West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History


By JOHN O. E. HOLMES – 2004



Only Tanshelf is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. It was the first part of The Borough to have a charter allowing it to have a market. This right existed for many years and was certainly being leased off in the seventeenth century. Where the Market place was is uncertain, but evidence of a metal detector enthusiast indicates a certain site, well removed from the Town Centre, but the Author has been asked not to reveal it yet as it is farmland and still producing finds. There were several surveys of this Manor of which there are copies at the Public Records Office. The earliest is for 1342 (ref.E36), written in Latin and not easy to read, it does however show that at that time Tanshelf had three mills, one windmill and two water mills at Castleford.

There is a second survey (ref.DL42) again in Latin, but easier to read, which lists the extent of the Manor. First are listed the free tenants, then other tenants. Next come tenants of Tanshelf, including tenants in Carleton. Next come tenants in Hardwick. Various other types of tenant are listed, mention is made of a water mill at Castleford for Fulling, a windmill at Tanshelf and another water mill at Castleford. Mention is then made of land at Kippax belonging to the Manor. A better survey is that for 1650, of which there are at least two versions. At the end of the Civil War, Parliament wanted to send home their armies, but they had to be paid, and to this end it was decided to sell lands lately belonging to the King and also to Queen Henrietta. Tanshelf was Queen Henrietta’s. Commissioners were sent out to take surveys and then had their debt doubled in value. Tanshelf is listed as: The Copyhold rents of Tanshelf, Carleton, East Hardwick, one cottage in Wentbridge, a certain cottage in Featherstone, works of tenants in Methley, Houghton, Castleford. Also mentioned are forty acres in Kippax Ings which had been leased off in 1630 for 24 years. Next follows the description of various fields. The first being The Kings Closes between Penny Lane and Causey Lane (now Halfpenny Lane) which were until quite recently Duchy land at the West end of Wakefield Road. These were leased to Mr Frank, Mayor of Pontefract, who had various tenants. Next were listed the Courts Baron and Courts Leet of Tanshelf, next comes a more detailed description of the land in Kippax Ings. The whole was reckoned to be worth £127 17s 9d per annum. The first map found was probably made for the Duchy in 1610 by Robert Saxton. There is a survey to go with it, (PRO ref. MPC 65) but the map is very difficult to read, and the survey is difficult to tie with the fields, however, using the fact that the survey is in walking order it has proved possible to fix much of the ownership. The Author has copies of both map and survey.

A later map printed is one for 1790 again with a survey, which uses the same enclosure numbers as the 1800 enclosure map. The survey only lists some of the occupiers so it would seem that those who had enfranchised their land were omitted, as they were no longer under any obligation to the Duchy. There is a map of Tanshelf cum Carleton for the 1800 enclosure act, and the owners are listed by name. The Author has indexed by field number this map. Tanshelf is included in the Shipton’s Survey as is the park and Monkhill, and land in the North Field which was mainly in the ownership of R. P. Milnes, Esq. Here, duplicate field numbers are used, but fields are named. In 1875 Tanshelf, along with Monkhill and The Park area became part of Pontefract Borough. After this, all decisions were taken by Pontefract Borough Council. Copyhold land in general was abolished in 1922, although some rights did live on for the former Lords of the Manor. Tanshelf had a charter in 1256 (before that of Pontefract) which gave the right to hold a market. This right was leased off about 1652, but has now disappeared.


Monkhill manor was quite small, mainly the old Monastic Lands, but its rights extended over a much larger area. A few scraps of the Court Rolls (or copies) are among the Frank papers at Sheffield. So far the author has only been able to get photocopies. These show that the rights extended as far as Barnby Dun.

The Priory of St. John was in the field off Knottingley Road. It was founded in 1090 and suppressed in 1539. Later there remained a barn in the middle of the field which was mentioned during the Civil War. This was probably a new building since it would have been approximately in the church area.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Vince Bellamy organised an excavation of the site and a report was published in 1965 by the Thoresby Society, Vol. XLIX, No. 110. Further digging took place after this. Suffice to say that a good ground plan was produced along with many artefacts, etc. There was even evidence found of bell casting on the site. Some artefacts are with Pontefract Museum.

As it was impossible to finance it being left open all was grassed over and reverted to the Playing Field intended by Mr. Robinson who gave the field to the Borough.

Graves were found when a Malt Kiln was built at the North East corner of the field and more were found when this was demolished and houses built on its site.

