Changing times in Normanton, West Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 14:47 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:45 20 February 2013

Teaching assistant Jo Vella with her daughter, Isobelle and classmate Abigail Pepper preparing a cake mix at the All Saints CE School after school cookery club

Teaching assistant Jo Vella with her daughter, Isobelle and classmate Abigail Pepper preparing a cake mix at the All Saints CE School after school cookery club

A former West Yorkshire mining town has a rich history

Theyre a cut above in Normanton. Even when the church burns down theyre not disheartened. The raging fire that caused more than 1 million of damage including destroying a traditional pipe organ worth a quarter of a million pounds led to a new beginning for the congregation of Normanton Baptist Church. It also transformed the former Marvels hairdressers into a new church.

After the fire, the local Methodist church came to the congregations rescue, allowing them to meet there. But over the coming weeks work will be underway at the former salon, just across the road from the derelict church in King Edward Street, to turn it into a place of worship for use over the next two years until the church is restored.

Eve Faunch, deacon and secretary at Normanton Baptist Church, which was built in 1887, said: When I got the call there were 16 fire engines outside that had come from five different stations. Two fires had been started on purpose inside and I hadnt expected it to be as bad as it was. There was a feeling of disbelief in the congregation, we couldnt believe it had happened.

But we managed to get the old hairdressers so we will have somewhere to meet now. Its now time for us to move forward. Theres no point crying about it anymore. We are going to rise from the ashes and get our church back.

Normanton is at the heart of the motorway network, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the raft of companies who have their distribution depots at industrial estates on the edge of the town.

The transport links have led to a population explosion too, with more and more people using it as a commuter town for nearby Wakefield and Leeds.

Locals also enjoy a small but varied shopping centre and a thriving local community. Popular local events include Normanton Gala and Normanton Horticultural Show, organised by Normanton Town Council with help from other local organisations including the Normanton and District Lions Club.
Donna Johnston, the deputy town clerk who will take up position as town clerk in April, said: These two events are really popular and a lot of people come along to support them. Its something that the whole community supports and they are very big events for us.

The town has a rich history it appears in the Domesday Book as Normantune and All Saints Parish Church is likely to be one of the oldest parts of the town. It is though there has been a church on the site in High Street since the 11th century.

And one Normanton resident is making sure the history of Normanton is preserved. Since he was a young boy John Goodchild has collected memorabilia, historic documents, trinkets and treasures discovered in the local area over the years.

He has written more than 250 books and articles about local history and amassed a collection of more than one million pieces in his own John Goodchild Collection which he opens to the public on request.
John, a former archivist and local studies officer for Wakefield Metropolitan District Council used to run a museum in Normanton.

Over the years he has unearthed hundreds of astonishing facts about the town, including discoveries about the Newland Estate and the existence of the Knights of St John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers.

The 74-year-old said: I have documents dating back to 1180 relating to a monastery at Newland in Normanton. Newland was latterly an estate with Newland Hall but it was also the location of a monastery with the Knights of St John. The local people gave land to support the plight of the knights in the war in the Holy Land. I have the original documents from around this time.

Most interesting was the time around the 1800s. In 1861, the population was 563, in 1871 it was 3,448. In just ten years it has gone up six times. Then it jumped again in 1881 to 8,038.'

'This coincided with the collieries that were being opened. Although the collieries were next door in Altofts, a lot of the population settled in Normanton. It was a key time for the town.

Normanton has an incredibly rich history but not many people know about it. People dont tend to look any higher than the shops windows and they miss out. I wanted the collection so interested people could find out as much as they want to about it.

Local history takes its place on the curriculum at Normanton All Saints CE Infant and Nursery School and the school also puts a major focus on after school activities which include everything from a cookery club to a film club.

Each year children make their own animated films which are screened for pupils, parents and staff at a special Oscars night. The event has outgrown the school and this year it will be held at Wakefield Theatre Royal and Opera House on March 1st.

Headteacher Barbara Cunningham said: What the children do out of school is just as important to the learning they have in class. Thats why we have so many after school clubs.

The enthusiasm they show for things like the film club is tremendous. Its a wonderful event, they all get dressed up in their best dresses and suits and the parents come in black tie dress. It is a special event for us.

Need to know

Normanton has been home to a selection of celebrities including Coronation Street star Reece Dinsdale and The Royal star Michelle Hardwick. It is also believed that Sir Levett Hanson, an author, courtier and friend of Horatio Nelson lived here.

As well as having a number of good sports clubs, including the Falcons Netball Team, there are also a number of local people who have enjoyed competition successes. These include brother and sister, Ryan and Courtney Newton, who have won numerous national and international karate trophies.

A new Normanton Town Masterplan is currently being drawn up by Normanton Town Council to look at ways of regenerating and improving things for the residents

The Normanton and District Lions Club raise money to help locals as well as taking part in the Normanton Gala. Club secretary Dave Large said: We raise money for people who need it. Weve raised 500 to donate to the Haiti Earthquake Appeal. But we also raised money for a lady who had been diagnosed with cancer and had not been given long to live. She spent all of her money on Christmas presents but then her washing machine went. We helped her get one. Thats why groups like us are so important because we help people in the community.

Singer and entertainer Christine Shakespeare-Ellis is another community champion. Along with the Normanton and Altofts Community Network, she rallied support for a new playground in the town. Work is expected to start soon and it will include a Peace Garden, a small nature reserve, a space to play football and the playground. She said: We desperately need somewhere for young children to go. It will be fantastic once it is completed.

The John Goodchild Collection can be visited at the Local History Study Centre, in Drury Lane, Wakefield, by appointment only. To arrange a visit to this vast collection contact John on 01924 298929.

Where is it:
Normanton is located directly off the M62, in the heart of the motorway network, near Wakefield. Type WF6 1NT into your satnav to get there.

Where to park:
There are several short and long stay car parks in the town. There is both a short limited to one hour and long stay car park in King Edward Street, which is centrally located.

What to do:
Take a walk around Haw Hill Park or absorb the history of All Saints Parish Church. There has been a church on the site since the 11th century.

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