Wakefield 2013 – An Autumnal Stroll

Wakefield Autumn 15

Since it was such a nice today, I went on an autumnal stroll around my home city of Wakefield. I decided to take some photos on the way. I always take photos when I am travelling abroad, so I thought I would do the same in my home city.  In some ways autumn is my favourite season due to the colours that it provides so I thought it was an appropriate time for photography.  I tried to include trees in the photographs to capture the spirit of autumn.

The walk started around Wentworth Terrace, then proceeded up St John’s North to St John’s Square.  At St John’s there was a veritable army of people with all kinds of filming equipment as if they were about to film an epic on the scale of Ben Hur.  Of course, it might have just been a film class from the nearby college!  Nevertheless they had laid what looked like railway tracks for a moving camera, or was it part of the new HS2 rail link! 😉

Wentworth Terrace
Wakefield Autumn 6

St John’s North
Wakefield Autumn 11

St John’s Church
Wakefield Autumn 2

St John’s Square
Wakefield Autumn 5

Newstead Road
Wakefield Autumn 19

My walk then proceeded into Wakefield’s civic quarter with its County Hall that harks back to the time when Wakefield was the capital of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and its Town Hall.

County Hall 1
Wakefield Autumn 13

County Hall 2
Wakefield Autumn 3

Town Hall 1
Wakefield Autumn 21

Town Hall 2
Wakefield Autumn 4

I went down Wood Street and turned right into Westgate, then right into Drury Lane and then left into the shiny new Merchant Gate development, and then to the Unitarian Chapel and nearby Orangery.

Town Hall Tower through the trees at Drury Lane.
Wakefield Autumn 20

Merchant Gate
Wakefield Autumn 17

I got talking to an interesting chap, while I took the following photograph of the Unitarian Chapel, who told me some stuff that I did not know.   He gave me some background about this old building that was constructed in 1752.  Apparently, the nearby Orangery once belonged to the Unitarian Church and was joined to the Church by an underground tunnel that has since been blocked up.  He went onto mention that there are catacombs under the chapel, where the great and good of old Wakefield were buried.  I never previously thought that Wakefield could perhaps claim the right to a future episode in the series Cities of the Underworld.  I walked on thinking about what exactly Unitarian Church meant…

Westgate Unitarian Chapel
Wakefield Autumn 1

The Orangery
Wakefield Autumn 7

The next photo stop on my stroll was the ancient cathedral which has its origins go in Anglo Saxon times.

Cathedral Precinct
Wakefield Autumn 14

Cathedral 1
Wakefield Autumn 16

Cathedral 2
Wakefield Autumn 12

My last photo stop and the end of my walk was the market – the new market house visible in the picture below.

Wakefield Market
Wakefield Autumn 18

When I got home I did some research about the Unitarian Church via the website of the Westgate Chapel. It seems to be a church that very much reflects my own deist beliefs. The following quote on the Westgate Chapel website summarises my own position on religious matters rather well:

“We believe that faith should be free from the constraints imposed by others. We believe that no one should dictate what another person may or may not believe.”

I will have to investigate unitarian philosophy further…


W.A. Ismay Collection By Matthew Darbyshire – Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield

Written 23/10/2013

Chris Knowles Hepworth Gallery 300

Above: Chris Knowles at the W.A. Ismay Collection by Matthew Darbyshire – Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield.

Today I have visited the W.A. Ismay Collection by contemporary artist Matthew Darbyshire at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.

My visit was, primarily, a homage to my grandfather who was a friend and neighbour of Mr Ismay whom he knew as Bill.  It was my first visit to the Hepworth Gallery as I am usually not that impressed with modern art.  However, I liked what the gallery had to offer and would certainly recommend that others pay it a visit.  In addition to the art, it affords excellent views of the river Calder and allows you to view Wakefield from a different perspective.

