PONTEFRACT: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1834.


"PONTEFRACT, is an ancient borough and market town, in the liberty of the honour and in the parish of its name, in the wapentake of Osgoldcross, West Riding, 173 miles from London, 47 n.e. from Manchester, 24 s. from York, 13 s.e. from Leeds, and 9 east from Wakefield. The town is seated on a beautiful eminence, a little below the confluence of the rivers Aire and Calder. Authors disagree greatly respecting the derivation of its name ; by some it is stated to have obtained the appellation ' Pomfret ' from Porho ferre, on account of its fertile soil ; Camden asserts that it was changed by the Romans to ' Pontefract,' while others affirm that its present name (or Pontfract) was acquired after the Conquest. This town is celebrated in the annals of historical events belonging to the county of York, from being the place in which King Richard 2nd was murdered or starved to death, and where the earls Rivers and Grey, Sir Thomas Vaughan and Sir Richard Hawse were, by the machinations of the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard 3rd, basely murdered, in order to render his title to the British throne more substantially secure. The scene of this bloodshed was the celebrated castle of Pontefract, which was built about the year 1078 or 1080 ; it was situated on an elevated rock, commanding extensive views of the surrounding scenery, and affording to the town, from its strength, every protection during the time of the civil wars. This immense castle occupied a space of more than six acres, and was considered the largest in England -- few remains of it are now to be seen. Pontefract was a burgh in the time of Edward the Confessor, from which period it has sent two members to parliament. The menbers returned to the first reformed parliament, in 1832, were, the Hon. Henry Valentine Stafford Jerningham and John Gully, Esq. The new Boundary Act (an appendage to the Reform Bill) defines the limits of the borough to comprise the old borough and township of Pontefract, and the extra parochial space called the Pontefract Park district, the Castle precincts, and also the several townships of Tanshelf, Monkhill, Knottingley, Ferrybridge, and Carleton. The government of the town is in the body corporate, consisting of a mayor, recorder and twelve aldermen (all of whom are in the commission of the peace) with a common council, consisting of twenty four burgesses. The quarter sessions for the borough are held in the court house of the town hall, a handsome modern building, erected at the joint expense of the corporation and the riding ; in this building is the savings' bank, and also the rotation office, where the magistrates hold their weekly sittings for the despatch of magisterial business of the borough. At the top of the Beast market is a stately court house, erected a few years since by the riding ; in this building the principal general sessions of the peace, for the West Riding, are held annually in Easter week.

The parish church, dedicated to St. Giles, is of high antiquity, being known as early as the reign of Henry 1st, in the charter of Hugh Delaval ; it is small and with few exterior beauties, but the interior yields to none in neatness ; the living is a vicarage in the patronage of the king. Besides the church, the other places of worship are a chapel each belonging to the methodists, calvinists, Roman catholics and the society of friends. There are various charity hospitals, a charity school, founded by the Earl of Strafford in 1695, and national and infants' schools. The free grammar school was founded and endowed in the 2nd year of the reign of Edward 6th, and the endowment augmented in the reign of Elizabeth : having fallen into decay, it was refounded in the 32nd of George 3rd, upon petition of the inhabitants. The places of amusement here are the assembly room in the town hall, a neat theatre, and an excellent race ground, about a mile from the town, where races take place annually in September, and are most respectably and numerously attended. Pontefract never has been noted as a manufacturing town, but it possesses an excellent local trade, that is much advanced by the highly respectable neighbourhood, which is studded with many fine seats of nobles, and numerous mansions of opulent individuals. The making of malt is carried on rather extensively ; the corn trade is of some consequence, and there is a considerable iron and brass foundry. The vicinage of the town is famed for its gardens and nurseries, which are very extensive, and great quantities of vegetables, &c. are carried hence for the supply of the Leeds, Wakefield and other markets. The healing root, liquorice, is also grown about here to a considerable extent. The well supplied market is held on Saturday, and the fairs on St. Andrew's day, the first Saturday in December, Saturday before February 2nd, Saturday after February 13th, Saturday before Palm Sunday, Low Sunday and Trinity Sunday, the Saturday after September 12th, and every Saturday after the York fortnight fairs. By the census for 1821 the entire parish of Pontefract contained 8,824 inhabitants, and in 1831, 9,254, of which last number 4,832 were returned for the borough and township. The population of Pontefract Park (extra parochial), at the last census was 51."

"KNOTTINGLEY, is a populous chapelry, in the parish of Pontefract, in the upper division of the wapentake of Osgoldcross, West Riding, 3 miles from Pontefract, 22 from York, 15 from Doncaster, and 17 from Goole. The village, which is situated on the banks of the river Aire, has long been noted for its great production of limestone. The places of worship are, a chapel of ease, dedicated to St. Botolph, and one each for Wesleyan methodists, independents, and Calvinists. The living of Knottingley is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the vicar of Pontefract : the present curate is the Rev. John Hodgkinson. A school in which 30 girls are instructed, is supported by bequests from Mrs. Banks and Mrs. Elizabeth Brown. The chapelry contained in 1831, 3,666 persons."

[Transcribed by Steve Garton ©2000 from
Pigot's directory (Yorkshire section) 1834]