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Coordinates: 53°41′17″N 1°18′36″W / 53.688°N 1.310°W / 53.688; -1.310

Pontefract Old Town Hall.jpg
The Old Town Hall
Pontefract is located in West Yorkshire

 Pontefract shown within West Yorkshire
Population 28,250 
OS grid reference SE455215
Metropolitan borough City of Wakefield
Metropolitan county West Yorkshire
Region Yorkshire and the Humber
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district WF8
Dialling code 01977
Police West Yorkshire
Fire West Yorkshire
Ambulance Yorkshire
EU Parliament Yorkshire and the Humber
UK Parliament Pontefract and Castleford
List of places: UK • England • Yorkshire

Pontefract is an old, medieval town in West Yorkshire, England, near the A1 (or Great North Road), the M62 motorway, and Castleford. It is one of the five towns in the metropolitan borough of the City of Wakefield and has a population of 28,250.[1] Pontefract's motto is Post mortem patris pro filio, Latin for "After the death of the father, support the son", a reference to English Civil War Royalist sympathies.



Pontefract is well known for its historical market place, and most importantly, its medieval castle which was built in the Norman Conquest era. Pomfret castle was originally manufactured from wood, but was later rebuilt in stone over time. The state of the decident castle holds the civil war responsible, in which the parliamentarians gave heavy cannoning upon the castle. The Sandle administration is the main culprit for this. However, in the late 19th century, the locals in pontefract decided that certain areas of the castle be demolished due to unknown reasons. Local tradition asserts that Pontefract's name originates in the Latin Pontus Fractus, "Broken Bridge" Another theory is that it is derived from "Pont" meaning bridge in both Latin and late British and the late British name for York, Efroc, Thus "York Bridge". The town is situated on an old Roman road (now the A639), described as the "Roman Ridge", which passes south towards Doncaster. The area which is now the town market place was the original meeting place of the Osgoldcross wapentake.[2] Although Pontefract itself does not appear in the 1086 Domesday Book, an area of the town, known as Tanshelf (Tateshale), does.

There are the remains of an Anglo-Saxon church and cemetery at The Booths, near the castle. The oldest grave found dates from around 690. The church is likely to be the one mentioned in the DB records for Tanshelf / Tateshale.

Pontefract Castle dates from Norman times, when it was known as Pomfret. It was built, about 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy. King Richard II was supposedly murdered within the castle walls in 1400. William Shakespeare's play Richard III mentions this incident:

Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the second here was hack'd to death;
And, for more slander to thy dismal seat,
We give thee up our guiltless blood to drink.[3]
Pontefract Castle in the early 17th century

Pontefract suffered throughout the English Civil War. The castle was noted by Oliver Cromwell as "[...] one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom." However, three sieges by the Parliamentarians left the town impoverished and depopulated. After the end of the Third Siege (24 March, 1649), Pontefract inhabitants, fearing a fourth, petitioned Parliament for the castle to be demolished. In their view, the castle was a magnet for trouble. On 5 April, 1649, demolition began; although efforts were extensive, the crumbling sandstone ruins of the castle remain today and may be visited.

Pontefract was the site of Pontefract Priory. This Cluniac priory was founded in 1090 by Robert de Lacy, and dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. It was dissolved by royal authority in 1539. The abbey maintained the Chartularies of St. John, a collection of historic documents later discovered by Thomas Levett, High Sheriff of Rutland and Yorkshire native, among family papers. Levett gave the chartulary to renowned Yorkshire man Roger Dodsworth.[4] The chartulary was later published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, giving scholars a rare glimpse into life in medieval Yorkshire.[3]

In 2007, a suspected extension of Ferrybridge Henge—a Neolithic henge—was discovered near Pontefract during a survey of the area in preparation for the construction of a row of houses. Once the survey was complete, the construction continued.[5]

Pontefract today

Market Place
Council flats in Pontefract

Pontefract has been a market town since, at least, the Middle Ages; the main market days are Wednesday and Saturday, with a smaller market on Fridays. There is also a covered market, which is open all week, except Thursday afternoons and Sundays. Thursday afternoon is half-day closing in Pontefract. The town is called Ponte/Ponty by its citizens and sometimes jokingly referred to as Ponte Carlo, in reference to Monte Carlo. This theme is continued in the affectionate name for a local development of bars in the xscape complex, Glasshoughton between Pontefract and Castleford, referred to locally as 'Cas Vegas'. The local Member of Parliament is Labour MP Yvette Cooper, for Pontefract and Castleford. In her maiden speech, the MP said of the town: 'The House must not misunderstand me. It is true that my constituency is plagued by unemployment, but I represent hard-working people who are proud of their strong communities and who have fought hard across generations to defend them. They are proud of their socialist traditions, and have fought for a better future for their children and their grandchildren. In the Middle Ages, that early egalitarian, the real Robin Hood, lived, so we maintain, in the Vale of Wentbridge to the south of Pontefract. It was a great base from which to hassle the travelling fat cats on the Great North Road.'