My grandfather arranged for my mother and myself to view Bills collection when I was a teenager back in the 80s.  However, at that time it was at Bill’s house on Welbeck Street.  He told us in no uncertain terms not to tell anyone because the collection was very valuable.  It was certainly not the sort of thing that you would expect find behind the net curtains of a modest terrace house.  To a trained eye, not mine, it was an Aladdin’s Cave of exotic ceramics.  To me it was simply like a museum.

Darbyshire has arranged the collection using the footprint of Bill’s house as his canvass.  This includes the front room, and the living room, but omits the kitchen.  The gap in the middle of Darbyshire’s work is the position of the steps down to the cellar. It was interesting to compare this piece of modern art with my own memories of Bill’s home.  I think he captured the essence of the atmosphere in the house very well – organised clutter.  The house was jam-packed with pots covering every last space on more than one floor.  Frankly I was amazed about how Bill actually managed to live in his own house!

WA Ismay 7

There was one occasion when Mr Ismay was out when a delivery from Japan was made.  Naturally they asked a neighbour to sign for it and look after until he returned home.  That neighbour happened to be, much to her chagrin, my grandmother.  She was a woman of a nervous disposition at the best of times and was horrified about having a fragile and potentially valuable piece of art being left in her care.  The ceramic article survived, even though my grandmother was well known for dropping crockery in the kitchen due to her arthritis.  I think she was very relieved when Mr Ismay finally took possession of the item.  My mother thinks the item is the large circular object in the photograph [above] this paragraph. Darbyshire’s portrayal mixes in white goods such as the washing machine which contrast marvelously with the pottery.  I do not remember any white goods when I was back at the house, but they could have been completely covered in pots!  The juxtaposition of ancient and modern technology is an excellent way to draw attention to Bill’s collection. I took quite a few photographs at the Hepworth.  In the first group below, I wanted to show the collection as a single united work of art by Matthew Darbyshire. The following photograph shows the view from what would have been the kitchen. The cabinet in the foreground would have been below the living room window that looked out into the back garden.

WA Ismay 1

The following photo shows the view from what I would presume would have been next doors’ kitchen if the walls had been made out of transparent bricks.

WA Ismay 2
Below is the view from what would have been the view from the garden of Bills other next door neighbour.  You can see clearly where the chimneys were located.

WA Ismay 3 600

In the photograph below, you can see the living room on the right with the mirror above the fireplace, the front room which has shelves above another fireplace, and in the middle the blank space representing the stairs down to the cellar.

WA Ismay 4

The next photograph shows Matthew Darbyshire piece in the context of the room in the Hepworth Gallery.  It shows it as a work of art in its own right that happens to incorporate many works of art within it.

WA Ismay 5 600

In the following set of photographs I have tried to focus on specific items of Bill’s collection within Darbyshire’s work of art.  This is one of the remarkable things about the piece – you can see it as both a single work of modern art and a collection of less modern art forms put together by a single human being.  The photograph containing the bert, the magnifying glass, and the typewriter seem to represent Bill the man.  He seemed quite the English eccentric, exhibiting a unique appearance when he was out and about, being easily identifiable from his beret.  He was an intellectual, a friend of my grandfather and a very nice man indeed.







Finally the following video, that can also be found on the Hepworth Gallery website, talks about Bill Ismay himself who left the country such a great artistic legacy.

The exhibition runs from 12 October 2013 to 26 January 2014 at: The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5AW.

The ‘Sir’ Levett-Hanson Letters – Part of the History of Normanton, West Yorkshire

Written on 21/10/2013

Following the death of my grandfather in 1988 I found an old book in a pile in my parent’s garage which I promptly rescued.  In it were hand written notes and old newspaper clippings from the 19th Century.  This included what appeared to be some hand written copies of letters between a man called ‘Sir’ Levett Hanson (c.1748-1814) and his Yorkshire based cousin Thomas Leake.  Some years ago I wrote a biographical summary of Levett-Hanson based on information derived from these letters and some rudimentary research.  What follows is the summary that I wrote together with a transcript of the first of the letters (I may publish the rest in due course).

