The Secret Garden in Wakefield’s Thornes Park features these architectural fragments which have popped up at various locations across the Wakefield district. The pinnacle is a bit of a mystery, but is believed to have been salvaged during a restoration of Wakefield Cathedral. The columns were originally part of the Wakefield Market Cross which was demolished, against the wishes of the people of Wakefield, in 1866 as part of the corporation’s ‘public improvements’. The furious scenes at the public auction of the cross in September 1866 made the papers across Britain. It was bought by a no-nonsense Mr Armitage who said ‘It will do very well for my garden’.
What happened next is not clear but at some date the pieces were incorporated into a rockery in the grounds of Holmfield, adjacent to Thornes Park. Development of Holmfield in the 1990s forced their removal, and the pinnacle and one column were erected in the garden of Wakefield Art Gallery. That institution closed in anticipation of the opening of Wakefield’s much admired Hepworth Gallery in 2011. The pinnacle was then erected in the Secret Garden, with its companion column, and the two others which had been with the Wakefield Museum service for safe-keeping.
There are only a small number of surviving bridge chapels in Britain and Wakefield’s dates to the 14th century – or parts of it do. By the 1840s the masonry of the ancient structure was in a poor condition, the building having been in secular use for almost three centuries, and Sir George Gilbert Scott was commissioned to restore the building. The old facade was bought by Joseph Thornton Esq., a railway contractor, of nearby Kettlethorpe Hall, and he re-erected the chapel’s front elevation over the entrance to a boathouse on his lake.
This rebuilding has been incorrectly credited to the Hon. George Chapple Norton, but the Norton family were not at Kettlethorpe by this date. They did however make a brief return, in poignant circumstances, following the death of Fletcher Cavendish Charles Conyers Norton in 1859. In October of that year his body lay in state in the ‘chapel’ and hundreds of mourners visited to pay their respects.
Nikolaus Pevsner described it as ‘the most precious of all boat houses’ in the West Riding volume of the Buildings of England series, although as a correspondent with the Yorkshire Post pointed out in 1937, ‘boat house’ is a misnomer and it is better described as ‘a temple’. From the 1950s the grounds of Kettlethorpe Hall were developed for housing, and vandalism became a major problem in the decades that followed. In 1996 English Heritage, as it then was, took urgent measures and gave consent for the structure to be dismantled. Loose stones were also salvaged from the lake and all the masonry placed in storage. There it remained until 2014 when, with local support, the remains were installed as a feature in the new Secret Garden in Thornes Park. The stones have been laid at an angle in a bed, so that their outline can be appreciated but they are secure. On the minus side they are now very difficult to photograph.
Thornes Park was originally the garden to Thornes House, a substantial mansion designed by John Carr for James Milne in around 1780. The surrounding landscape included two lakes, the larger of which had an island with temple. Marked on the first ordnance survey map simply as ‘The Temple’ it was an open rotunda with a deep dome which housed a statue of a female figure. Only the larger lake survives today, remodelled with concrete edging in place of the original grassy banks, and no sign of the temple remains.
By 1957 the temple was ‘forlorn and dilapidated’, and in the spirit of that terrible decade for the country house no-one seemed to care. ‘I don’t think it is of any great value’, Mr Haynes the Park Superintendent told the Wakefield Express. Local legend has it that the statue was spirited away, never to be seen again, after the lake froze over in the 1960s. The temple is said to have collapsed in bad weather in 1970 and the statue is believed to be of Pandora, the first woman in Greek mythology, but no evidence for this seems to exist. In 2017 the local paper announced that there were plans to return a statue of Pandora to Thornes Park, but the idea was abandoned due to lack of funds.
Thornes Park was purchased for the people of Wakefield in 1919, and together with the adjacent Clarence and Holmfield parks is a cherished local resource with an active friends group https://chatparks.org.uk