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In 1203 William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey received a grant for a market in the town.In 1204 King John granted the rights for a fair at the feast of All Saints, 1 November, and in 1258 Henry III granted the right for fair on the feast of Saint John the Baptist, 24 June.In the Domesday Book of 1086, it was written Wachefeld and also as Wachefelt.Flint and stone tools and later bronze and iron implements have been found at Lee Moor and Lupset in the Wakefield area showing evidence of human activity since prehistoric times.Wakefield and its environs formed the caput of an extensive baronial holding by the Warennes that extended to Cheshire and Lancashire.The Warennes, and their feudal sublords, held the area until the 14th century, when it passed to their heirs.The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum was built at Stanley Royd, just outside the town on Aberford Road in 1816.During the 19th century, the Wakefield Asylum played a central role in the development of British psychiatry, with Henry Maudsley and James Crichton-Browne amongst its medical staff. The old House of Correction of 1595 was rebuilt as Wakefield Prison in 1847.
In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed creating the Aire and Calder Navigation which provided the town with access to the North Sea.
An attack led by Sir Thomas Fairfax on captured the town for the Parliamentarians.
Over 1500 troops were taken prisoner along with the Royalist commander, Lieutenant-General Goring.
When cloth dealing declined, wool spinning mills using steam power were built by the river.
There was a glass works in Calder Vale Road, several breweries including Melbourne's and Beverley's Eagle Breweries, engineering works with strong links to the mining industry, soapworks and brickyards in Eastmoor, giving the town a diverse economy.
The first Registry of Deeds in the country opened in 1704 and in 1765 Wakefield's cattle market was established and became the one of largest in the north of England.