was no longer required and on 1st July 1971 it + Ann Taylor modelling. Kingsway Studios. Donated by Les Taylor


was sold to the Wakefield Corporation, later to become Wakefield Metropolitan District Council.

+ 1920s fashion show with underwear. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor


+ Children outside The Picture House, 1943. Courtesy of Wakefield Council



ust to the left and over the road from Unity House,

Westgate train station opened in 1867 bringing new

the Theatre Royal Wakefield which has been on that site

activity to this part of the City. Next to its entrance The

since 1776, the current theatre was designed in 1894 by

Westgate Unitarian Chapel was built in 1752 and many

architect Frank Matcham. In the latter part of the 20th

of its members were advocates of the Co-operative

century it became a picture house and bingo hall, but in


1979 the theatre became a Grade II listed building and

was given a new lease of life. The restored building was

Maps from 1893 show the Malt Houses either side of

Looking directly out of the windows from Unity Hall is

Smyth Street still there at the time of Unity House being

re-opened in 1986.

planned. The Drill Hall and Drill Grounds at the bottom

of Bank Street behind the yards were busy areas with

House which was opened in 1913 by Albert Winstanley.

many young men regularly giving up their time unpaid to

Shortly after opening it was renamed The Playhouse, and

participate as volunteers for the Territorial Army.

by 1972 it was part of the Classic cinema chain. It went on

Glancing to the right is the old Wakefield Picture

to become a nightclub.

+ Tram on Westgate, 1918. Courtesy of Wakefield Council


As a main road into the City, Westgate has always been a busy and lively area. In the last 50 years the infamous ‘Westgate Run’ drew in coach loads of weekend revellers to enjoy the offers of local pubs and clubs all within a 500yard radius of Unity House.

Bank Street was an ideal location to live with easy

access to the Co-operative shops and amenities at Unity House.

+ Jack, Adrian and Harold Wilson, Bank Street, 1960. Patricia Wilson

+ Patricia Wilson with pram, 1960. Jack Wilson

One of Unity’s neighbours, living in Bank Street, was Jack Wilson. As a teenager Jack secured a place at the Royal College of Music in London, but conscription and the war took him away from his music. After the war Jack married Patricia and started a young family in Bank Street. Jack became an engineer with British Jeffrey Diamond travelling round the country on business. In the late ’50s, as photography became more accessible, Jack became an avid amateur photographer. His wonderful pictures of Bank Street provide a social documentary of family and street life at this time. + Mrs Wilson sweeping up Bank Street. Jack Wilson


+ Street life on Bank Street, 1960. Jack Wilson


“Ours was in a terrace of four – there was a little bit bigger

house as well, and all these were joined on to the Co-op. The first one was a fruit and veg shop. I used to go there if I had a penny to spend on fruit sweets in a jar. If the young man was in I got quite a few, but if it was the lady that was in, she was the other way.

“We had a kitchen and a living room, two bedrooms and,

strangely enough, the toilet was in the cellar and there were always lots of spiders which I hated.

“During the war if there was an air raid we went in the

cellars at the Co-op, it was dark and horrible.” Joyce Reece

+ New kitchen, Bank Street. Jack Wilson

Another family in Bank Street remember it being a busy and vibrant area. “In the 1930s we lived in a Co-op house in Bank Street. Every morning they used to bring horses and carts down to load up with the fruit and veg, then they went off to various areas in the town to sell it. There was a Drill Hall down at the bottom of the street and we used to see the Territorials arrive dressed up in their khaki. 24

+ Jack Reece, Bank Street. Joyce Reece

Unity House was a central hub for the streets around it and was accessible to people of all ages. “I grew up in Bank Street until I was seven and I can remember playing in the Co-op building – probably because it was raining we couldn’t play out. It was somewhere to go and it was a lot more exciting than just being out on the street. I remember being told off by the man in there, the caretaker, commissionaire, or whatever, and being shouted at because we used to run around and slide down the banisters and have a high old time. I remember lots of polished wood. It echoed if it was quiet – it felt scary, but exciting.” Frances Taylor + Bank Street to Westgate, 1960s Jack Wilson

+ Getting the milk, 1956. Jack Reece



+ Orchestra programme, 1943. The John Goodchild Collection


ince 1904 when the Music, Singing and Dancing

“During the air raids The

Licence was granted for Unity House, Unity Hall and

Ogley Band would just

the Minor Hall have been vibrant performance spaces

carry on playing for the

used for nearly a century.

dancers. At the end of

The palatial architecture, huge stained glass windows,

the night, my dad (Alec

mosaic floors in the corridors, Art Deco wall mouldings,

Smith – pianist) often

dark wooden entrance stairs and panels provided a

walked home before the

sumptuous backdrop for orchestras performing, big bands

all clear had sounded. He

playing and couples dancing.

liked the fresh air after

One local character George Ogley started his own

performing in the stuffy,

band in the 1920s. George, who in his day job worked in

dusty atmosphere of

the railway offices, headed up The Ogley Band. George

the dance hall.” Cecilia

and his wife were star ballroom dancers taking the band


with them to competitions and demonstrations. George provided the showbiz front, but the musical arrangements and accompaniment were managed by Alec Smith, the

+ Alec Smith, pianist. Photographer unknown. Donated by Cecilia Conwaye-Wright

pianist. Together George and Alec were a formidable team. The Ogley Band was a family affair with George’s two daughters, Bessie and Elsie, either working on the door taking the money or serving refreshments.

Unity Hall was a venue for dance bands and orchestras

from all over the country, including The Squadronaires and Felix Mendelssohn Hawaiian Serenaders.