Next to the Priory, using the stream, was a small water mill which stood until quite recently although not in use as a mill.


Carleton was not taken into Pontefract when Tanshelf was and remained a separate organisation. It became a parish in December 1894, and the last meeting was on 23rd March 1937. The Parish Minute Book still survives and has some 207 pages recording meetings which took place each quarter and usually took one page of typescript to record.

There was a Parish Poor House opposite the Green, but this was sold off and demolished when the new Union Poor Law Institution was opened in Pontefract.


Pontefract had some 761 enclosures, Tanshelf had 125 and Carleton 123. The survey of Pontefract Park in the Harewood Papers at Leeds (Harewood Papers no 44) gives 80 enclosures, as well as three leased enclosures not numbered. The Survey of the Park is in manuscript, but the Author has transcribed it and added a field index, which together with its own map tells what was the use of each field at the time of the survey.

Tanshelf Manor never had a resident Lord so there was never any need for a Manor House with the usual Barns, etc. in which to store the Lord’s produce. There was Tanshelf Court in what became Front Street, but this was in the ownership of the Warde family until quite recently. The Tanshelf Pinfold was on the West side of Mill Hill, sometimes referred to as Toll Hill, and was absorbed by The Priory Estate in the eighteenth century by Radcliffe Medley. The Pinfold for the Park was in the area now used for storing Market Stalls to the East of Park Road. Pontefract’s Pinfold was at the bottom of Gillygate and is now part of the site of The Turk’s Head Public House.

There were stocks in the Market Place and also on Beech Hill to the East of the Castle. These latter are marked on a map made by John Fox, the printer for his own manuscript books on the history of the town, three of which are in the Library, but the maps are in private ownership.

In the early days there was little administration. The Pontefract Corporation bought the right to make their own decisions and paid the annual Fee Farm Rents for the privilege. They collected what they could from other sources, but the Mayor often had to make good any shortfall until it was found. In the remainder of the area, the Park was virtually without people so decisions were made by the Duchy. In Monkhill and Tanshelf there were Manor Courts held but it is uncertain where these were held. In the last years of its existence the steward was Mr. Arundel, the Solicitor, so it is likely the courts would be held, either in his office, or perhaps in a room at the Court House or Town Hall. In the survey of 1652 there is mention of a house at the gift of the Lord, together with one acre of land, and it may well have been what is now known as the Priory. The building is substantial and was alongside the Pinfold and at one of the nearest points to the Town. What better place? A commission of 1800 found that at a place called Gibby Dike, land had been enclosed. This was what is now The Robin Hood, and the 1849 OS map shows that at that time, the road was wider and the stream was open. There was an open triangle of land at the junction, what better place to have the town gibbet where wrongdoers could hang as a warning to those entering the town. There was also a well at the same point called Milner Well. This was previously towards the crest of Mill Hill on its Western side, but was probably moved to widen the road. There is still a manhole with water where it was previously open.

The Poor of the town were looked after by the Church Vestry meeting, of which there still exist the minute books. Much of the time of the vestry meeting was spent giving out relief to the poor and sick, but other items also came under their jurisdiction. They could levy a rate which had to be approved by two Magistrates. There do not appear to have been elections, merely a case of turning up, but the same people appear each time.

At one time there were street Commissioners. These were usually the largest Ratepayers, and they looked after maintenance of the streets and the little cleansing there was done. They also looked after the Water Supply. Eventually their powers were taken over by the Borough Council.

In Tanshelf and Monkhill, administration was by the Manor Court and what few records survive show that the Manor was not confined to the present boundaries, but that there were bits of land in all directions which came under the Manor Courts. There would appear to have been little for them to do other than settle minor disputes over failure to cut hedges or cleanse ditches. Much space is taken up by the simple transfer of land when the tenant wished to sell or bequeath his land. A few sheets of the Tanshelf Court Rolls turned up and are at Wakefield Archives. At Sheffield Archives the Frank Papers contain many admittances where two upright tenants had to take the new owner to the court to make his plea when he was duly admitted. Latin is usually used, but takes a standard form so can often be easily translated. Occasionally tenants would try and do without the Manor Court, and then the land was taken from them and at the next court it would be asked if there were any other claimant. There was of course no other claimant, so eventually the new owner was admitted and had to pay the usual fine.

