PONTEFRACT: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1835.


"PONTEFRACT, a parish in the upper division of the wapentake of OSGOLDCROSS, West riding of the county of YORK, comprising the borough of Pontefract, which has a separate jurisdiction, the chapelry of Knottingly, and the townships of Carleton, East Hardwick, Monkhill, Arms. and Tanshelf, and containing 8824 inhabitants, of which number, 4447 are in the borough of Pontefract, 23 miles S.S.W. from York, and 177 N.N.W. from London. This place, which appears to have risen from the ruins of the ancient LegeoUum, a Roman station in the vicinity, now Castleford, was by the Saxons called Kirkby, and after the Conquest obtained the name of Pontfract, from the breaking of a bridge over the river Aire, while William, Archbishop of York, and son of the sister of King Stephen, was passing over it, attended by an immense crowd, who escorted him on his return from Rome. Though not itself a Roman station, it was probably a place of inferior'importance connected with Legeolium, as the Watling- street passed through the park, near the town, and vestiges of a Roman camp were distinctly traceable previously to the recent enclosure of "waste lands. During the time of the Saxons, to whom some historians attribute the building of the town, Alric, a Saxon chief, erected a castle here, which having been demolished, or suffered to fall into decay, was repaired, or more probably rebuilt, by Hildebert de Lacy, to whom, at the time of the Conquest, William granted the honour and manor of Pontefract. In the reign of Edward II., the castle being then in the possession of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had revolted against the king, on account of his partiality to Piers Gaveston, was besieged and taken; and the earl being soon after made prisoner, by Andrew de Hercla, at Boroughbridge, was brought to Ponitefract, where, being condemned by the king, he was beheaded, and several of the barons who had joined his party were hanged. Having been canonized, a chapel was erected on the spot of his decapitation, and, in honour of his memory, dedicated to St. Thomas. His descendant, the renowned John of Gaunt, retired to this castle in the reign of Richard II., and fortified it against the king, but a reconciliation taking place, through the medium of Joan, the king's mother, no further hostilities ensued. Henry de Bolirigbroke, Duke of Hereford, then an exile in France, exasperated by the king's attempt to depriye him of the duchy of Lancaster and honour of Pontefract, to which he had succeeded by the death of his father, and having received an invitation from some of the principal nobility, landed at Ravenspur in this county, and being' joined by the Lords Willoughby, Ross, D'Arcy, Beaumont, and other persons of distinction, with an army of sixty thousand men, a battle ensued, which terminated in the-deposition and imprisonment of the king, and the exaltation of the duke to the throne, by the title of Henry IV; Richard, after his deposition, was for some time coni fined in this castle, where he was inhumanly put to death. Henry frequently resided in it, where he held-a parliament, after the battle of Shrewsbury, and, in 1404,. signed the truce between England and Scotland. Scroop,- Archbishop of York, having raised an insurrection, in which he was joined by the Earl of Northumberland; for the dethronement of the king, was by treachery made prisoner, and being brought hither, where Henry at that time resided, was sentenced to death and executed. Queen Margaret, during the absence of the king in Scotland, resided in this castle, and was delivered of hen fifth son at Brotherton, in the immediate vicinity, having been taken ill while on a hunting excursion. After the battle of Agincourt, in the reign of Henry V., the Duke of Orleans and several French noblemen of the highest rank, whom that monarch had taken prisoners, were confined in the castle; and in the year following, the young king of Scotland, who had been taken prisoner-on his voyage to France, was confined here till the cqmmencement of the following reign. During the war between the houses of. York -and Lancaster, this castle was the prison of numerous noblemen, of whom several were put to death within its walls. Earl Rivers, -who had been kept a prisoner here by the Duke of Gloucester, whose designs he had mef-s fectually attempted to oppose, was put to death in the castle, together with Sir Richard Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan. In 1461, Edward IV., with an army of. forty thousand men, fixed his head-quarters here, whence-he marched against the Lancastrians; the two armies met atTowton, where the battle took place, and nearly, thirty-seven thousand men were left dead on the field; After the union of the houses of York and Lancaster in the person of Henry VII., that monarch visited the castle, in the second year of his reign; it was honoured also by a visit from Henry VIII., in 