Biographical Summary

Levett Hanson was born in 1748, in the village of Welton-with-Melton near Beverley in North Yorkshire.  He was the only son of Robert Hanson and Elizabeth Jackson (nee.), but had a sister who would later marry Sir Thomas Cullum of Bury-Saint-Edmunds in Suffolk (who also had holdings in the Normanton area).

Fate dealt Levett a cruel blow early on in life, when he was  only 5 or 6 years old (c.1743) he lost his mother and this was compounded at age 11 (c.1749) when his father died.  The legacy of this double tragedy dwelt within him for the rest of his life.

He was born into a proud and influential heritage; as far as the History of Normanton is concerned, his family ties with the Levetts and the Leakes, both families playing key roles in its development for much of its history, are significant.

From around 1790 to his death, while he was overseas, he entrusted his Normanton interests to a manager called Mr Brook, who would have dealt with all his business affairs in the local area such as collecting rents, selling land, etc.  He communicated with his manager via his bankers, Messrs. Hamersley, based in Pall Mall, London.

Out of all these cities it was Copenhagen that captured his heart; this was the place where he felt most at home, and showed great affection with relation to it in correspondence back to Yorkshire.

From c.1790 to the end of his life, he resided in cities of the Baltic Sea region, most notably Stockholm, Copenhagen and Hamburg.  It seems likely that it was around this time that he acquired the title of knight.  He was an officer of the knightly order of St. Joachim, which was founded in 1755 by members of the German nobility.  He was an officer of the chancery of this order of chivalry and it seems reasonable to assume that his duties were of a diplomatic nature.

In a letter to his cousin, dated Copenhagen, 9 July 1807, he said that he had been evading the French armies since 23 October 1805.  This must have related to the increase in British involvement in the anti French coalition; it was only 2 days since the Battle of Trafalgar, which took place on 21 October, giving Britain naval supremacy.  It was also a time when, it would be reasonable to assume, there was considerable unease in the areas where he resided and had links with (Copenhagen and Hamburg).  Indeed, the French defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Ulm (in southern Germany between Stuttgart and Munich) on 21 October of that year; it must have seemed that Bonaparte could have pushed north at any moment.  It was just after this time that Napoleon scored one of his most impressive victories at the Battle of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805.  The armies of the great general must have seemed invincible to the officers of his enemies at that time.

Sir Levett Hanson died on 22 April 1814, at Copenhagen in Denmark; he was 59 years of age.  The war against the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte, of which he seems likely to have played a role, would wage on for over a year until it reached its climactic conclusion at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

Chris Knowles


First of the Letters – Correspondence Between Sir Levett Hanson And His Normanton Cousin Thomas Leake

Copenhagen November 27th 1804

Dear Kinsman

Your letter gave me great satisfaction.  Had I not been favoured with yours, I meant to write to you.  I do not doubt you and your family have lost two good friends by the death of Mrs Elizabeth and Mrs Catherina Hanson.  However, [if] you and your family conduct yourself properly and [you] remain an honest respectable character, you will always find me to be a sincere and good friend.  I have already said as much in my letters to Mr Brooke.  Whenever you have the misfortune to lose your mother, I have told Mr Brooke that you will continue to live in the house and have the orchard, both rent free, and in case of sickness or misfortune I have desired him never to let you, your family [or] your mother want for anything.

I can never forget that you are my nearest of kin on the Levett side, and, though fortune was not favourable to your father and grandfather, I beg you never forget that on the side of the Leakes and the Levetts you are as old [and] good a family as most in Yorkshire and as many in England.  The past Lord Scarsdale was a Leake, and always acknowledged your grandfather as a kinsman, although he could not come in for the Estate and Title.

The Smiths, the Torres and the Favells are [Fiz Gigges], as the late Robert Holdsworth called them in comparison with you, like father like sons.  I suppose the Baronet of Newland or the Squires of Normanton and Snydale are not a bit better than their fathers, where you do not posses the estate and fortune, these people do.  But that is nothing, remember manners maketh man, and an honest man is God’s masterpiece.