Pontefract's deep, sandy soil makes it one of the few British places in which liquorice can be successfully grown. The town has a liquorice-sweet industry; and the famous Pontefract Cakes are still produced, though the liquorice plant itself is no longer grown there. The town's two liquorice factories are owned by Haribo (formerly known as Dunhills) and Monkhill Confectionery (part of the Cadbury's Group - formerly known as Wilkinson's), respectively. A Liquorice Festival is held each year. Poet laureate Sir John Betjeman wrote a poem entitled "The Licorice Fields at Pontefract".

Close by is the large, coal-fired power station at Ferrybridge. There are Tesco and Morrisons supermarkets, and most recently Asda, which changed hands from Kwik Save. The schools in the town are Carleton Community High School, in Carleton, and The King's School, on Mill Hill Lane; both are comprehensive schools, for ages 11–16.

Pontefract is locally renowned for its numerous pubs. One of the oldest buildings, dating from the 16th century and previously used as a shop, was turned into a pub in the 1990s, called the Counting House.

Pontefract General Infirmary is a large general hospital, beneath which is an old hermitage, open to the public on certain days. It is the first place at which infamous serial killer Harold Shipman began to murder his elderly patients. The hospital is currently being rebuilt and will reopen in 2010. Pontefract Museum, from which the hermitage schedule can be obtained, is in the town centre, housed in the former library. There is now a modern library building. Unlike many towns of its size, Pontefract has three railway stations: Pontefract Baghill, on the Dearne Valley Line, which connects York and Sheffield; and Pontefract Monkhill and Pontefract Tanshelf, which connect with Leeds and Wakefield.

Pontefract has a park with a racecourse on the outskirts of town. Pontefract Racecourse is the longest continuous circuit in Europe at 2 miles and 125 yards.[6] It stages flat racing between the end of March and the end of October. Nearer to the town centre are the Valley Gardens, with a love garden, an aviary, and an avenue of cherry trees, which bloom in the spring. Although the trees continue to attract admiration, the gardens have become quite depleted and the aviary has been vandalised. Pontefract swimming pool is on Stuart Road.

Life in Pontefract was satirised by J. S. Fletcher in his book The Town of Crooked Ways, whose title is held to have been purposefully ambiguous, being a reference either to the medieval layout of the town, or to the behaviour of its inhabitants. More recently, Pontefract has seen its share of scandal, in the form of the Poulson affair, in the 1960s.

Pontefract is home to North-East-Wakefield College (more commonly known as NEW College), which has ranked in the top 25 colleges in the United Kingdom for the past few years. Pontefract is also home to All Saints Church, built over ruins of an original church, which was destroyed during the three Civil War sieges of Pontefract Castle; the church's bell tower staircase is the famous 'double helix'.

Pontefract has its own non league football club Pontefract Collieries F.C. who were founded in 1958 and play adjacent to the former Prince of Wales Colliery off Beechnut Lane. "Ponte Colls" play in the Northern Counties East Football League

Pontefract currently is part of the Pontefract and Castleford constituency and the Labour Party have a majority in this area in Westminster. However, in local politics there are Conservative Party councillors sitting on the local council.


The Liquorice Bush

Pontefract's local newspaper is the Pontefract and Castleford Express. Pontefract is known for its 'down-to-earth' nightlife, sporting one of the most concentrated numbers of public houses in the UK, with such venues as Big Fellas, The Counting House, The Elephant, The Green Dragon, The Tap and Barrel, The Malt Shovel and The Blackmoor Head (commonly known by locals as the "Blackie Moor"). Some of these pubs have had many different groups performing over time; The Ridings, Operation Moose, Jack's aTTic and Mother Of The Gold are a few groups that play Pontefract venues frequently.

One of the contestants on the current series of Paris Hilton's British Best Friend is from Pontefract.

