Wakefield Gate

Wakefield Gate, the medieval route east from Halifax, also known as the Magna Via


The Wakefield Gate makes an interesting walk from the setted Old Bank, near Halifax Minster, to Hipperholme. The route has historical connections going back to medieval times, more recently to Anne Lister of Shibden Hall (as in the Gentleman Jack TV series), and there are wonderful views over the town and the surrounding countryside. See our 19 minute film "Halifax's Historic Wakefield Gate" on YouTube via this link: https://youtu.be/h2cmJRpZ32Y

In addition to the walk itself, you may want to build in visits to the Piece Hall and Halifax Minster, both Grade 1, and to Shibden Hall, Grade II*, surrounded by its fine park.

In October of 2020 the Committee decided to revisit the work done in the 1980s by the then Committee, which had culminated in the designation of the holloway section (Dark Lane) of the Wakefield Gate as an Ancient Monument. Two of us walked the route and found a mixture of great neglect and superb maintenance, but above all a lack of signage. We began an ambitious project, based on the HCT booklet of 1991, and have produced a short hardcopy walkers' guide for sale, and completed a new Historical Commentary which follows below. HCT has now installed information boards at each end of the route and has worked with the Calderdale Countryside Team, who have installed direction signs along the route. We also worked with Phil Fearnley of HaloVue to make the film.

The Wakefield Gate, a Walker's Guide

Getting there

For car parking, see Calderdale Council's website:-


There are useful car parks off King Street and off Mulcture Hall Road. Then make your way to the road below Halifax Minster.

If you come by train, turn right out of Station Approach, then take the first right into Church Street to reach the Minster.

If you come by bus, leave Halifax Bus Station down Wade Street and turn right into Winding Road. At the traffic lights, turn left into King Street and follow it round till you see the Minster on the right.


The walk involves a steep climb of 400 ft., a level section and then a more gradual descent down the hollow way. The surface on the gradients is rough. After rain it is muddy and slippery and the setts always need care when descending. Boots or stout shoes are recommended.

The walk: 1½ miles each way, see map below. Approx. 1½ hours there and back, 20 mins more if you return via Shibden Hall (option b) below)

From the road below the east end of the Minster, follow Bank Bottom, which rises sharply. Cross Charlestown Road into the setted Old Bank. Continue uphill and after about 150 yards, take the right fork (Whiskam Bank) to reach Beacon Hill Road. Turn right and cross the road 10 yards further up at the gap in the wall. Follow the track (Whiskam Dandy) uphill. This section has been badly eroded and it is probably easier to use the right hand rim of the track. After about 250 yards, just after the concrete frame of a broken seat, you reach a beautifully setted left hand bend (the Elbow). Ignore the fork to the right and continue up for 100 yards until you emerge from the woods and reach the 6-way junction. Whiskam was the name of a house sited here, now demolished.

From this junction there are optional diversions. To the right, follow the signpost to climb Beacon Hill, with its commanding view over Halifax and the surrounding hills, and where to mark their centenary, the Rotary Club of Halifax are building a viewing platform scheduled for completion later in 2022. There is also a diversion to the left, (signposted to Shibden Park) going down to Shibden Hall. It passes the crenellated ventilation chimney (with its mock arrow loops) and the furnace house of the Walker Pit, the coal mine sunk by Anne Lister and named after her lover, Ann Walker. The buildings are rare survivors for their era (1820's or '30's) and are scheduled as a monument. Return to the 6-way junction.

Wakefield Gate continues east from the 6-way junction – follow the sign to Long Lane. This section is Barrowclough Lane, named after the lost medieval hamlet here which existed between the 13th and 16th c. After 50 yards, looking to the left you see the ventilation shaft for the railway tunnel from Bradford, and the view over the upper Shibden Valley. The route soon passes roads to the right, first Long Lane and then Marsh Delves Lane (delve or delph is the old name for a quarry). The hamlet was a ribbon development along the south side of Barrowclough Lane, running between Long Lane and Marsh Delves Lane, and its earthwork remains can just be made out in the field to the right. A few yards further on, Pump Lane runs to the left, but keep straight on. Pump Lane is steep and rocky, but it leads down to Shibden Hall Road where, a few yards to the left, the path continues down under the railway to Shibden Park.