During the Second World War the halls remained

busy. Old Time and sequence dancing ran in Unity Hall, while modern dancing and dance classes ran in the Minor Hall. + The Ogley Band. Wakefield Express. Donated by Cecilia Conwaye-Wright


After the war, George’s son Albert (Bert) was demobbed, returning home as a dashing worldly-wise character with a good talent for percussion. Bert wanted the direction of the band to change in keeping with the times, whilst carving out his own niche as a drummer and xylophonist. Alec moved on, George took on a lesser role and The Ogley Band then evolved into Bert Ogley and his Band.

+ English Martyrs Catholic Ball, 1951. The Wakefield Express

“I used to dance with a girl called Olive and lads used to say, ‘are you two stuck together?’ I met my husband there. He was in a gang of lads and was full of fun – when he came in the place lit up with his smile. I remember us trying to teach the + Dance ticket, 1950. Donatd by Mr and Mrs Spurr

boys to dance. It was really good but you couldn’t get a drink, not even a cup of tea. If you had sixpence to spare you went

“I first went dancing at Unity with a group of girl friends

across to The Crystal Springs pop shop and got a glass of pop.”

when I was in my mid-teens. I recall how important I felt

Joyce Bull

when I approached the pay desk and said my dad was Alec Smith and we all got in for free. Dad kept a chaperone eye on me from his seat at the piano on the platform.” Cecilia Conway-Wright

+ Cecilia Conwaye-Wright, 1944. Photographer unknown

+ The Merry Macs. Photographer unknown. Donated by Bill Nelson


+ ‘Dad’s band’, Walter Nelson playing saxophone. Photographer unknown. Donated by Bill Nelson


The 1950s brought with them the birth of Teddy Boys,

small and wore a red blazer, white shorts, white socks and

bopping hit the dance floors, people came from miles

Stayrite sandals. It’s the earliest and only memory I’ve got of

around, with buses organised to bring revellers to Unity

seeing my dad play live.” Bill Nelson

Hall. It was seen on the dance scene as a top venue.

Musicians moved between bands on different days of

the week.

“We had such good times in Unity Hall. We went dancing every Saturday night to the Minor Hall, which was modern dancing, or you could go into the Main Hall for Old Time dancing. One

“Someone would call round to the house and say to my dad,

really good event was the Hagenbachs Bakery Staff Dance

Walter Nelson, ‘are you free on Monday night, we’ve got a gig

when we were courting.” Jean and Eric Attwood

and we need a saxophone player’ – they were moonlighting all over the place. My dad played with Bert Ogley’s Band, Francis Walker’s Band (he was a blind pianist from Wakefield), plus his own outfit, The Merry Macs, as well.” Bill Nelson Local bandmaster Norman Longbottom was a colourful figure in the 1950s Wakefield music scene, with his orchestra he played on Saturday nights regularly at Unity Hall. “Norman was a little fella, plenty to say, but he always had a bouncer behind him, somebody who could handle himself. The story went that the guy was an NCB boxing champion. It was rumoured that one of Norman’s hard

+ Double Two Christmas Dance, 1956. The Wakefield Express

men took the brass knobs out of the banister on the main staircase (that were there to stop kids sliding down

“Wakefield Civic Society held an annual dance and I can

the banisters) and made them into a knuckleduster.”

remember the fun of dressing up and twirling round Unity

Les Taylor

Hall to waltzes, tangos and foxtrots. They didn’t call them balls, they were dances, and I wore a long dress. I remember

“I remember as a four-year-old coming to Unity to see my

one dance in the 1970s; we were in a party and there was at

father play. I can still remember seeing people dancing to

least one unattached male in the group, so I had a partner for

The Merry Macs. My mother tells me that I had a little toy

the whole evening and we just about danced every dance. It

saxophone, which I stood in front of the stage in the Minor

was lovely.” Kate Taylor

Hall pretending to play along with my father. I was very, very 30

+ Hagenbachs Staff Dance, late 1940s. Photographer unknown. Donated by Jean and Eric Attwood


+ Santa with twins, 1945. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor



he nature of Unity House being a Co-operative meant that pretty much every aspect of trading, celebration,

entertainment and social life went on in the building.

One very significant celebration was the marking

of Victory in Europe Day – known as VE Day. Celebrated on 8th May 1945, VE Day was a public holiday across the country marking Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces and the end of World War Two. Street parties were organised across the country and a civic diner was held to celebrate at Unity Hall. Food was still rationed

+ Jack and Joyce Reece, 1960 wedding. Photographer unknown

so the guests will have enjoyed a simple but basic meal. “I was assistant cook in the Co-op café. The confectionery shop was on the ground level and the café below, it was always so clean with no litter. I had my wedding in the Guild Room, it was only a meal and there were about 20 of us. We had ham salad and trifles we made in the café. I liked the Guild Room, it was also a library and you could go and get a book there.” Joyce Reece “We met in the Minor Hall on a Tuesday night in 1949 and celebrated our silver wedding anniversary there too. We’ve been married 63 years, a lot of people met their loved one in those halls.” Mr and Mrs Spurr + VE Day, 1945. Wakefield Express

For staff working in the Co-operative, Unity was an obvious place to have their wedding reception.