1540; from James I, in 1603 and 1617, on his progress to Scotland; and from Charles I., in 1625. In the rebellion called' the Pilgrimage of Grace, the castle was surrendered by Thomas, Lord D'Arcy, to the troops under the conir mand of Aske. At the commencement of the parlia-r mentary war, it was garrisoned for the king, and, in 1644, it was closely invested by Sir Thomas Fairfax, who had taken possession of the town, for the parliament. The royalists maintained a spirited defence under a heavy cannonade, which continued several days, and held out till the arrival of Sir Marmaduke Langdale, with a detachment of two thousand men, who after a severe conflict with the parliamentarians in Chequer field, in which he was assisted by sallies from the castle, at length obliged them to raise the siege. On the departure of Sir Marmaduke, the parliamentarians again obtained possession of the town, and throwing up intrenchments for a blockade, renewed their efforts to reduce the castle. The garrison under Governor Lowther fought with obstinate intrepidity, and did considerable execution by frequent sallies, but being in want of provisions, and, owing to the blockade of the town, unable to obtain supplies, they capitulated on honoutr able terms, and surrendered the castle" to the parliamentary forces. After it had been for a short time in their possession, it was retaken by Col. %MOTrice, and a small band of determined royalists, disguised as peasants carrying in provisions, who entered it without being suspected, and having a reinforcement at hand, secured Col. Cotterell, the governor, and his men in the dungeons, and kept possession of it till it was afterwards invested by Cromwell in person. The garrison, however, maintained their post, and it was not till after the execution of the king that they surrendered this fortress, which the parliament soon afterwards ordered to be dismantled, and the materials to be sold. Of this castle, so memorable for its connexion with the most interesting periods of English history, and which consisted of numerous massive towers, connected by walls of prodigious strength, and fortified by its situation on the summit of an isolated rock, only a small circular tower remains. The town is pleasantly situated on dry and elevated ground, near the confluence of the rivers Aire and Calder: the streets are spacious and clean: the houses, mostly of brick, are commodious and well built: the town is paved, and lighted with oil, under an act of parliament for its general improvement, and abundantly supplied with excellent water from springs. Two subscription reading rooms have been established. The theatre, a small neat building, erected by subscription, is opened at Easter, and at the time of the races. The races, which commence in the first week of September, and continue three days, are well attended, and are annually growing into repute; the course, which is in the park, is one of the finest in the country, and the rising ground on the south-west side affords a commanding view of the whole: a grand stand was built ,in 1802, and is well adapted to the -accommodation of the visitors. At a short distance from the town a neat monument was erected, in 1818, in commemoration of the battle of Waterloo. In the environs, which are pleasant, and abound with interesting and diversified scenery, are several noblemen's seats. The gardens and nursery grounds produce abundance of excellent fruit and vegetables for the supply of the neighbouring markets, and are famous for the superior quality of the liquorice, which is cultivated extensively;' and the making of it into cakes forms the only article of manufacture carried on to any extent. The town has an excellent local trade, arising from the populousness and respectability of the surrounding neighbourhood. The market, which is well supplied with corn and provisions of every kind, is on Saturday: the-market-place is a spacious area; in the centre of it was formerly a cross, dedicated to St. Oswald, around which, for a certain space, extended the privilege of freedom from arrest, which was for a considerable time kept unpaved, as a memorial of that right: the cross was removed in 1734, and a neat market-house, ornamented with pillars of the Doric order, erected in pursuance of the will of Mr. Solomon Dupier, by his widow. The fairs are, St. Andrew's, on the first Saturday in Decem- ber; the twenty days' fair, on the first Saturday after the twentieth from Christmas; Candlemas fair, on the first Saturday after the 13th of February; St. Giles,' on the first Saturday after the 12th of September; April 8th, and May 4th, for cattle and sheep, with the moveable fairs on the Saturdays preceding Palm-Sunday, Low Sunday, and Trinity Sunday: there are also fairs every fortnight, on the Saturday next after those of York. The Aire and Calder canal affords a conveyance by water from the ports of Hull and Goole, to Ferrybridge, from which place there is a direct land-carriage