The Pump Lane junction comes just before the start of Dark Lane, the medieval hollow way that is designated as an ancient monument. It soon passes the present Upper Place Farm on the right, although this is neither the same building nor the location of the original farm of that name that was part of Anne Lister's estate. The vestigial ruins of the original Upper Place Farm can be seen on the right, just before the bend to the right, about 250 yards further down from the present buildings. Apart from the metalling, which is probably from the early 18th c., the hollow way is essentially as it was in mediaeval times, and up to 4 m. deep.

Dark Lane continues the descent, passing Lower Place Farm (Grade II, nicely restored and with an aisled barn behind it) on the left. A little further on, the end of Dark Lane is marked by the plinth erected by Halifax Civic Trust to mark the Silver Jubilee of our foundation in 1962. The engraved plate on the plinth was stolen in September 2021 but has now been replaced.

Return options

a) Just walk back to Halifax the way you came. Halifax is spread out before you as you reach Old Bank again.

b) Walk on to Shibden Hall and Park by continuing downhill along Wakefield Gate for 200 yards beyond Lower Place Farm, keeping left at the fork. A terrace on the right bears a road sign which tells you that Dark Lane has run into Norcliffe Lane. At the end of the terrace, cross over the Red Beck (red because of its colouring from iron oxide) and turn left at the finger post to Shibden Hall Road to walk beside the beck. Turn left when you reach the main road (Halifax Old Road). As you cross the Red Beck again, the road becomes Shibden Hall Road, and the Hall is then on the right after about a mile, with Shibden Park below it. Complete the return to Halifax by taking Anne Lister's route; cross Shibden Hall Road from the upper car park and go through the gate opposite to take the footpath running south west beside Cunnery Wood. After passing the ventilation chimney of the Walker Pit, you reach the 6-way junction again, where you turn right and descend via the Wakefield Gate.

c) Continue downhill and take the climbing right fork. This is Norcliffe Lane, which runs into Marsh Lane at Bank Top. You can then turn right into Long Lane, then left into Wakefield Gate, or as an alternative, turn right when Marsh Lane runs into the main road, then take the left fork into Southowram Bank which runs down into Halifax.

d) To take a bus from Hipperholme back to Halifax, continue walking down Norcliffe Lane which then becomes Badger Lane. Turn left into Station Road and then right into Tanhouse Hill, which leads to the centre of Hipperholme. Bus routes to Halifax are 548 and 549 (every 15 mins., 30 mins. on Sunday), 571 and 255 (both hourly). For times see the Metro website at: https://www.wymetro.com/bus-timetables

Walk options for those preferring to avoid the steep climb from Halifax

a) Drive to Bank Top, Southowram. Park in Marsh Lane and then turn left along Long Lane which is flat. It runs into Barrowclough Lane (the level section of Wakefield Gate), with the 6-way junction to the left, and the Dark Lane hollow way to the right.

b) Starting from the traffic lights at the centre of Hipperholme, take the A58 towards Halifax. After 160 yards, turn left into Tanhouse Hill, just beside the Paw Prints Pet Stores, then left at the Travellers Inn into Station Road, then right into Badger Lane, where you can park. You are now at the start of the more gentle ascent up the Dark Lane hollow way. Return when the descent gets too steep after the Elbow.

Historical commentary

For more detail on the history of the Wakefield Gate, see the article following the map below.

Historical Commentary on the Wakefield Gate


There is a long-standing confusion about the name of this medieval route running east from Halifax. The Magna Via usage crept in during the 19th c. and was later given prominence by John Lister and others, to the point where it had become the primary usage. However as it has no proper historical basis, we now reject Magna Via, and stick to the original name, Wakefield Gate. This name is derived from the Old Norse "gata", meaning highway or road, and it has a much older usage.[i]

We speculate that the "other" Wakefield Gate, which leads west from Skircoat Moor, might also have relevance here. Further research is continuing.