For many people, Unity Hall and the Minor Hall have been significant in their lives for being a place where they fell in

“We were married on a Saturday and that was very difficult

love or had their wedding reception.

because our parents worked in the shops, and to have a Saturday off for a wedding was something quite special really. 33

I can remember Margaret’s mum saying ‘well you’re getting

For a lot of people their first memories of Unity House

married on the 17th of June because that’s when we can’.”

are of coming to events for children and families. The

Les Taylor

annual Santa’s grotto being a favourite. Co-operative staff created a magical grotto environment. + Les and Margaret Taylor, 1961. Photographer unknown

“I’ve a lot of fond memories of seeing it decorated and all trimmed up for the Christmas season and, as a kid, obviously that’s very colourful and magic.” Bill Nelson

“We arrived from the church for our wedding reception in the Minor Hall, they had put a red carpet on the steps and a commissionaire on the door to welcome guests, we were really touched until we realised it wasn’t for us it was for a dog show going on in the main hall.” Jean and Eric Attwood

+ Elaine Lewis and bridesmaids. Photographer unknown

+ Christmas fun. Photographer unknown. Donated by Les Taylor

“In 1969 I had my wedding reception there, as did many people in Wakefield, along with funeral teas – but not usually at the same time!” Carole Jones

“I was nine or ten, Santa arrived on a sleigh on a decorated Cooperative wagon. He travelled from the top of Heath Common through town to Unity. People queued and queued. A little girl and I were picked to be helpers, so we handed the presents to Santa to give to the children. It was a very big thing in town

+ ‘Night out’. Photographer unknown. Donated by Julie Jolly


because this was the first Father Christmas after the war, I don’t think there were any before that. It was the only one in Wakefield.” Les Taylor

“We used to go to see Father Christmas and the queue would be right down the arcade. I got one of my best presents ever there, a Pelham puppet of Pinocchio. I really loved it.” Khadija Noor Many Christmas pantomimes and shows took place in Unity House, organisations and groups booked the Hall and sold their own tickets. One annual show was the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police Cadets Christmas Concert, a variety show with dancing, singing and sketches. “All the people were cadets and it ran over two nights. It was really good fun. I am top right in a pink crocheted dress with my hand on my hip and my best mate leaning on my shoulder! Don’t ask.” Lee Moorby + Cinderella poster, 1974. Courtesy of Capricorn Productions. Donated by Bobby Kent

+ West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police Cadets 1976/77 Christmas Concert. Photographer unknown. Donated by Lee Moorby


Brass Bands, school choirs, Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts all performed. Family shows, like Sooty and Sweep, were popular.

+ Scout Gang Show, 1984. Wakefield Express

Annual beauty pageants took place. “I remember slipping on that floor representing Eastmoor Youth Club in a Miss Wakefield competition, probably around 1980.” Julia Chappell Hays In the mid 1970s British Wrestling was taking the country by storm promoted through Saturday afternoon TV ‘World of Sport’, the characters of the sport became household names. Live events ran all over the country between the

“I saw Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks at Unity when I was a

mid-’70s to ’90s and Unity Hall was a favourite local venue.

kid in the early ’80s. I loved him going around shouting ‘easy,

“The wrestling at Unity was great fun. All the kids were

wrote my name wrong three times despite me spelling it for

screaming and the old ladies were waving their handbags in the air, it was so loud and it was such a laugh.” Laura Thomas


+ Big Daddy poster. Courtesy of Dale Martin Promotions. Donated by James Harrison

easy, easy’! I got Big Daddy’s autograph (sadly long lost), he him! It was packed and the atmosphere was great, everyone chanting along with Big Daddy and booing Haystacks!” Louisa Bradley

Many different societies used Unity House to hold

Auctions were popular in the Hall, with traders and

meetings or events. Formed in 1958, The Wakefield Railway

customers coming from all over the region to buy and

Modellers Society (WRMS) held an annual exhibition in

sell. Record fairs did well, Unity’s association with music

Unity Hall, these exhibitions were very popular and well

ensured its reputation for good record fairs with dealers

attended. In 1987 the Society held its last exhibition in

that knew their music.

Unity Hall before moving venue. “As a young teenager I was sent along to an auction at Unity with my brother to bid for a dinner service which, of course, when I’d bought and taken home my mum said wasn’t what she wanted but ‘we’ll live with it’.” Kevin Trickett Older members of community enjoyed Tea Dances. By now Unity was looking tired and jaded but the hall still had a good dance floor.

+ WRMS, 1987. Martin Franklin

“My first memory of Unity Hall was attending a model railway exhibition. I’d expressed interest in buying an electric train set and the WRMS used to hold its exhibitions here every November so, as a treat, I was brought in late one Saturday afternoon to have a look at the model railways on display.

“The exhibition hall was set up with model railways, it

was a child’s delight. You came up the stairs into the room and it was alive with people running their model railways, people were drinking coffees on the stage and you could go into the

+ Tea Dance Courtesy of Tony Holdroyd. Donated by Joe Morris

Minor Hall to see further displays. I came back several times

“I loved the Tea Dances when the light streamed through the

after that over different years.” Kevin Trickett

beautiful stained glass windows and we danced around the floor. I remembered what it was like dancing in our younger days, we were creakier and much older but the magic of being together and the music was still there.” John Norton 37


n contemporary history Unity House is probably best

“Be-Bop Deluxe was the band that enabled me to turn

remembered and loved for being a top music venue in

professional. We played at Unity after having just done a

the north of England. Both Unity Hall and the Minor Hall

big tour, and it was absolutely packed. It was an amazing

continued their rich tradition of hosting great musicians

homecoming.” Bill Nelson

and bands and being a place where memories were made. Unity Hall Northern Soul All-nighters were massively “In the early to mid-1960s the Beat Club opened and many top

popular under the leadership of DJ and promoter Malc

names of the day played there – Screaming Lord Sutch, Gene

Burton (December 1976 to October 1977), and attracted

Vincent, Dave Berry and the Cruisers, Wayne Fontana and The

great DJs and fans.

Mindbenders to name but a few. There was a small space for dancing and I’m sure there must have been a bar, but we had

“The no frills dance nights combined new northern sounds and

no money for drinks so we didn’t bother. I think the club was

underplayed established oldies, with the emerging ‘modern’

only operational for a couple of years.” Carole Jones

sounds of the time. Under the banner ‘Doin’ it with soul’ the DJs at Unity were given freedom to ‘get on with it’.”

