New blue plaque to be unveiled on Heritage Open Day

A blue plaque to commemorate the lives of two 19th century women who campaigned to end slavery will be unveiled in September in Wakefield.

Elizabeth Dawson and Sarah Parker Remond will be officially recognised for their deeds and actions that changed the course of Wakefield’s political history with their work on anti-slavery.

The blue plaque will be unveiled on Sunday 12 September at Unity Works, as part of a weekend of activities to promote an interest in the Wakefield Upper Westgate High Street Heritage Action Zone, a project jointly funded by Wakefield Council and Historic England.

The weekend event has been arranged as part of the national Heritage Open Days programme which runs from Friday 10 September to Sunday 19 September and which encourages people to explore their local heritage. A number of events have been organised across the district, including guided walks, exhibitions and property openings. Find out more at https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk.

The Unity Works weekend aims to share information about the Westgate area of the city and the Heritage Action Zone. There will be opportunities to visit and take part in workshops in the Unity Works building (Unity Hall) to learn more about the project and the history of the street, its buildings and the people who lived, worked and met there. The event will be open from 10am to 4pm on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 September, with the blue plaque being unveiled on Sunday afternoon.

Elizabeth Dawson and Sarah Parker Remond are ​two of three women whose achievements are being highlighted in a project backed by Wakefield Council, Historic England ​and The Arts Council – the other being Ann Hurst who was awarded her blue plaque as part of a series of International Women’s Day events in 2021.

The ‘Am I Not A Woman And A Sister’ project, is part of the Visionary Westgate Women and Forgotten Women of Wakefield campaign, spearheaded by Dream Time Creative, ​ which sets out to achieve blue plaque parity in Wakefield by 2028 – by researching notable local women and awarding blue plaques inscribed with their names – to be placed on buildings to which they have a connection.

Elizabeth Dawson was the secretary of Wakefield’s first ladies’ anti-slavery society in 1857. They were responsible for educating the public, inviting prominent speakers and galvanising action and raising funds and awareness of the horrors of slavery.

She went onto become a prominent member and secretary of the 1860 Wakefield Anti-Slavery Association, one of the first mixed gendered anti-slavery associations in Great Britain. 

Sarah Parker Remond was an African American slavery abolitionist, lecturer and physician. Her anti-slavery campaign, which she began at just 16-years-old, took her across America and on to Britain and Europe where she tirelessly condemned the atrocities happening in her country.

Michael Graham smiling
Cllr Michael Graham

She was invited to speak in Wakefield on her 1859 -1860 lecture tour of England and Ireland on the evils of slavery. The talk took place at the former Corn Exchange in Wakefield city centre, where the building housing Sports Direct now stands. The people of Wakefield were so impressed, they decided to set up an Anti-Slavery Association and Elizabeth Dawson became the secretary.

Cllr Michael Graham, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport at Wakefield Council, said: “It is great to see that, thanks to this research, Elizabeth and Sarah’s stories have been recognised and it means their places in the history of our district will be much more widely known from now on and in the years to come.

“It is right that these incredible women who contributed so much to the district’s history, are being honoured to reflect the huge contributions they made to society.”

Sarah Cobham, Director of Dream Time Creative, said: “Working with different partners across this project has opened so many opportunities to learn about our fascinating streets and the women who lived here which, in turn continues to offer further, tantalising glimpses into even more Visionary Women within the Westgate area. Having Elizabeth Dawson and Sarah Parker Remond honoured by a blue plaque brings us one step closer to blue plaque parity, which is central to the historic and cultural vision of Dream Time Creative and is why we are delighted to be curating this weekend in order to celebrate the hard work and creative input of all partners involved.”

Kevin Trickett, President of Wakefield Civic Society, said: “This is going to be another fascinating opportunity to find out more about Wakefield’s history. The blue plaque unveiling, which has been organised by Dream Time Creative and Wakefield Civic Society, is part of an ongoing initiative to recognise the important part women have played in that history. So often, their stories have been forgotten or overlooked but the Forgotten Women of Wakefield project aims to address that and to bring the number of blue plaques we have in place to women to equal the number we have in place for men.”

Nicky Brown, Heritage at Risk Projects Officer, Historic England, said: “I am really pleased that Historic England has been able to fund this research project through the Wakefield Upper Westgate High Street Heritage Action Zone. Elizabeth Dawson and Sarah Parker Remond made a valuable contribution to the anti-slavery movement so it is fitting that they are honoured and remembered.”

Darren Byford smiling
Cllr Darren Byford

Cllr Darren Byford, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and Regeneration at Wakefield Council, said: “We are very proud of all aspects of this project to ensure the exceptional Georgian and Victorian buildings of historic interest are protected for future generations to enjoy.

“Our aim is to help revitalise this historic Westgate area, attract new investment and encourage people to work, live and visit the area. The investment will support our wider economic plan for this part of the city centre – supporting the area to thrive and grow.”

As well as attending the blue plaque unveiling, there will be opportunities to take part in artist-run activities, including creative silk printing workshops, and hear from members of Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society who will present the results of their research into the history of the street and to see videos and pick up leaflets. Talks will also be given by a leading expert on building conservation and the use of traditional materials.

Find out about the workshops – and how to book places for specific parts of the weekend’s activities at https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/visionary-wakefield-women-the-westgate-heritage-action-zone1