After the Norman Conquest

The most gradual incline approaching Halifax from the east is up the ridge from Hipperholme, and it seems likely that this route was followed from very early times, but it became important after the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror made grants of land to his chief supporters. One of these was William de Warenne (de Varenne), and he became the 1st Earl of Surrey. His son was later given the large Manor of Wakefield by William Rufus. This manor extended beyond Halifax up the Calder Valley to Erringden, and the Earl set up a manorial court in Halifax, the parish being given to the Priory of St. Pancras at Lewes, which the first Earl and his wife Gundrada had endowed near his castle there. The Priory was the largest and richest in England, and the cathedral-scale development of the Priory church needed sustained funding from the many de Warrene manors and churches. The Cluniac (Benedictine) monks of Lewes Priory built a church at Halifax around 1120, and some of the stones from the original church were incorporated in the Minster when it was rebuilt in the 15th century. There was a constant flow of travellers on horse and on foot between Halifax and the Earl's castle at Sandal, near Wakefield. Hunting parties regularly rode through Halifax on expeditions to hunt deer, wild boar and wolves in the upper valley, and at Erringden (beyond Cragg Vale) a large deer park was established, which remained enclosed until the 15th c.

The Middle Ages and the Development of Trade

As the textile trade developed, traffic increased; supplies of wool had to be brought in, and finished cloth taken out, much of it by this eastern route. This and other merchandise, including salt from Cheshire, was carried on packhorses passing to and fro over the shoulder of Beacon Hill, so the route linked Halifax and its surrounding settlements with the east of the country, with York and London, and with Hull for trade with Europe.

The significance of the Wakefield Gate in the first Civil War, after the Battle of Adwalton Moor, 30th June 1643

One of the most poignant events in the subsequent history of the Wakefield Gate, was during the first Civil War, after the battle of Adwalton Moor, which was fought on the ridge running between Westgate Hill and the summit of Adwalton Moor, west of present day Drighlington, between Halifax and Leeds; the A650 now runs along the ridge. Halifax, along with other West Riding cloth towns, predominantly aligned with the Parliamentary, rather than with the Royalist, forces when the action moved to the West Riding. Indeed, the official dispatch to the Speaker of the House of Commons was sent from Halifax on the day following the battle, where no fewer than 500 men from the parish of Halifax fought with the Parliamentarian armies under Lord Ferdinando Fairfax, and his son Sir Thomas Fairfax. Lord Fairfax himself commanded the main Parliamentary force, which included the men from the garrisons of Halifax and its surrounding towns, and 700 Lancashire foot, divided into twelve companies. They were defeated by a larger royalist force, including pikemen trained to engage in close combat under Colonel Kirton. He sought and received permission from the Royalist commander, the Earl of Newcastle, to lead his pikemen in one last devastating attack against the enemy and this resulted in many Parliamentarian casualties. The survivors of the right wing under Sir Thomas Fairfax, cut off from their base at Bradford, retreated from the battlefield along the Wakefield Gate to Halifax.

The turmoil in the area continued. After the battle of Adwalton Moor, the Royalists gained control of Yorkshire except for Hull, and occupied Halifax. Following the failure of a Royalist attack on the hill top village of Heptonstall, a counter offensive by the Parliamentarians resulted in as many as 100 Royalist soldiers killed and 35 wounded. Furthermore, the Halifax parish register of 4 January noted that two Royalist soldiers were summarily "hanged on a gallows erected near our gibbet" to strengthen the Parliamentarian position. The Halifax registers recorded abnormally high death rates of young males during this period, presumably from injuries sustained in the Civil Wars. The conflict in Yorkshire also forced many Parliamentarian supporters, including the Halifax apothecary and antiquary, John Brearcliffe, to seek refuge across the Pennines, and the Listers of Shibden Hall to flee to Manchester, hastily concealing family treasures for safekeeping in the uncertain times.[ii] Parliamentary control of Yorkshire was re-established after the battle of Marston Moor (west of York) in 1644.