“I remember very vividly playing here. I had a girlfriend at the

Malc Burton, soulforum/wakefield-unity-all-nighter,

time who was very much a ’60s dolly bird and she had on a


silver glitter mini-dress and silver glitter tights, and we were dancing in the Minor Hall to whatever was the Mod record of the day.” Bill Nelson Locally born musician and artist Bill Nelson went on to form Be-Bop Deluxe in 1972. The band’s sound of contemporary

+ Unity All-nighter poster. Donated by Mark Redfern

art/glam/progressive rock, and Bill Nelson’s reputation as one of the best British guitarists of the time, secured BeBop Deluxe critical international acclaim. Bill’s younger brother, Ian, taught by their father, Walter Nelson,


continued the family tradition of playing saxophone. Ian

“The Unity all nighters were brilliant, top tunes and amazing

collaborated on many of the band’s tracks including ‘Ships

dancers, I was a bit shy at first and used to stand at the side

in the Night’, Be-Bop Deluxe’s most successful track.

just clapping till I found my feet!” Andy Turner

In 1977 the hire fees of Unity Hall went up and the Council

Wakefield Council were running Unity Hall and groups could

took over the running of the All-nighters for a short time.

book to hold events there. A group of young musicians saw the potential of using Unity as a regular venue for gigs.

“That floor at Unity took some hammer at the northern soul All-nighters! Hundreds of ‘stimulated’ kids stomping the springs into submission.” Steven Goodfellow In the mid 1970s punk rock was taking hold. A wave of new bands found they could make music and have a voice. Lyrics rejected sentimentalism, aiming often to challenge society’s norms. Punk provided a platform to confront the politics and reality of the time. Bill Nelson was a huge inspiration for young Wakefield musician Ada Wilson who collected press cuttings and photos of Be-Bop Deluxe in his school books.

+ Strangeways. Photographer unknown. Donated by Ada Wilson

“The Council was used to hiring it out for polite meetings and tea parties, it was very bureaucratic. The manager at that time really wanted these gigs to fail and tried everything to make it a failure. It was riotous and there was no proper security, but it was good fun and we went back month after month. We showed the potential for the place and that’s when promoters + School textbook/scrapbook. Donated by Ada Wilson

got involved and started bringing some big names in.” Ada Wilson 39

+ Flowers of Evil, 1981. Nicki Embleton

+ UB40. Steve Chapman Smith

Strangeways were signed in 1978 by Dave Hill of Real Records with their first single ‘Show Her You Care’ making all four local boys; Ada Wilson, Bas Snaith, Bob Marsden and Ringo Higginbottom into local heroes. Wakefield’s music folklore delights in the story of the naming of The Pretenders best known track ‘Brass in Pocket’. Playing at Unity Hall, Strangeways were supported by the then relatively unknown Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders. + The Only Ones. Steve Chapman Smith

In the changing room Chrissie picked up a pair of leopard skin drainpipe trousers and shouted out ‘whose are these’?

“Unity Hall was the hub of music in Wakefield, every up and

Ada replied, ‘I’ll ave ‘em if there’s any brass in’t pocket’.

coming band seemed to have come through there. John Keenan promoted everything, he was just brilliant at getting bands in

“We were the butt of their jokes because they were always

and he had his finger right on the pulse of the music scene.

taking the mickey out of our Wakefield accents. So they seized

Everybody knew him, all the agents knew him, and he was

on it and said, ‘what’s this brass in pocket?’ Weeks after, they

able to put all these fantastic bands on there. It was brilliant.”

said we’ve written this song, Brass in Pocket.” Ada Wilson

Steve Chapman Smith “…and the next thing it was number one, the song, Brass in “I put a concert on at Unity Hall featuring two very well-known

Pocket, written by the American, Chrissie Hynde, based on

local bands, The Flowers of Evil and Strangeways. I created my

what happened in the dressing room in Unity Hall, here in

own font for the posters and hand-drew them – in the olden

Wakefield.” Bas Snaith

days we used to do everything by hand and stick-and-lick.” Nicki Embleton 40

Another local musician Steve Chapman Smith played

Local writer Andrew Darlington started his career

Unity Hall on many occasions with different bands.

reviewing gigs at Unity.

“The first time I played at Unity was with a band called Just

“W-H-A-A-A-M!!! A sudden light deluge synched exactly to

Frank. The sound was always good in Unity Hall, it was great

smoke-bomb ignition and a wall of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ volume

to be on a big stage in front of everybody, it made you feel

that simultaneously rapes eardrum and eyeball.” Review of

important. Most of the time you knew half the audience as

Sweet, Unity Hall, March 1981

your friends.” Steve Chapman Smith “The Wakefield audience was a physical and excited crowd “Wakefield always pulls you back down to earth though,

and there was the tradition of spitting at the time. You’d be

you know your place, no delusions of grandeur around here.”

in a bank of lights and all you’d see is this hail of stuff coming

Ada Wilson

towards you – not a nice way to show appreciation, but that was the period.” Ada Wilson

The combination of local bands with a good following, performing with often bigger profile bands was very successful,







+ The Magnificent Everything. Donated by Ada Wilson

“Strangeways played here with Sweet, they were a three-piece

+ Sweet record cover, 1981. Donated by Roy Blacker

by then, but their equipment wouldn’t fit on the stage, so we

Despite Unity sometimes having a reputation for hosting

just took over the bar upstairs and played up there.”

rough and unruly gigs, trouble generally was minimum.