When I tell you never to do anything unworthy of your name and character, and [to] never forget whence you are sprung, I do so to [excite] you and yours to live [as] honest decent people and not to make you foolish, vain and proud, which behaviour is improper even in those who are rich and really great.

I have known you these one and thirty years, I think you must be about four and forty.  How many children have you in all and how many lads and lasses, as we say in Yorkshire?  What is the name of your [mother’s] aunt at Wakefield and is she living, she used to be my snuff merchant.  As to your son, I wish he was eighteen or twenty instead of fifteen.  I want a companion and not a servant.  My manner of living would not suit a lad [of] fifteen, although it might a young man of one and twenty.  I live much a[t] home and [am] very [retired] and do not like those who are with me to be running about.  This is hard for a lad of your son’s time of life.  Nevertheless, I do not give up the matter but he must wait [u]till I come to Hamburg.  I would wish your son, in the meantime, to stick to county business and beg you to assure him [that] I shall not forget him nor his father neither.  If you have lost two good friends in my aunts, you have found one in me.  If I have never any reason to the contrary, I shall always look upon you and love you as my next of kin.  Remember our Grandmothers were sisters.

As to the wood you wish to purchase, it is a matter upon which I do not pretend to determine anything.  Mr Brooke has my power of selling it for me and if you and he can settle the business, I shall be satisfied.  I have sent to him, by this post, that half of your letter which concerns this business and if you and he can agree, I think you ought to have the preference, but I must tell you once [and] for all, my good kinsman, that it is my firm and decided resolution never to take my business out of the hands of Mr Brooke, which I have [since] trusted to him, first of, all because he well deserves my [continued] and unlimited confidence by his past probity and attention for my interests, and secondly because, situated as I am and at so great a distance, Mr Brooke is far better able to judge of what is right and proper than I can possible [do].

When you talk of the ‘jungle’ near the house you live in, I suppose you mean the orchard.  I beg you will take great care to keep up the hedges and fruit trees.  Our Uncle, Mr Robert Levett, had made it, for its size, one of the best orchards in the parish.  It is your duty and interest to preserve it in a good state and plant choice trees when necessary.  I mention these things since you are old enough to pay due weight upon what I say.

I am glad to hear the [e]nclosure advances; certainly I would wish you to have a [close] for the convenience of you and your family and [Harpin’s Close], likewise, when he dies; but for these I expect a fair rent.  All these are things you must talk over with Mr Brooke who, I am sure, wishes to befriend you.

As to the complaints you make that the wood for repairing the house and homestead was not given to you, I must tell you I do not think you have such a great reason to be satisfied.  Mr Brooke agreed with the tenants Bailey about putting all the buildings in repair, and it was not extraordinary [that] Baily should wish to favour his brother-in-law.  So close as a man’s [shirt] sits to his…you may be sure, I as your kinsman, ever wish to give you everything.  But there is no rule with an exception, and on the outset of this rule [you] might to have made application to Mr Brooke, God knows, I never wish to take the meal of any man’s table, and least of all yours.

I heartily thank my cousin, your wife and your mother for all their kind remembrance of me and for their long and delightful assurance.  My kindest remembrances and wishes to Matthew, who is one of the most honest and best of friends I ever met with.  He has enjoyed my confidence for years and deservedly so. I don’t know anything his [quarters] with me as a friend.

But ‘tis all to no purpose, however, that will never prevent me from having more regard for him than for any other friend or acquaintance in this world and, am sure, his heart is the same towards me.  Pray let me hear from you in answer to this and write to me often.  Tell Matthew I have wrote at least two letters to him to which I have received no answer. I am very glad to hear he is well in health and spirits and I pray God you will continue so.  Remember you are a relation which is more than friend or acquaintance.  I must repeat it that I expect you will not fail to answer my letters regularly.  Be kind and neighbourly too to Matthew, when it is in your power.  I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year and remain with truest regards and friendships dear Thomas.