Daniel Defoe explains the problems of access in 1724

Even in the early 18th c. this was still the only way out of Halifax to the east; Daniel Defoe in his book "A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain", Volume I, first published in 1724, refers to it: "We quitted Halifax not without some Astonishment at its Situation, being so sur­rounded with Hills, and those so high, as (except the Entrance by the West) makes the coming in and going out of it exceedingly troublesome, and indeed for Carriages hardly practicable, and particularly the Hill which they go up to come out of the Town towards Leeds, and which the Country People call Halifax Bank, is so steep, so rugged, and sometimes so slippery, that, to a Town of so much Business as this, 'tis exceedingly troublesome and dangerous."

The Turnpike Acts of 1741, 1760 and 1824

In 1741 the Halifax and Wakefield Turnpike Trust was established by Act of Parliament and a completely new road was then made from Clark Bridge (on Bank Bottom) to Hipperholme along what are now called Old Bank, Listers Road, Shibden Hall Road and Halifax Old Road. It was soon found that Old Bank was still too steep for wheeled transport, and New Bank was started in 1760 to join Listers Road to North Bridge, which then became the chief outlet to the east instead of Clark Bridge. One of the old mile-stones is still in position on this road.

In 1824 another Act of Parliament authorised a new turnpike road between the top of New Bank and Hipperholme to reduce the gradient still more by making the Godley Cutting and using the spoil to build an embankment across the Shibden Valley. As Mr. James Lister of Shibden Hall refused to allow the new road to pass near Shibden Hall, it had to go via Stump Cross, and so the route of the present A58 was at last established. This greatly reduced the usage of the old medieval track of the Wakefield Gate, so that it remains essentially in its medieval state for us to walk along, almost into Hipperholme.

Beacon Hill

Towering 400ft above the town centre, the hill is on the dividing line between the millstone grit (Namurian) responsible for the dramatic landscape of the upper Calder valley and the coal-bearing shale (Westphalian) of the Shibden Valley. Coal was mined from shallow seams until early last century, and is again being mined to the east of the Valley; in the early Industrial Revolution, children from the age of five worked long hours underground hauling coal. Sandstone is quarried on the Southowram side; flagstone from here was used to pave much of the City of London, for example. The side facing Halifax used to be known as Clegg Cliff or Gletcliffe (clay-cliff) and fireclay was quarried until a few years ago.

In the early 1850's, railway links were constructed between Halifax, Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield, and the distinguished engineer John Hawkshaw (1811-91), who was responsible for tunnelling through Beacon Hill, designed a splendid Gothic portal, providing rail travellers from Leeds and Bradford with a sudden dramatic vista of Halifax's industrial landscape on emerging from the tunnel.[iii] One of the tunnel's ventilation shafts can be seen from the Wakefield Gate at Barrowclough Lane.

As recently as 1870, much of the hill was covered with trees, but these were then felled for timber, and to make way for the construction of Beacon Hill Road. Industrial pollution was very heavy however, and this prevented any natural regeneration. Following the Halifax centenary in 1948, the former Mayor of Halifax, the late Alderman Charles Holdsworth, organised a replanting campaign in 1949, and made generous annual gifts of money for it. The replanting started from the bottom of the hill, and was followed in the early 1970's with plantings arranged by members of Halifax Civic Trust [iv]. The Council continued this policy, and the hillside was gradually planted with a variety of shrubs and trees up to about 700ft above sea level; the very exposed situation has made their growth a slow process.