Ada Wilson 41

“When I was on leave from the navy I’d help out as a doorman.

down the side of the hall, it looked so old fashioned. Toyah was

I can only remember aggravation on one night and it was a

brilliant, she was our heroine and we all dressed up specially

Ska night – it was quite full of Mods or scooter types, but

to see her.” Nicki Embleton

generally it wasn’t too bad.” John Taylor “My first gig at Unity was when I was 16 to see Stiff Little “In my teens I was there nearly every week to see some band or

Fingers. Being an angry disillusioned teenager I decided it

other. I’ve seen a few kids throw themselves off the balcony! I

would be a good idea to dress up as a Nazi storm trooper, so

was there when The Pretenders did their first ever gig in Unity,

I went to X Clothes in Leeds and got all the appropriate garb.

there was a hell of a fight that night...” Graham Houghton

“I got off the bus at Wakey station and, being a true punk,

tore the ticket up and threw all the pieces up in the air to loud “…Martin Chambers, The Pretenders’ drummer, threw a

cheers from my equally silly friends. We walked down to Unity

drumstick into the crowd and it hit a girl in the eye. Her

Hall and I took my place in the queue, but within five minutes

boyfriend went mental and got backstage shouting, ‘who

the police arrived and pulled me out of the queue. ‘You, back

threw that drumstick!’

up to the bus station and pick up every bit of paper you’ve just

thrown into the air,’ they said.

“Martin pointed at me and legged it! I legged it back

into the hall and luckily a couple of bouncers, Keith and Ernie

“I protested, ‘what? Don’t know what yer on about, who

Goddard, sorted it out!” Steve Chapman Smith

says it was me?’ Their reply: ‘We’ve had a call saying a skinny lad who thinks he’s Hitler was seen chucking rubbish in the

For local music fans Unity Hall was a doorstep heaven.

air’. You can imagine my street cred took an almighty pounding in front of 100s of Wakeys young punks.” Andrew Viggars

“My first Unity Hall gig was in 1978, Ultravox, I was 16 and got hooked. I still have all my tickets from the gigs. I met my first

For many regulars the pre-gig ritual was important.

boyfriend there, it was a friendly crowd and great atmosphere. I wasn’t sure my parents would let me go as there were

“You knew you were heading to a really great venue, and you

rumours of it being a den of iniquity! What rubbish. It was

were going to have a good night out. It was cheap, everybody

fantastic, you got talking to loads of people while queuing on

always seemed in a really good mood, nobody was down or

the stairs to get in.” Alex Glendinning

anything like that. I used to come into town, meet a couple of lads and have a few drinks at The Mid first.” Roy Blacker

“Tickets weren’t expensive so we could end up every week


going to see a band. My friends and I laughed that people used

Where you stood at gigs was important and lots of people

to travel for miles to come to Unity Hall when it was just our

had a regular spot. The balcony provided a good vantage

local. It was exciting queuing up the grand staircase to hand

point to check out who was there or as a place to get out

our tickets in. I loved the beautiful stained glass windows

of the main action.

“We always used to run up the stairs to get the best front

up doing an afternoon shift as well to make up the cash for the

stand, right next to the stage, it was absolutely fantastic.

taxi.” Peter McGowan

It was a real good, raw venue. Really, really exciting.” Roy Blacker

“I remember the floor bouncing up and down at some of the gigs, particularly when Slade played on a tour near Christmas

There are lots of favourite gig memories. Writer Andrew

following their comeback at Reading that year – possibly the

Darlington reviewed many bands for the music press.

friendliest and most fun gig I’ve ever been to.” Jim Probert

“Captain Beefheart saunters on stage in floppy hat, bagged pants, pockets crammed and bulging with undisclosed goodies, plastic bag and sketch book… Beefheart makes sarcastic putdowns of what he calls ‘New Wave’, the audience laps it up.” Review of the audience at Captain Beefheart/ Comsat Angels, November 1980 “One of my greatest moments of live music was seeing Captain Beefheart in the early ’80s at Unity, absolute mayhem and the place was packed. They nearly brought the roof in.” John Jowett “The one that sticks in my memory as being the kind of zenith of Unity was when Madness and The Specials played – it was just terrific. The booking was made well in advance, or they would have cancelled and got somewhere bigger. It was packed to the rafters and it was excellent.” Ada Wilson “Got to be Stiff Little Fingers, it was fantastic they just have that extra bit of star quality.” John Taylor “Me and the missus saw Stiff Little Fingers and the speaker stacks collapsed and hurt a few standing at the front. It delayed the gig and we missed the last bus home, as we had to get a taxi home we stayed out longer. I got buzzed early for

+ Devil’s Answer, 1977-8. Nigel Tooby

a work day shift, six o’clock start at Sharlston Pit and ended 43

“One of my favourite bands was a group called The Pirates. They played here in mid-September 1977 in the heyday and they really rocked the place, it was a great venue.” Roy Blacker Not all the bands pulled in good audiences “Paul Young’s band had a single out ‘Toast’, and only about eight people turned up, so everybody got their money back, they did four tracks and went home. I was doing security that night but still got paid and was glad of an early night.” John Taylor “When the Human League played at Unity once the audience only numbered 46 ‘cos Phil Oakey actually counted us all. ‘Not many in tonight but you’ll get your money’s worth,’ he said.” Andrew Viggars

+ Human League. Steve Chapman Smith

“Unity was ours, it was our venue, and it was in our city. A lot of us didn’t get as far as Leeds, never mind anywhere else, so it was just brilliant that all these people were coming in from all over the world, basically, to play at Unity.” Steve Chapman Smith + Be-Bop Delux. Donated by Bill Nelson


+ Gig tickets


+ Award Ceremony. Photograph by Wakefield Express. Donated by Les Taylor



ince its beginnings as a Co-operative, Unity House has

Many local schools used Unity Hall as a venue for speech

provided home to cultural events, creative activities,

days, services or award ceremonies.

and community groups and as a space for learning and education. It’s not always been seen as very welcoming.