Your affectionate kinsman

Levett Hanson

PS. Your letter gave me great pleasure, when you write again speak to me as your near relation and make use of no ceremonies; common civility is all that is required between kinsfolk.


Cold War Front Lines: Memories From The Border With The German Democratic Republic, 1975

Written 18 October 2013.


Above: Germany 1975: Adults suit up for a drive, while a young Chris Knowles inspects one of NATO’s military assets.

If you think we have it bad today, when I wer’ a lad things were much worse! (in the spirit of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen)

I am one of those people who can remember my very early childhood.  I once assumed that everyone was the same, but to my shock I found that not everyone could. Perhaps they are compensated with a better short term memory or something?  One of my earliest memories of a family holiday (I have many even earlier memories of other things!) related to a trip to Germany in 1975, when I was only three years old.

Life At The Barracks

Above: From NATO heartland to the border of the Warsaw Pact: There and back again in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. With young Chris Knowles at the controls!

We were staying south west of Hannover at Hobart Barracks in Detmold in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.  The 20th Armoured Brigade of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) was based at these barracks and this area could be described as one of the front line defensive positions in the Cold War.  We were staying with a family friend who was a serving soldier at the time.  We travelled through Belgium, Holland, and a good part of Germany in our yellow Volkswagen Beetle to get there.  We got to the continent via a Sealink ferry from Dover, and coincidently I remember Rod Stewart’s Sailing being played on the radio – my first remembrance of a specific piece of music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW2-_01i48w#action=share).

 We stayed my at parents’ friends home   They lived in married quarters on the base and had a couple of kids of around my own age which added to the fun of my stay.  It was interesting to experience a military environment at such a young age and in a way had I to bear the brunt of military logic myself in my own small way.  At some point during my stay, I came down with a bad case of tonsillitis.  The camp doctor refused me penicillin, which was a real pain for me at the time.  Of course this refusal made sense from the perspective of a military doctor who would have to face a nightmare scenario in the event that antibiotics lost their general effectiveness through overuse on relatively trivial complaints.

“Inner German Border”

The border between East and West Germany was known as the “Inner German Border” (1).  It was along this line that opposing armies faced each other and watched for movement on the other side. In places like Detmold NATO forces stood poised, ready to repel the Soviet hordes at a moment’s notice and prevent their tanks from rolling into Western Europe.

While staying at the base my parents and their friends planned a trip to the Harz Mountains which formed the border with the East.  We were told in no uncertain terms to be careful and received some sound military advice.  We were warned not to wander in the woods at the border lest we inadvertently cross into the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany).

There were no fences separating East and West but there were other hazards such as minefields but they were not the only thing to worry about.  We were told that East German snipers ensconced in the hills on the Eastern side of the border may let us cross into the GDR but might not be so obliging when we tried to cross back into West German territory. Concern about snipers, tanks, and minefields certainly provided the makings of a “fun” childhood holiday!

Though there were no fences in the Harz Mountains that separated East and West, the fences and obstacles elsewhere show how determined the Warsaw Pact was at preventing people escaping to the West.  The following illustration, that can be found at Wikipedia, provides a visual representation of what would be escapees would have to contend with:


The description that accompanies the illustration at Wikipedia reads as follows:

“The border shown in the diagram cuts across a road which formerly linked east and west. Proceeding from west to east, the zonal border is marked on the western side by signposts saying “HALT HIER GRENZE” (“STOP HERE BORDER”). Just behind the border, there is a border marker pole with diagonal black, red and yellow stripes. A short distance after the zonal border, i.e. on the Eastern side, the road is dug up, so there is an anti-vehicle ditch across its whole width. Then follows a metal-mesh fence, with a double gate where the road is. To the left of the road, the metal-mesh fence forks to form a double fence; the area between the two fences is mined. Near the road, instead of a second metal-mesh fence, there is a concrete-faced anti-vehicle ditch. Next follows a flood-lit control strip; behind that, a guard patrol road running parallel to the border. After that comes a strip of open green territory containing various types of guard towers, a dog run and an observation bunker; this is delimited by a signal fence which has floodlights spaced at regular intervals. The signal fence curves around a village that is close to the border, excluding it from the border strip. Where it crosses the road, the signal fence has a gate, and further up the road, i.e. deeper in East German territory, the road is blocked by a horizontal barrier, beside which there is a little house.”