The Beacon

The beacon was one of the links in the chain which gave warning of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Watson (1775) quoted a deed dated at Southowram in 1553 which referred to "Le Bekyn super altitudine Montis de Gletcliffe" (the beacon on the summit of Gletcliffe Hill). At this time it was probably just a large fire built on the ground but by the middle of the 17th c. there was a beacon pan on a pole. This is clearly shown in views of Halifax drawn in about 1650. The West Riding Sessions Rolls of 1637 and 1640 record payments to the Constable of Southowram for "watching about the beacon".

There were at least two other occasions on which the beacon was used as a signal. It was lit in 1688 at the time of the landing of William of Orange and in 1745 to give warning of the approach of the invading Scottish army under Bonnie Prince Charlie (they came no nearer than Manchester). It is interesting to note here that 18 year old William Fawcett (born at Shibden Hall) was then a young ensign in General Wade's pursuing army; some 30 years later he became Adjutant-General (virtually Commander-in-Chief) of the British Army. The last time the beacon was made ready in earnest was in 1803 when there was the threat of invasion by French troops under Napoleon.

Since then, the beacon has been lit to celebrate many joyful occasions: the end of the Crimean War (l856), of the Boer War (l902), and of both World Wars (1919 and 1945); Queen Victoria's Jubilees (1887 and 1897), the Jubilee of King George V (1935), all the coronations in the last century including that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the 400th anniversary of the Armada in 1988, the Millennium, and the Queen's Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Its very exposed situation has resulted in the beacon pan being blown down several times in the last hundred years, and one from Victorian times is kept at the Bankfield Museum.

Shibden Hall (Grade II*)

The original house was an early 15th c. timber-framed building; this was partly cased in stone in the 17th c., and there were later modifications and extensions, particularly in the 19th c., organised mainly by the owner, Anne Lister (who was made famous by the recent TV series Gentleman Jack). Her diaries were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme in 2011. In 2019, Halifax Civic Trust initiated the placing of a blue plaque at Shibden Hall to commemorate Anne Lister. The Calderdale Museums Department has aimed at producing a "lived-in" atmosphere for the Hall. The outbuildings and barn house the Folk Museum of West Yorkshire. A recent very welcome addition is the Mereside café by the boating lake and main car-park

Anne Lister and Old Bank

The route up Old Bank and across Beacon Hill Road was frequently used by Anne Lister, to walk to and from town. Her return route to Shibden Hall diverged from the Wakefield Gate at the crest of the hill. Where the old route turns east, she would have continued forwards past the Walker Pit tower. The steep setted path was the closest way for Anne to get to church on Sundays, though it was frequently used by her on other occasions, such as when she was visiting her Halifax friends, her solicitor, or the Library. Many are the times that this route up or down Old Bank is mentioned in the famous Diaries. Perhaps the most amusing reference is that dated 12th August 1818, when Anne reported: “In the evening at 8.30 my Aunt and I went to the top of Bairstow to see the fireworks played off from the Piece Hall. Not seeming to be begun we returned home… At 9.20, my Aunt, Marian, and I set off. Finding we saw little or nothing from the top of Bairstow [we] dashed straight down the hill. My aunt, unable to keep her feet, slid down on her honourable part, Marian ditto, & we all laughed exceedingly.” [v] This ‘hill’ was Old Bank, and ‘Bairstow’ is the lower hilltop to the left of Beacon Hill. Note that Beacon Hill Road did not yet exist in Anne’s time.

Anne Lister, Upper Place, Lower Place and Dark Lane

Parts of the Wakefield Gate, including the Dark Lane, were and are known as Barrowclough (or Barraclough) Lane. (Barrowclough was a medieval hamlet there, now lost.) Upper and Lower Place farmhouses were Lister tenancies on the route, and Anne would visit tenants as required. Her tenant at Upper Place was George Naylor. On 16th December 1825, Anne recorded an interesting item about the Wakefield Gate in her diary: “To George Naylor’s; told him I had persuaded my Uncle to offer to the town [Southowram] as much ground off George Naylor’s side, all along Barrowclough-lane, as would make the road wide enough for two carts to pass, on condition that they would make a good straight wall the whole length, and agree among themselves and with the lord of the manor Mr. Christopher Rawson to let my Uncle have all the bit of waste next to Dumb Mill. I told George to tell his brother (one of the surveyors) this, and to bring it forward at a town’s meeting. George said it was a ‘grand offer,’ and seemed well pleased.” [vi] Upper Place fell into ruin in the later 20th c. Today little remains, and the name now applies to an unrelated farm further up the lane.