“There were about 700 pupils in the school and, with parents,

In 1905 members of the Society were reported at a

the hall was very full. The top class went to sit on the balcony

‘stormy’ meeting as being appalled at the cobblers shop in

with its wooden floor and, of course, you can imagine boys

Bank Street being used by the Education Department for

all together (the girls didn’t go up there because girls wore

singing classes and to house the library of 6,000 volumes

skirts and the stairs are quite steep) instead of clapping, we

in “dark, damp, dirty, miserable, fireless and un-whitewashed

all stamped our feet. The teacher went ‘grrrr’, but we still

for a decade. It smelt as the mouldering of a skeleton from

stamped our feet. It was a tradition we looked forward to as a

the churchyard.” The 25th report of the Education

reward for getting to the top class.” Les Taylor

Department, Wakefield Express, Feb 11th 1905 The Co-operative Movement has always supported education opportunities for an equal and fair society. Local children, or those connected to Unity House were offered extra lessons. “The Co-operative paid for elocution lessons for us. It was an old lady who spoke beautiful English who ran it in the Guild Room. We did a concert each year with poems and songs. She tried to get us to not to talk Yorkshire, like to stop saying ‘nowt’ instead of ‘nothing’, and not to pronounce ‘h’s where they shouldn’t be, like ‘hour’ instead of ‘our’. I’ve deteriorated back to speaking Yorkshire since then.” Joyce Reece

+ Speech Day, 1975. Wakefield Express


Wakefield Civic Society and other groups used Unity as a

“Coming into Unity House had a profound effect on me, its

venue for their regular meetings. Above the Guild room

history and the culture of the building, the workmanship, it

smaller rooms were available.

was just fantastic. It was an excellent space to learn in and be

inspired by its heritage.” Tony Richardson

Political meetings and rallies from groups like the

NUM, CND and Labour Party were held, often attracting well-known speakers and regional audiences.

“We used to have political meetings at Unity. Elections were held and there used to be social events for the Council, so it has got a lot of good memories for me.” Peter Box As well as singing and performing at Unity Hall, Adele Poppleton regularly attended meetings through her work. “During the break of an Environment Services meeting, everyone was out on the landing when two large rats were spotted downstairs. I thought they were soft toys as they were so large and weren’t moving. One of them moved its tail and I freaked. The environmental health managers got so excited. A couple of them found a baseball bat and clobbered the rats.

+ Political posters

+ Local elections, 1992. Courtesy of Wakefield Council


“When Environmental Health investigated, they found that

Society and other groups all used the building for storage

the reason the rats were so big and moved slowly was that

and performance. Until Wakefield Theatre Royal reopened

they were drunk. An adjoining nightclub had been doing some

in 1981, Unity Hall was the main performance space for

building work and the place was infested with rats underneath

local productions.

the dance floor that had been crawling along the beer pipes drinking the beer.” Adele Poppleton For 30 years Unity House was home to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Wakefield Office. “I used to work on a temporary basis in the Yorkshire Post branch office on the ground floor, and just at the right hand side of the main entrance there was a little reception office. There was a back office where the girls used to organise the newspaper deliveries for all the local newsagents and they hand-wrote the actual headlines of the day.

+ Wakefield Little Theatre Rehearsal, 1985. Courtesy of Wakefield Council

“I was in the front office and I had handwritten instructions

in a book on how to run the branch office – the processes were very well documented and organised; somebody had obviously

“It was always scary but fun pushing the two-wheeled barrow

spent a lot of time writing this book on how to run the branch

laden with 12ft flats across Westgate to Unity on a Saturday

office.” Sharon Shepard

night. We started off in the basement in what seemed like an old loading bay, and graduated up stairs on the first floor

Unity Hall was used for religious gatherings and services.

where we had a couple of rooms to rehearse and house some of our costumes. Our props were kept in the bowels of the

“I attended a church youth group in the early 1990s which

building itself. Now that was spooky!” Sheila Priest

was attached to City Church. The church subsequently split into Destiny Church and the Kings Church as they are now. The

From 1977, for a decade, the Operatic Society performed

church used the main hall for Sunday worship and the small

many shows, from Fiddler on the Roof to South Pacific, at

hall for children’s crèche/Sunday school and they used the

Unity Hall.

kitchen for refreshments.” Clair Pickering “We used to rehearse at Unity until it closed, the costumes Unity House was a focal point for amateur and community

and props were stored there and had to be carried over to the

arts. Wakefield Little Theatre, Wakefield Amateur Operatic

Theatre Royal when that re-opened.” Wendy Chable 49

Wakefield Arts Project, a collective of local artists and arts company Ratatosk, shared office space in Unity House from 1987 to 1994 until the Council withdrew funding and shortly after sold the building. From 1998-2001 the Department of Music at Bretton College took over part of the building, by this time Unity House was in a bad state of repair. “It was a rundown hole that we (the students) had to tidy up. We were all unhappy at the time about leaving the Sculpture Park, but Unity was a true gem hidden in the dust of time.” Andy Penny Students were based at Unity for lessons, tutorials, and rehearsals and to use the hall as a performance venue. “I was asked if I’d come and do a couple of talks about the music industry and its pitfalls, what to watch out for and ways to get in. The building was in a bit of a state because students are students, and they were just running around the place having fun not really bothering about the building or its history so much.” Bill Nelson “I started Bretton in ’96, and we had our Fresher’s Week events at Unity Hall. There was a market of sorts in the big hall, and a couple of gigs – I remember Nick Toczek reading some dragon poems at the bar.” Nathan Ramsden “I remember music students’ gigs there, and interviewing some of them for a music showcase I did during my promoter years. It’s an inspiring place!” Helen Rhodes + Bretton Hall Music Students final show, Standby! Media. Donated by Andy Penny



ver the last 40 years there has been no investment

“Every time, for the last 30 years or so, when I’ve walked

into the infrastructure of Unity House. After the Co-

past Unity Hall I think the same thing – ‘if I win the lottery,

operative ceased, and despite the building being taken

I’m going to make this place into an all-singing and dancing

over and managed by the Local Authority, it was only ever

beautiful music venue again’.” John Jowett

partially used. There was no significant maintenance or upgrading; a lot of the wiring, piping and fixtures were

Buzz, with its Westgate entrance, became one of

unsafe and unfit for purpose. Unity House had become

Wakefield’s most popular nightclubs but after 15 years

neglected and was a shadow of its former self.

and failed bids to re-launch it as a Superclub it closed

Faded signs from the Yorkshire Evening Post office,

in January 2007. In 2008 the plans for expansion were

cracked windows, missing brick work, and empty, dusty

finally quashed due to police concerns that it would make

rooms made Unity House, especially from Smyth Street,

Westgate too rowdy.

look sad and forgotten.

