PUBLISHED IN THE
500th MAYORAL YEAR, 1970
INTRODUCTION BY THE MAYOR
It gives me great pleasure to introduce this Brochure prepared in
commemoration of the 500th Mayoral Year.
In doing so, I should like to take the opportunity of thanking the members
of the Committee convened at the beginning of the year to co-ordinate
special events during the celebrations, and to all those members of the
various organisations, who contribute so much to the life of our town,
and who organised or took part in those events. I thank them all for
making this such a memorable year.
Pontefract is an ancient Borough, holding a distinguished place in the annals of
English history, the first Charter of Incorporation being granted by
Richard III in 1484.
This brochure is a pictorial glimpse into the history of the Borough, and
endeavours to encompass, in such a form, events and places which I hope
will be found both interesting and enlightening to the general reader.
It is impossible to include all facets of the life and times of
Pontefract but the brochure will, I am sure, jog the memories of the
elder citizens and encourage in the younger generation an interest in
the history of our town.
J. Blackburn, Mayor 1969-70
Little is known of the early origins of Pontefract. Prehistoric and Roman
remains have been discovered in the town, but the important development
came in the Norman and Medieval periods.
The first documentary evidence records a Saxon manor in the area of Tanshelf
c.625. Ethelburga, the wife of King Edwin of Northumbria, received
Taddenescylf, or Tateshale, as part of her dowry ; and it is known she
built a ‘court’ on the site now occupied by the South Yorkshire
Motors, between Halfpenny lane and Front Street.
The name Pontefract began to appear in the town’s charters and documents
in the first quarter of the 12th century and gradually came to replace
the Saxon name of Kirkby. Pontefract, the ‘Broken Bridge’, has
always created problems for the historian and no completely
incontrovertible explanation has been established for the absence of a
river, and the need for a bridge seems to contradict the etymology of
the name. It is now evident that there were two rivers, one to the north
and one to the south of the town, which were able to drive two water
mills. The rivers met at the eastern boundary at a point called the
Wash, which must have been a large tract of water, or marsh often
impassable in wet weather. It was at this place that the Great North
Road entered Pontefract and must have needed a bridge to cross this
water. Evidently it caused difficulties, because great efforts were made
to drain the area, but had to be abandoned in the latter half of the
thirteenth century. The old north road was diverted to Ferrybridge,
which later proved to be a disadvantage to Pontefract. The site of the
bridge is first mentioned in the reign of Edward II when John Bubwith
held a seventeenth part of a Knights fee ‘juxta veterem pontem de
Pomfret’, near to Bubwith House, Knottingley Road, farm. The will of
John Skipton, Alderman, dated July 1555, left six shillings and eight
pence for its repair, but by the time of Leland the bridge was in ruins.
Today a mere culvert takes its place.
The geographical position of Pontefract was ideal – on the main road to
the North, half way between London and Edinburgh, and conveniently
positioned on the east-west route. Development of the town was hampered
towards the east by the Wash, and only expansion westwards and
northwards was practicable. Urban Pontefract started in Tanshelf and
covered a broad area N.W. of the town and was much more extensive than
it is today. The area extended from the castle in the north and spread
southwards to Carleton.
Ailric, the Saxon lord, defended his town by means of an earthen mound
surmounted by a wooden tower. After the 1066 Conquest of England, Ilbert
de Lacy, the new Norman owner, transformed the wooden tower into a stone
donjon, and enlarged this fortress to defend the new town of Kirkby
which developed to the west of the castle. The Great Street, called
Micklegate, and later Horsefair, spread from the Castle and was
enveloped by Northgate and Walkergate, which joined Horsefair as Finkle
Street and Baxtergate. These followed the walls of the town and can be
clearly seen on the Jollage map dated 1742.
The thirteenth century extension had created an overspill outside the
Westgate of the old town, which became known as the New Market. This
extended from the top of Horsefair and radiated into the extra-mural
streets around the chapel of St. Giles. This town is one of the finest
examples of the Medieval development of a town centre still to be found
THE CHURCHES OF PONTEFRACT
Pontefract was aptly named KIRKBY because it was a significantly religious town,
containing an important Priory, Friaries, Collegiate Churches, Colleges,
Hospitals, an Anchoress and Hermit, in addition to the parish Church of
The Church of Tanshelf mentioned in the Domesday Survey, 1086, was in all
probability the Old Church, situated near the Castle, and was rebuilt
about 1361. Most of the building as it now stands can be dated from the
14th and 15th centuries.
An unusual feature is the blocked double staircase in the Tower ; the only
other British example being at Tamworth. The tower prior to the 14th
century rebuilding was surmounted by a coronet similar to the one on St.
Giles. It served to hold a basket of fire, which was used as a beacon to
guide travellers along the Old North Road and through Pontefract’s
The carvings which have recently been rebuilt into the nave exterior are
from the front erected at the re-opening. The Church was destroyed
during the Civil War, 1646-49, and the remains of the lantern fell down
in 1660, completely demolishing the carvings of the Saints and Apostles
which decorated the tower.