We could potentially have had a pretty nasty surprise if we had gone down to the woods that day!

Seven Days To The River Rhine

In 1979, four years after my holiday at the Barracks at Detmold, the Warsaw Pact came up with a military plan entitled “Seven Days to the River Rhine”.  This was a plan to penetrate Western Europe up to the River Rhine, following a Western nuclear first strike (2).


Above: Warsaw Pact Battle Plans: Seven Days To The River Rhine

A rather alarming map complete with mushroom cloud graphics that relates to this plan can be found HERE (3).

The existence of such scenarios demonstrates quite clearly how, back in those days, even on days when you were enjoying a pleasant holiday in Germany, World War III could have broken out at any time.

Being present at a front line barracks in that war might not have made much difference, we were all under threat of immediate destruction wherever we were, even if we were hiding under our beds at home.

Perhaps the modern armageddon of global economic meltdown is not so bad when compared with being vaporised on your German holidays.


(1) Inner German Border (Wikipedia)

(2) Poland risks Russia’s wrath with Soviet nuclear attack map. Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, 26/11/2005.

(3) What World War III Might Have Looked Like (The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the Twenty-First Century)


Poppy Fields View, Yorkshire

Written on 17 October 2013

I am quite a keen photographer, the following are some photographs that I took a few years ago in my local area.  The fields are different every year according to what crop is grown, etc.  The particular year when these photographs were taken seemed to cause poppies to grow.  I have not seen anything similar either before or since. I thought I would take this opportunity to showcase these vividly colourful photographs on my blog.

Poppy Field 1

Poppy Field 2

Poppy Field 3

Poppy Field 4

Poppy Field 5

Poppy Field 6

Poppy Field 7

Poppy Field 8

Poppy Field 9


“We Choose To Go To The Moon!” – John F Kennedy’s Inspirational Speech

Written on 14 October 2013.


It may seem unusual, but I have always seen autumn as a period of new beginnings.  This is probably because as a kid it was always the start of a new school year, and often a new class.  Later on in life it was the start of the first university term and my subsequent work in the education sector probably reinforced my feelings still further.  It is therefore at this time of year, rather than on New Year’s Eve that I often think of new beginnings, new projects, and new challenges.

John F Kennedy’s “We Choose To Go To The Moon” speech resonates with my feelings of greater optimism at this time of the year.  Its thrust of cutting new ground and use of words such as faith, vision, and boldness is inspiring and exemplifies new beginnings and new challenges.  The following line of the speech sums this up:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.” (John F Kennedy, 12 September, 1962, Rice University, Houston)

It is for this reason that I have decided to post a vid of the speech that I found on You Tube.  The text of the speech can be found HERE.


Hydrotherapy For Dogs

Written on 8 October 2013.

 Today I have taken my dog for her first hydrotherapy session after a major operation for a slipped disc.  She injured herself just over three weeks ago and first started limping with her back left leg, then she was unable to walk at all.  What was particularly shocking was the suddenness.  One minute she is running around happily, and then next she is having trouble walking.  We took her to the vets the same day and she stayed there overnight.  She then went for scans and was diagnosed as having a slipped disc.  A major operation was necessary. It has taken her about three weeks to be able to go for a five minute walk each day and now she has started a course of hydro therapy to aid her recovery.  The pictures below illustrate the hydrotherapy session.




I would like to present my profound thanks to all the staff at Calder Vets for looking after Tilly they have really helped her.  They know her by name and I believe they know all their patients by name.  Calder Vets is a truly caring environment for poorly pets or ones who have been injured.