One of Wakefield’s most highly regarded restaurants,

Sloanes, was based in Unity on Westgate for a time.

In 1998 Unity House was acquired by Yorkshire-based

Leatham Estates.

In August 2005 the Yorkshire Evening Post reported

that “Britain’s biggest nightclub operator is to spend £4.5m turning one of Wakefield’s most prominent buildings into a major attraction.” Luminar Leisure planned to turn Unity into a new nightclub complex catering for 2,000 clubbers. Despite some objection to this, the Council’s Regulatory and Appeals Committee approved an application to

+ Smyth Street corner. John Jowett

change the Public Entertainment Licence, increasing the buildings occupancy limit from 1,380 to 2,000 people.

In November 2009 the new leaseholders, Leisure Ninety

Nine, re-opened Buzz.

Plans for a 24-hour-a-day restaurant, three dance

floors including a main floor and 1970s disco were

proposed. Objection was strong.

scene to claim Unity back as a music venue. In September

Momentum was gathering in the Wakefield music

2007 music fans came together to plan a campaign to 51

+ Old radiators, 2014. Mike Bass and Oli Wormald

+ Old poster in Unity Hall, 2014. Ben Stevenson


+ Layers of dust, 2014. Lucy Simmonds

re-open Unity Hall. The first meeting was held at the Inns of Court organised by Del Milburn and Derek Lines. Fundraising gigs were organised at the Jockey pub with local bands Steroid Freak Pussy, Kolorado Rock Machine and Slash Vegas.

In issue three of Wakefield’s well-respected music

zine Rhubarb Bomb (August 2007) there was an appeal. “The music fans of Wakefield must make your voice heard. For years we’ve put up with dodgy bars putting on gigs in unsuitable spaces with frankly pathetic sound quality. You deserve better than this.” Derek Lines + Wakefield musicians unite for Unity, 2007. Bob Taylor

Not just music, it could be all kinds of different arts activities.” Sharon Shepard “When you go into Unity you can imagine what it used to be like. We need a venue like that again in Wakefield, and it’s so handy next to the railway station. If it’s just left it would end up being demolished and that would be such a waste.” Frances Taylor Unity House had become an eyesore on Westgate, the vast + Fundraiser campaign poster, 2007

empty building in need of investment and vision.

Local musicians united to save Unity Hall. It was a good

“It has always worried me that there was a beautiful empty

effort in raising local support and bringing press attention

building sitting across the street from the theatre. A lot of

to the cause, but the campaign lacked a strategic business

the things that happen in the theatre now happen because

approach and coherent plan.

they used to happen in Unity Hall. The amateur dramatic and operatic societies used to perform there, but when

“When you see it empty, it’s a constant reminder that it should

the theatre re-opened these groups moved to the theatre.”

be used for something better than just being left dormant.

Murray Edwards 53

+ Smyth Street corner, 2013. Nigel Ward

+ Pizza Planet, 2013. John Jowett

Once Bretton Hall College left Unity House the building

“When somebody came forward with a credible project and

started to become vandalised and made the entrance to

said ‘we can solve this, we can put things right, and bring

Westgate and the City look even more shabby and run

Unity back into use’, it’s not surprising that it sparked interest


in the public’s mind.” Kevin Trickett

“Many people in Wakefield have been horrified to see this wonderful building neglected and in a dilapidated state for so many years, it’s been an eyesore. Myself and others want to see it back in use for good civic purpose.” Chris Pilkington In 2010 representatives from Wakefield met up with Shine, a social enterprise based in Leeds. Chris Hill, Development Director of Shine, would become the driving force in the rejuvenation of Unity House. “Through a mutual friend I made contact with the guys from Shine. I just felt it was really important that Wakefield brought an important building back to life.” Murray Edwards The fortune of Unity House was about to start a new phase. + Entrance to the lift, 2012. John Jowett


+ UNITY WORKS “The 19th century history of Unity is what inspired me partly,

“There are so many things I’d forgotten about until the tour,

that you had hundreds and thousands of Wakefield people

like the grand staircase, the lift and the sign. It was like a

investing in this Co-op, building it to such a success they could

comfort blanket being wrapped around, just thinking ‘wow’,

create a fabulous building. That’s the sort of spirit I want to

it brought so many happy memories back.” Nicki Embleton

recreate in the business that we’re building.” Chris Hill


In June 2012 The Wakefield Express reported Ross Jarman,

n 2011 Unity House Wakefield Ltd, a community benefit

of The Cribs, saying: ‘Wakefield is our town and it needs a

society, was established. A group of interested people

major music venue of this quality. It will be a huge boost for

came together to look at how Unity could move forward

the local music scene – we’d urge everyone to get behind it.’

into a re-developed creative and enterprise space for

Wakefield. A share issue scheme was launched. The

finance had been raised from Wakefield Council, Leeds

minimum share investment being £200.