Anne would visit tenants when she wanted them to vote at elections according to her wishes. Henry Dodgson was the Lister tenant at Lower Place, and on 3rd August 1837, Anne sought his vote for the Tories. Having already visited Naylor at Upper Place for a similar purpose, she proceeded down Dark Lane. Anne recorded: “Then to Dodgson’s. The wife evidently had to manage. Dodgson wished not to vote at all. Explained that I would not neutralise my estate. I would rather he voted for the Yellow [Whigs] than not at all. I would do as fairly as I could with everybody; but I meant to have all my tenants vote my way. Stood talking three-quarters of­ an hour, chiefly to the wife.” [vii] Lower Place survives, much modernised, as Lower Place Farmhouse and barn, both Grade II.

Mining rivalry

Mining was carried out adjacent to the Wakefield Gate, and on 22nd January 1835, Anne heard rumours that some of her coal had been taken: “Had Joseph Mann at 7.30 ... asked if it was true that Rawsons had got my coal skirting along to Barraclough Lane head. ‘Yes! thought it true. Could I turn all the Shibden water upon them - i.e. round the nook [corner] of their coal - ‘Yes! he thought I could - but his brother knew better than he did & he would get him (his brother) to come down here with him - charged him not to name a word of all this to anyone but his brother.” [viii]

Halifax Civic Trust during the 1980s

That part of the route furthest away from Halifax is the celebrated hollow way known as Dark Lane and is one of the three best preserved hollow ways in West Yorkshire. In 1987 the Committee raised £14,000 from local donors and grants to repair the damage to Dark Lane caused by a bulldozer, to draw attention to the historical importance of the route, and to attend to certain maintenance. English Heritage designated the Dark Lane section as a Scheduled Monument, and its (non-statutory) citation ends by saying: “In short, therefore, this routeway is of considerable historical and traditional, as well as archaeological, importance”

The Wakefield Gate Project

In October 2020 the Executive Committee of the Halifax Civic Trust decided to revisit the work done 30 years ago by the then Committee, and to act if we felt there was work to be done. The result is a complete re-appraisal of the importance of the Wakefield Gate, a more probing account of the historical importance of the route, a new version of a Walkers' Guide using modern technology, and above all, clear signage from Bank Bottom to Dark Lane. We have been glad to work with Calderdale’s Countryside Team on the signposting. Financial support has been promised or already given by the Trustees of the Waterhouse Charity, the Friends of Calderdale's Countryside, and from two prominent members of the Anne Lister Trust; several members of the Committee have also given financial support and we are grateful for a grant from the W. Yorks. Combined Authority.

[i] W.B. Crump, ‘Ancient Highways of the Parish of Halifax: The Wakefield Gate’ Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1924, pp 89-106

[ii] D. Cooke, Battlefield Yorkshire From the Romans to the English Civil Wars, Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2006, pp. 129, 137-38 and 144-58; J.A. Hargreaves, A history of Halifax from prehistoric times to the present day, Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster, 3rd edition, 2020, pp. 74-79.

[iii] J.A. Hargreaves, A history of Halifax from prehistoric times to the present day, Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster, 3rd edition, 2020, p. 185

[iv] Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion

[v] Helena Whitbread, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, 2010, p. 65

[vi] John Lister, transcripts Halifax Guardian 11 May 1889

[vii] John Lister, transcripts Halifax Guardian (date unknown)

[viii] Jill Liddington, Female Fortune, 1998, p. 146.

[The historical commentary is based on the text first published by Halifax Civic Trust in 1991 for Country Walks near Halifax No. 5 (available on the Archive page), edited and expanded in May 2021.]