Heath, also known as Heath Common, is an old estate village located about 2 mi southeast of Wakefield. It is one of the most unusual places in West Yorkshire – surrounded by derelict industrial areas, it has almost not changed since the Georgian era and it still has a special stately atmosphere.
Heath is built on a hill above river Calder. It is possible to reach it by foot from Wakefield, by taking the path along the river from Chantry Bridge. Heath is otherwise served by buses 188 (Wakefield-Knottingley).
Heath is the perfect old English village. There are just a few houses, which are not even grouped around a street, but scattered around a very large green. There is no church, but a very old pub, The King’s Arms, which dates from the 17th century. The interior is fabulous, with old wooden panels salvaged from demolished houses in the area. There are several cosy rooms each with a nice fireplace and still lighten with gas lamps.
Around the green, there are three grand houses, which are all private and not open to visitors. The largest one is Heath Hall, built by John Carr in 1754. It was the home of the Smyth family, owner of the estate. To the right is the Dower House, which just like in Downton Abbey was lived in by the owners’ widows. It also dates from the 18th century. Left of Heath Hall is Heath House, a smaller house built in 1744 by John Paine. It was used by other family members, generally the elder sons before they inherited. The three houses are perfect examples of the Neopalladian architecture and of the English estate as it was conceived in Georgian times.
Next to Heath House is the Priest’s House, a 16th or 17th century building. There is also a large gate, which used to lead to Old Heath Hall, which was the oldest stately home in the village. It predated the three others, and it was built in Elizabethan times. It was unfortunately demolished in the 1960s, because coal mining underneath had made it fragile. Behind, close to a field, still stands the Lady Bolles Water Tower which served the Old Hall.
Contrary to the large majority of the English villages, Heath never implemented enclosure, a process which divided commons into private plots. Enclosure was massively conduced throughout the country in the late 18th and 19th century, to improve yields and put an end to the medieval system of common land. Therefore, Heath has kept its medieval layout, with its large green and heathlands where locals grazed their livestock. The heathlands are still grazed by a few horses.