The Old Vicarage: Medieval building with network of underground tunnels could be demolished for car parking

One of the oldest buildings in Wakefield could be demolished to make way for a car park.

Heritage campaigners have launched a fight to stop plans to bulldoze The Old Vicarage, on Zetland Street. The medieval building could be flattened before the end of this month if Wakefield Council approves the scheme.

The property was bought on behalf of the Conservative Party by a body of trustees almost a century ago and dates back to the 1300s. Part of the building is used as the headquarters of the local Tory party association. It is also occupied by a number of small independent businesses who rent space in the property.

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Traders reacted with shock at discovering that they may soon have to leave. More than 300 objections have been made since the application was submitted last week. Wakefield Civic Society has also objected to the proposal.

A black and white photograph showing the Vicarage on Zetland Street, for Wakefield Parish Church of All Saints, later Wakefield Cathedral. Image credit: Wakefield Libraries.A black and white photograph showing the Vicarage on Zetland Street, for Wakefield Parish Church of All Saints, later Wakefield Cathedral. Image credit: Wakefield Libraries.
A black and white photograph showing the Vicarage on Zetland Street, for Wakefield Parish Church of All Saints, later Wakefield Cathedral. Image credit: Wakefield Libraries.

Society president Kevin Trickett said: “We were astounded to see such an application being submitted given the historical significance of the building. That its demolition is being proposed to create a car park shows a complete disregard for the value of this heritage asset to the city.”

For centuries the building was the vicarage for Wakefield parish church, which became a cathedral 1888. The precise age of the building is uncertain but a vicarage was first designated by William de la Zouch, the Archbishop of York, in 1349.

The current building was thought to date from the 1660s but, when renovations were carried out in 1908, timber from a much older building was discovered. The property is on the council’s list of buildings of local interest but does not have a national listing with English Heritage.

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Mr Trickett added: “Although the building has certainly been added to over the years, it retains a very distinctive period quality and is the centre point of an historic site. At the very least, a full heritage statement should be provided by the owner before any thought is given to what happens next with the building. A full architectural survey should be conducted to ascertain a more accurate understanding of the age and condition of the building.”

Parts of the Old Vicarage, on Zetland Street, are thought to date back to 1349.Parts of the Old Vicarage, on Zetland Street, are thought to date back to 1349.
Parts of the Old Vicarage, on Zetland Street, are thought to date back to 1349.

The planning application seeks permission to demolish the property “in order to better utilise the land in the future.”

It also says: “The applicant has indicated the cleared site could be used as a public car park.”

The document says the expected start date for work is April 29, with completion by June 28.

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When contacted, Naeem Formuli, chair of Wakefield and Rothwell Conservative Association, said the building is still held in trust on behalf of the party.

Mr Formuli, one of four trustees for the property, said: “The building has not been sold to anyone else and we don’t want to take any decision over its future in haste. This process was instigated by previous trustees but we will weigh up the options for the building when we know the outcome of the application.”

Wayne Miller, owner of Division 24 skateboard shop, has run his business at The Old Vicarage since 2001.

He said: “There has been rumours for about ten years that something was going to happen with this building but no one has bothered to tell us about this. It’s totally out of the blue. We have had no notification and there aren’t even any signs up saying what’s proposed.

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“It feels like this is being done under the radar as quickly as possible so nobody has time to kick off about it. By the time anyone says anything it could be pulled down and it will be too late to do anything. Wakefield will have no history left soon. It feels like buildings are just being torn down all over the place.”

The Old Vicarage has long been rumoured to have links to a network of tunnels hidden beneath the city centre. The tunnels are thought to have been used as escape routes for people who became non-conformists after the Act of Uniformity was passed in 1662.

Mr Miller said: “Parts of this building are way older than the Cathedral itself. Surely it can’t just be pulled down without a trace. I bet they would probably find more tunnels if they dug under the site.”

Mr Miller said he also had concerns for the future of his business.

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He added: “This is the only skateboard shop in Wakefield and there is only one other in West Yorkshire. I have had loyal customers coming her here for more than 20 years. I would be devastated to have to move and don’t know if I could afford to rent other premises.”

A total of 320 objections have been made against the scheme, with just one comment of support.

One objector said: “This is an old, quite remarkable, building that has been occupied by independent businesses for years. It’s a cultural landmark in Wakefield and to demolish it for more parking, which is inevitably what the area will be used for, is depressing to see.”

Mike Horbury has been the main tenant of the building for over 30 years. The architectural antiques trader sub-lets units to the other business owners. Mr Horbury said he had previously campaigned to get the building nationally listed and renovated.

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He said: “English Heritage said the building was interesting but did not meet the criteria for listing. Too many additions and changes have been made to the building over 600 years. The crux of the matter is without a listing it is always going to be at risk.

“I’m resigned to the fact that it will eventually be demolished. If there is money to be made by doing it then that’s what will happen.”

Mr Horbury added: “It’s a shame because this is possibly Wakefield’s oldest building. But if you were to stop someone in the city centre and ask them for directions to The Old Vicarage, people don’t have a clue where it is.

“It’s an interesting place and should have been looked after much better by various bodies in Wakefield over the years. But the care it has been given has been mediocre at best, and that’s being kind.”

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Ex-Tory councillor Tony Homewood is a former trustee and is still listed as the building owner with the Land Registry.

Coun Homewood was previously the Conservative group leader on Wakefield Council until he resigned to sit as an independent in November 2022.

He said: “The building is in an appalling state of repair and requires considerable work. At the end of the day the building is structurally unsound and while it might be old it is not of a standard that warrants listing.

“It would cost tens of thousands of pounds to put this into effect and it is not economically viable to do so. The truth of it is, the trust wants to sell it because it is time to move on. It is understandable that any purchaser would want to see it demolished because it is not economically viable.

“Because it would cost so much money to repair there is really only one place this building belongs, and that is on the floor.”

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