Tanshelf, Monkhill and The Park had no Church after the demolition of St. John’s Priory so there was never any need for Church administration. Pontefract had first All Saints, then, after the Civil war St. Giles became the town’s Church, although not officially until a hundred years or so after All Saint’s was ruined. The Parish also included Knottingley, which did not please those in Knottingley. Eventually the Parishoners at Knottingley refused to pay and went their own way. The Pontefract Parish Registers do include many Knottingley people.

The Pontefract Corporation also had a right to levy tolls on boats on the River Aire which they made use of. They also had the Gatelaw Tolls which allowed them to charge those not living in the town for using the roads. These were let out to the highest bidder, as were various other tolls on Wool, Hemp, etc.

Pontefract had a Town’s Bakehouse and this was let out for the use of the townsfolk, but it is not clear how it was paid for. Pontefract’s Windmill was on the top of the hill on what is now Mill Hill Lane. It was a wooden structure and was in need of constant repair so never produced much rent. When it burned down in 1844 the Corporation collected the insurance and sold off the site.


No history of Pontefract would be complete without mention of some, at least, of the buildings. The castle is well documented, as is All Saints’ Church. Suffice to say that the double spiral staircase in All Saints’ is reputed to be one of only two in England (the other is at Tamworth). St. Giles’s Church, like so many, evolved from a small chapel of ease. The tower is the most prominent feature, built 1792 it is a landmark for miles around.

Near St. Giles is the Buttercross, so called as it was to shelter the farmers’ wives who came and sold their butter. It was built 1734 and re-roofed in 1763 when a balustrade at eaves level was removed. It was considerably renovated in 1999. Stainless steel ties were inserted into the walls to hold it all together.

Alongside the Buttercross is the Town’s pump. Water flowed from a spring in Wakefield Road via a lead conduit to tanks under the Market Place, which are still there. The pump lifted it up for use by the inhabitants. It was not until 1844 that a well at Halfpenny Lane was sunk and piped water began to be supplied.

In 1858 the Council decided to build a Market Hall. This was to bring under cover the butchers who used stalls in the streets. The original tender was £2857 19s 0d. During the building, Galleries were added for the sale of poultry and eggs. The opening was in 1860 by Lord Palmerston (who happened to be in the area). It was never very satisfactory owing to the heat of the gas lamps needed to illuminate the interior. In 1936 it was decided to extend the hall, but it was not until 1957 that all but the frontage was demolished and a new hall built. At that time the upper pediment was removed. This has recently (1998) been replaced during the town refurbishment.

The Town Hall is the third on the same site. It was built 1785. It has had various alterations and the Assembly Rooms behind were added in late Victorian times, providing offices for Town Officials, until the building of the Municipal Offices in 1932 made them spare. The balcony was added in 1853 at a cost of £26 16s 3d.

The front of The Red Lion was designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s for the Winn family, who still have the original plans. The buildings to the rear are older.

Barclays Bank and the building formerly Granada Television, at 17 Cornmarket were designed by James Paine - (17 Cornmarket 1745-50 and Barclays 1750-55). Paine lived in Pontefract 1745-46.

Another interesting building is Ropergate Terrace, no 29 and the houses following. There is on the rainwater hopper the date 1806. The interiors have all been very much altered (the last in the row burnt down and was re-built as a single storey shop) but the other exteriors remain almost as original.

The former houses 3, 5, 7 and 9 Halfpenny Lane were built about 1780 and still have original features on the exterior.

In the Market Place the building now The Gold House and Dorothy Perkins is a timber framed building, again very much altered, it formerly fronted other timber framed buildings which were cleared for modernisation.

The Malt Shovel has cellars reputed to go back at least to the 14th century, but above this the building has been very much altered, if not rebuilt.

Next door to the Malt Shovel, the block facing Cornmarket is possibly 16th century with an 18th century wing to the rear. The main building, built in stone was probably re-roofed at the time the extension was added. Also behind this building is The Counting House. For many years this was a store, then part was made into two cottages. For many years it was empty and semi-derelict, until in recent years it has been converted into a Public House using much secondhand and ancient material, without replacing many of the alterations made over the years.

The museum was built in 1904 as a public Library with the aid of a grant from Andrew Carnegie in the Art Nouveau style. It was converted to a museum when the present library was built, and opened in 1978.

©John O.E. Holmes, 2004


Other studies by John Holmes

Pontefract Elections
Pontefract Mill Hill Sand Tunnels
Pontefract and its Manors Part Two - The New Hall


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