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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.
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.
Great quantities of barley were grown in the neighbourhood and in 1885 more malt was made in Wakefield "than in any district of equal extent in the kingdom".