The town demanded that Parliament compensate them for their loss of the
Parish Church, and it was agreed that sums from the proceeds of the sale
of the materials of the Castle, should be used to rebuild the Church.
Through collections, £1,500 was raised for the repair of All Saints’ and the
money was entrusted to the safe keeping of Dr. Nathaniel Johnson who
promptly embezzled nearly all of it. He is reputed to have poisoned the
Vicar and was forced in to hiding in London to escape the irate
townsfolk of Pontefract. He later moved to the estate of the Earl of
Peterborough in order to plot the overthrow of the monarchy.
The chapel of St. Giles became the Parish Church in 1789, and it was not
until 1838 that the Old Church was partially repaired by Chantrell, also
architect for Leeds parish Church and others.
THE WATERLOO MONUMENT
Erected in September 1818, this column commemorated the Battle of Waterloo,
1815. It stood in the grounds, south of the town, of Edward Trueman, a
partner in the bank of Leatham, Tew and Co. (now Barclays).
Mayor of Pontefract, Trueman was reputed to have lost a son in the Battle and
to have been the main subscriber to provide the Monument. The urn at its
top - although stated to contain gold coins - was of solid local
stone, gilded, and later became a favourite target for irresponsible
marksmen. The urn fell off in a storm just before the demolition of the
Monument about 1946 to make way for the Council housing estate which
absorbed Monument Lane. The urn has recently been presented to the town
by Mr. Pease, whose family have long owned the land formerly held by Mr. Trueman, and it is to be preserved at the old people’s home at The
St. Giles, the Parish Church of Pontefract, dates from about 1100, and was
originally a small chapel called St. Mary de Foro, but gradually gained
importance due to the development of the town from the east to the west.
Its name was changed because of the association with the market of St.
Giles, which was outside its south door.
The chapel had a broach spire similar to the Church at Womersley, this was
replaced in April 1707 by a square tower built for £100 by Sir John
Bland, Mayor of Pontefract. This was replaced by the present one in
Pontefract had been an important clothing town before the Domesday Survey, but grew
into one of the most important market towns in Yorkshire.
Henry de lacy succeeded in obtaining the right to hold an eight-day fair
called St. Giles fair, from King Henry II when he visited the town in C.
1811. This was of great significance to Pontefract because it was the
only fair to be allowed in the County on that day. Some idea of the size
can be gained from the delivery of 2,000 head of cattle, with butter and
cheese, driven over the Pennines from Lancashire to Pontefract.
Wool was an important part of the economy of the town. The monks of St. John,
exported wool to the continent of Europe, and Pontefract was included in
the 13 wool merchants who represented England.
Tanshelf obtained the right to hold a fair in July 1258, and another in
Pontefract in 1294, until the number of fairs in Pontefract grew to
eleven. This compared most favourably with other Yorkshire towns, Leeds
2, Doncaster 2, Barnsley 3, Halifax 1, Sheffield 2, Wakefield 6. The
cloth fairs were strictly controlled and Pontefract was one of the
fifteen allowed to sell wool and cloth in Yorkshire.
The Poll Tax returns of 1377 reveal that Pontefract was the largest town in
the West Riding and that it had an abundance of cloth makers, tailors,
glovers and weavers.
The Star Inn was the most spacious inn in Pontefract, a coaching inn that
catered for the gentry of the town and stood on the site now occupied by
Boots Chemists and Rowlands Outfitters.
In 1738 the gentlemen of Pontefract challenged the gentlemen of Leeds to a
cock fight. Thirty-one fighting cocks were to fight for the sum of 5
guineas a battle and 50 guineas for the main bout.
In 1776, one John Nutt delivered his wife in halter to the Market Cross and
sold her to Mr. Ryder, Staymaker, for the sum of five shillings
"when all persons seemed perfectly satisfied." This practice
must have continued, for we learn that in 1815 regular wife sales were
held in the square, the bidding starting at one shilling until one lady
was sold for eleven shillings.
An Elizabethan Manor House built in 1591 by Lord Talbot ; Architect :
Robert Smythson. The builder, Edward Talbot, was accused in 1594 of
plotting to kill his brother Gilbert. It was alleged that Edward had
arranged for his physician, Wood, to poison the gloves of Gilbert in
order to allow Edward to gain the earldom. Wood was condemned to
imprisonment and the loss of his ears. Edward escaped punishment, but on
gaining the earldom in 1616 found that Gilbert had disposed of most of
the Talbot property.
The New Hall was probably not built under the supervision of Smythson but
was entrusted to a local builder, who did not follow the plans in
detail. It was an important house being the start of a new Architectural
development. The stone was obtained from the dismantled Priory of St.
John and carted by the townsfolk for the sum of £200.
It had a magnificent ballroom, 90 feet in length, decorated with moulded
Talbot dogs, plaster friezes and coves : State apartments and a grand
staircase six feet wide which is now at Harewood House.
The roof was removed in 1812 and the gatehouse and North Tower fell in a
gale on the 19th January 1828.
The place was partly demolished by 1961 and was finally brought down by
explosives after many attempts to destroy it by tractors and hawser in
Continued on page two...