Location grid

North: Castleford
West: Wakefield Pontefract East: Knottingley
South: Hemsworth

See also


External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PONTEFRACT (pronounced and sometimes written "Pomfret"), a market town and municipal and parliamentary borough in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, 21 m. S.S.W. from York, served by the Midland, North-Eastern and Lancashire & Yorkshire railways. Pop. (1891), 9702; (1901), 13,427. It is well situated, mainly on an eminence, near the junction of the Aire and the Calder. The most important of the antiquarian remains are the ruins of the famous castle situated on a rocky height, originally covering with its precincts an area of over 8 acres, and containing in all eight round towers. The remains are principally of Norman date, and an unusual feature of the stronghold is the existence of various subterranean chambers in the rock. Below the castle is All Saints church, which suffered severely during the siege of the castle, but still retains some work of the 12th century. In 1837 the tower and transepts were fitted for divine service. The church of St Giles, formerly a chapel of ease to All Saints, but made parochial in the 18th century, is'of Norman date, but most of the present structure is modern. The 17th-century spire was removed in 1707, and replaced by a square tower, which was rebuilt in 1797; the chancel was rebuilt in 1869. In Southgate is an ancient hermitage and oratory cut out of the solid rock, which dates from 1396. On St Thomas's Hill, where Thomas, earl of Lancaster, was beheaded in 1322, a chantry was erected in 1373, the site of which is now occupied by a windmill built of its stones. At Monkhill there are the remains of a Tudor building called the Old Hall, probably constructed out of the old priory of St John's. A grammar school of ancient foundation, renewed by Elizabeth and George III., occupies modern buildings. The town-hall was built at the close of the ,8th century on the site of one erected in 1656, which succeeded the old moot-hall dating from Saxon times. Among other buildings are the court house, the market hall, the assembly rooms (a handsome building adjoining the town-hall), and large barracks. The foundation of the principal almshouse, that of St Nicholas, dates from before the Conquest. Trinity Hospital was founded by Sir Robert Knolles (d. 1407), an eminent military commander in the French wars of Edward III. At Ackworth, in the neighbourhood, there is a large school of the Society of Friends or Quakers (1778), in the foundation of which Dr John Fothergill (1712-1780) was a prime mover. There are extensive gardens and nurseries in the neighbourhood of Pontefract, and liquorice is largely grown for the manufacture of the celebrated Pomfret cakes. The town possesses ironfoundries, sack and matting manufactories, tanneries, breweries, corn mills and brick and terra-cotta works. The parliamentary borough, falling within the Osgoldcross division of the county, returns one member (before 1885 the number was two). The town is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and 18 councillors. Area, 4078 acres.

The remains of a Roman camp have been discovered near Pontefract, but there is no trace of settlement in the town itself until after the Conquest. At the time of the Domesday Survey Tateshall (now Tanshelf, a suburb of the town) was the chief manor and contained 60 burgesses, while Kirkby, which afterwards became the borough of Pontefract, was one of its members. The change was probably owing to the fact that Ilbert de Lacy, to whom the Conqueror had granted the whole of the honour of Pontefract, founded a castle at Kirkby, on a site said to have been occupied by a fortification raised by Ailric, a Saxon thane. Several reasons are given for the change of name but none is at all satisfactory. One account says that it was caused by a broken bridge which delayed the Conqueror's advance to the north, but this is known to have been at Ferrybridge, three miles away; a second says that the new name was derived from a Norman town called Pontfrete, which, however, never existed; and a third that it was caused by the breaking of a bridge in 1153 on the arrival of the archbishop of York, St William,. when several people were miraculously preserved from drowning, although the town was already known as Pontefract in 1140 when Archbishop Thurstan died there. The manor remained in the Lacy family until it passed by marriage to Thomas, duke of Lancaster, who was beheaded on a hill outside the town after the battle of Boroughbridge. His estates were restored to his brother Henry, earl of Lancaster, on the accession of Edward III., and the manor has since then formed part of the duchy of Lancaster. The town took part in most of the rebellions in the north of England, and in 1399 Richard II. was imprisoned and secretly murdered in the castle. During the Wars of the Roses the town was loyal to Henry VI., and several of the Yorkist leaders were executed here after the battle of Wakefield. It was taken by Robert Aske, leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, in 1536. In 1642 the castle was garrisoned for Charles I. and sustained four sieges, the second, in 1644, being successful, but two years later it was retaken by the royalists, who held it until after the execution of the king, when they surrendered to General Lambert and the castle was destroyed.

Roger de Lacy in 1194 granted a charter to the burgesses confirming their liberties and right to be a free borough at a fee-farm of 12d. yearly for every toft, granting them the same privileges as the burgesses of Grimsby, and that their reeve should be chosen annually by the lord of the manor at his court leet, preference being given to the burgesses if they would pay as much as others for the office. Henry de Lacy cofirmed this charter in 1278 and in 1484 Richard III. incorporated the town under the title of mayor and burgesses and granted a gild merchant with a hanse. His charter was withdrawn on the accession of Henry VII. and a similar one was granted, while in 1489 the king gave the burgesses licence to continue choosing a mayor as they had done in the time of Richard III. In1606-1607James I. confirmed the charter of Henry VII. and regulated the choice of the mayor by providing that he should be elected from among the chief burgesses by the burgesses themselves. The privilege of returning two members to parliament which had belonged to Pontefract at the end of the 13th century was revived in1620-1621on the grounds that the charter of1606-1607had restored all their privileges to the burgesses. Since the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885 one member only has been returned. Liquorice was largely grown as early as 1700-1701, when the corporation prohibited the sale of buds or sets of the plant. Richard III. by his incorporation charter granted the market rights in the borough to the burgesses, who still hold them under his charter.

See Victoria County History: Yorkshire; Eighth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1870-1897); Book of Entries of the Pontefract Corporation, 1653-1726 (ed. by Richard Holmes, 1882); Benjamin Boothroyd, The History of the Ancient Borough of Pontefract (1807); George Fox, The History of Pontefract (1827).

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