Edward Green’s book ‘Wrenthorpe – A History’ theorises that there are two possible origins of the name of the village. Firstly, and most likely, the Anglo-Saxon “Wilfrun’s outlying farmstead” became “Wirintorp”, then “Wyrunthorpe” before finally contracting to the present Wrenthorpe. The second option is that it gets its name from the Norman landowners, the Earls de Warenne.
During the 16th, 17th and early 17th centuries, there was a thriving pottery industry in the area and Wrenthorpe also became known as Potovens. In the centre of the village were kilns, which gave rise to name pot ‘ole or pot ‘oil, which is still used by older locals to describe the village centre.
POTTERY: The readily availability of clay, coal, water and wood led to the development of this cottage industry which in its hay-day rivalled those in the Stoke area, with examples of their products being found as far away as the Midlands. In addition to pots, flasks, jugs, etc., potters diversified into clay pipe making to meet the demand from tobacco smokers. To this day pieces of local pottery and clay pipes regular turn up in gardens and large deposits of waste from the kilns were unearthed during the building of the new Village Hall and the Health Centre. The industry petered out towards the end of the 1780s.
AGRICULTURE: Even today, farmland borders the west and north west of the village. However, since the second World War, much agricultural land has been taken over by housing developments and more recently industrial estates have gobbled up more acres to the north of the village. The area around Wrenthorpe is within the “Rhubarb Triangle” and many fields are planted with the crop and forcing sheds to accelerate growth dotting the landscape.
COAL MINING: In the late 1980s, open cast mining operations on the northern edge of the village exposed “bell pits”, a primitive form of mining going back to medieval times from the 18 mines in the Wrenthorpe area. Even after these closed, large numbers of men from the village were colliers working at Lofthouse and Roundwood (at Flushdyke, Ossett) up to the 1960s.
ROPE MAKING: As with the pottery industry, there is still evidence of this activity. Several houses built by owners of the rope works (known as rope walks) are still standing. A local footpath is still known as the “band walk”. Products ranged from twine to ropes used to tie up giant liners, and included at one point the hangman’s noose! The industry thrived from the beginning of the 19 the early 1960s.
TEXTILE MANUFACTURING: TEXTILE MANUFACTURING: Silcoates woollen mill operated from the end of the 18th century until 1906 under a variety of tenants,
spinning yarn and manufacturing broadcloth. The mill and associated cottages was demolished in 1930 and a stone wall down the side of the recreation ground is all that remains.
Today, there is little ‘industry’ in the village apart from Dearnley’s, furnishing contractors and Kingston Communications. The biggest employer is Silcoates School. Wrenthorpe has become a dormitory area with most residents working in Wakefield or Leeds.
There are three churches in Wrenthorpe. The Methodists were the first group to become established around the early 1800s and the first Chapel was built in 1875. St. Anne’s Parish Church was built in 1874, prior to which Wrenthorpe formed part of the parish of Wakefield. The Elim Pentecostal Mission, the church of the Four Square Gospel (Wrenthorpe Mission) was founded in 1928. Initially, meetings were held in the derelict Silcoates Mill. In 1933, the Mission took possession of the old Potovens National School building, which had been used by the St Anne’s Church since the closure of the School in 1879.
Today, Wrenthorpe is a typical modern residential area which has expanded substantially since the 1960s with large council and private estates covering green field areas and the infilling of small pockets of spare ground. During the 19 working- class housing made up of poor quality cottages and back-to-back terrace housing huddled closely together around the centre of the village in a haphazard manner. A few of the old terrace houses survive as do several of the more opulent residences of rope manufacturers, etc.
The two most significant buildings still standing are Melbourne House and Red Hall. The former is a large mansion built by the eccentric ‘Prophet Wroe’ that officially opened in 1857. It is now the offices of Kingston Communications. A controversial modern extension has been added to the original building. Wroe can probably lay claim to being Wrenthorpe’s most famous (or infamous) historical resident. Red Hall was built around 1610 and was the first large building in the Wakefield area to be built of red brick. Originally, it formed part of a much older building and is built on part of the site of a large Tudor mansion.
In March 1941, there occurred what was perhaps the most dramatic episode in the village’s existence when two land mines exploded close to Trough Well Lane. No one was injured but minor damage was caused to many buildings, particularly broken glass.
The last fifty years has been characterised by the demolition of many old buildings and the large scale building of modern housing. One positive development during this period has been the establishment of many community-based groups. These include the Community Association, Aged Welfare, Scouts, Playgroup (now Pre-school), Ladies Group (formerly WI) and more recently the Environmental Society.
For the first time in over 300 years, Wrenthorpe has a pottery kiln. Also known as Potovens, the village had a thriving pottery industry until the eighteenth century using local clay, coal and timber. But the industry could not compete with growing output from the Stoke area and now the only signs of it are to be found in museums and archaeological excavations. However when faced with the challenge of what to build as a village sign, the Wrenthorpe Environmental Society finally hit on the idea of a replica of a kiln.
The kiln is a scaled down version of an original and is inscribed with the date it was completed and the words ‘Wrenthorpe’ and ‘Potovens’. It was unveiled on 8th March 2004 by The Right Worshipful Mayor of the City of Wakefield, Councillor David Atkinson. The brickwork was designed and manufactured by Ibstock Brick Co. and built by specialist bricklayer, Matthew Fairly of Holmfirth. Financial support came from the Council’s Community Chest and from local residents who contribute a pound to have their name in a book which is now buried inside the kiln.
For many years there have been claims that Robin Hood was a native of Wakefield rather than Nottingham and these have been fired up again recently by the media, aided and abetted by local MPs. Our own local historian, the late Ronald Swinden J.P., researched the possibility that Robin lived in or near Wrenthorpe. Attached is a paper prepared by Ron in which he makes out a good case to believe that the folk hero was from this area.