City Region, Key Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund,

By October 2013 there were 200 shareholders and

the European Regional Development Fund and the “I have share number two. I shan’t want to make any use

Community Assets and Services Fund. In the same month

of it as a dance hall or to see young men shouting down a

a 999-year lease was signed by Unity House Wakefield Ltd

microphone, it won’t interest me... but if the people behind

to purchase the 40,000 square foot building from Leatham

this organisation can make something of it, jolly good for


them.” John Goodchild The £4.4m scheme aims to bring Unity back to its former To publicise what was happening tours of Unity House ran

glory and future purpose. The ornate former Co-operative

to inspire people’s interest and memories in the building,

building will create up to 300 jobs, a 450-seater main hall

as well as to raise the issue of shares.

(700 standing), 100-seat Minor Hall, 3,500 feet of meeting space (including three free meeting spaces), a café/bar on

“It was pitch black and no lights on. I found it terribly difficult

Westgate/Smyth Street corner and 8,500 square feet of

to cope with the stairs in the dark, particularly coming

workspace. There will be a gallery and a café/bar.

downstairs. But once you’d achieved getting to Unity Hall

itself and the windows were not boarded up, it was marvellous,

was awarded to Triton Construction Ltd in October 2013.

The contract for the refurbishment of Unity House

really exciting to see it again.” Kate Taylor


“Unity will be the jewel in the crown of Wakefield again, it will add to the cultural offer of the district and is something that everybody in Wakefield is proud of.” Peter Box During the development phase, partnerships with the Theatre Royal and Backstage Academy were established which support the events programme with staff and students. Plans to set up a creative-based Wakefield University in the next four years being a shared vision. “This development helps Wakefield’s commitment to the + Capturing Unity’s heritage, 2014. Ben Stevenson

arts. It brings back into ownership a Co-op building and hopefully it’ll inspire others around the country to restore old Co-op buildings and to be aware of the heritage of Cooperative societies, building societies and friendly societies.” Chris Pilkington

The Unity Co-op is governed by its member shareholders on a one-member, one-vote basis, with groups forming around music programming and business ideas. Surplus cash will go to supporting local creative entrepreneurs and musicians.

Great care is being taken to preserve and celebrate

Unity House’s history, building on solid tradition whilst aspiring for an exciting future. The enterprise is named Unity Works. “Within Unity Works we will branch into Unity Hall music venues, Unity conferencing facilities, and Unity business units. The name of the building is such a gift to us because that’s what we want to portray. We are about ‘unity’. We want to encourage it, celebrate it, pull it together, support it, and we want to provide a physical hive as well. Unity has to be profitable so that we can plough back into the local artistic + A digital space, 2014. Liam Benson


and creative community, give them space, and help them do more.” Irene Rhodes

On 29th October 2013 shareholders gathered in Unity Hall to receive the keys and take over ownership of the building. “Unity Hall has been a kind of theoretical thing for quite a long time. Even though the building has been here, it’s about the people and this is the first day of it happening now, so it’s really exciting.” Dean Freeman “When we came across the photo from 1901 of the laying of the foundation stone it expressed so much, what an inspiration that picture is. Today we’ve achieved much the same – maybe not quite as many people, but it’s a wonderful feeling the shareholders coming to claim their building.” Chris Hill

+ Artistic interpretation of a changing space, 2014. Mike Bass and Oli Wormald

Unity House has a wonderful story, a rich and diverse heritage. Unity has inspired so many people from all walks of life, with different interests and at different times in history. In September 2014 the doors of Unity Works formally open welcoming the next generation of its users, occupiers, musicians, artists, lovers, traders, thinkers, tenants, educators, students and entrepreneurs, all ready to contribute to the ongoing story of this magnificent majestic and much-loved building. “There is a magic about this building, it’s invested with hopes and dreams of people who came here at different stages of their lives, stuff that you can’t necessarily see with the eye, and I think it deserves respect for that. Buildings have a soul, a kind of spirit of place, and it’s right when people recognise that and take care of them.” Bill Nelson

+ Building underway. View from Drury Lane corner, 2013. John Jowett



his project has been realised with the fantastic support

of many people who love Unity House. Many of them

and Friends of Unity who have offered their trust and

local to Wakefield, some now living further away or even

encouragement, and to the Heritage Advisory Group

on the other side of the world. I had hoped originally to list

members who have let me check out facts and bounce

everyone who has contributed or supported the project,

ideas around with them.

but there are far too many people to name individually.

Huge thanks must firstly go to all the participants who

One to One Development Trust, our volunteers and Board

have shared their stories and recollections on film, audio,

who have worked so creatively to help produce and design

in letters, through social media or at events or tours.

the book, film and exhibition.

The imagery collected through this project is an

Thank you to The Unity Works Board, shareholders

On a personal note I’d like to thank my colleagues at

The Unity Works Heritage project has been supported

important record of the heritage of the building and

with funding from the Heritage Lottery, The Co-operative

its users. Where possible we have tried to identify the

and Jordans Solicitors. Thank you for making it possible.

source of photographs or images and credit accordingly. Please contact us if you can add any information to any

Judi Alston

photographs, or know of their origination. Thank you

March 2014

to the many people who have kindly donated tickets, photographs, posters and memorabilia to help tell this

Find out more about Unity Works at www.unityworks.co.uk


To view the online gallery with images from this publication,

and other contributions, visit www.unityheritage.co.uk

Wakefield Council, local community groups and

organisations, the Wakefield Express, Wakefield College and local societies have all contributed generously in the research for this project.

Social media has been a useful platform for dialogue

and a way of inspiring interest in Unity House. Local history Facebook groups run by volunteers deserve a big thank you for their ongoing support of the heritage project. The Twixt Aire and Calder website twixtaireandcalder.org.uk is a very valuable local resource for finding out more about the district’s history. + Work in progress. John Jowett


+ Ours – shareholders take over Unity, October 2013. John Jowett

ÂŁ12 + Proceeds from the sale of this publication will support the ongoing Unity Works Heritage Project

+ Photo by John Jowett

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