to Pontefract. The town, which had enjoyed various and extensive privileges under the charters of the lords of the honour and manor, was first incorporated by royal charter in the reign of Richard III., which was confirmed by James I., in the 4th year of his reign: the government is vested in a mayor and twelve aldermen, assisted by a re- corder, town clerk, and subordinate officers. The mayor is elected by ballot of the burgesses, from the body of aldermen, and appoints the recorder and town clerk, subject to approval by the king. The mayor and aldermen are justices of the peace within the borough, and hold quarter sessions in the town hall, where all the business of the corporation is transacted; a court of record for the borough, every three weeks, for the recovery of debts to any amount; and a court baron for the honour, of which the power was extended, in the 17th of George III., to the recovery of debts not exceeding & 5; the general quarter sessions for the West riding of the county are held here at Easter. The town hall is a neat building, erected at the joint expense of the county and the corporation; the lower part, surrounded by an open corridor, is used as a prison, and above is the hall, which is conveniently arranged for the borough courts, and occasionally used as an assembly-room: the front of the building is ornamented with pilasters of the Doric order, surmounted by a cornice. The court-house, erected at the expense of the county, is a handsome structure of freestone, in the Grecian style of architect ture, and of the Ionic order, and is in every respect adapted to the business of the county. The borough, exercised the elective franchise in the 23rd and 26th of Edward I., from which period it was discontinued till the privilege was revived by James L, in 1621, since which time it has regularly returned two members to parliament: the right of election is vested in the resident householders; the mayor is the returning officer. The living is a discharged vicarage, with the curacy of St. Giles', in the archdeaconry and diocese of York, rated in the king's books at & 13. 6. 8., endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £200 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the King, as Duke of Lancaster. The church, dedicated to All Saints, formerly the parish church, was nearly demolished in the parliamentary war, and is in ruins; and the church of St. Giles was, by an act of parliament passed in the 29th of George III, rendered parochial: it is a neat edifice, of which the old tower was taken down and rebuilt, in 1707. at the charge of Sir John Bland, of Kippax Park, Bart. The collegiate chapel, dedicated to St. Clement, within the pre cincts qf the castle, and the free chapel of St. Thomas, erected on the spot where the Earl of Lancaster was beheaded, have long since disappeared. There are places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, and Roman Catholics. The free grammar school was founded and end- owed in the second year of the reign of Edward VI., and the endowment was augmented in the reign of Elizabeth; but the institution having fallen into decay, was refounded, on petition of the inhabitants, in the 32nd Of George III., and is open to all boys of the town. An exhibition of £ 10 per annum, with rooms, and one of £5 per annum, to two scholars from this school, were founded in University College, Oxford, by John Frieston, of Altofts, who also founded two scholarships in Emanuel College, Cambridge, for boys from Normanton school, and in failure of such, for boys from the schools of Pontefract, Leeds, Rotherham, and Wakefield. There are fourteen boys on the foundation, who are nominated by the mayor, recorder, aldermen, and the vicar: the master and usher are appointed by the Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. A. charity school, which had an endowment of £95 per annum, including a share in Lady Elizabeth Hastings' charity, and was further supported by subscription, for the ciothing and instruction of children, of both sexes, has been incorporated with a National school, recently built, on an extensive scale, for children of both sexes; and there are Sunday schools in connexion with the established church and the dissenting congregations. The college and hospital of St. Nicholas was originally founded by an abbot of the monastery of St. Oswald, in the county of York, for a reader and thirteen poor persons, and endowed with an income of £23. 13. 4., payable out of the revenue of the duchy of Lancaster; it was vested in the corporation of the borough by James I., and was rebuilt, or materially repaired, by a legacy of & 100, bequeathed for that purpose by Mr. Thomas Sayle, of Pontefract: the endowment, by subsequent donations, has been increased to £36 per annum: the premises comprise two separate houses, with a common room to each, and separate lodging-rooms for thirteen aged persons, who receive one shilling each per week, with a supply of coal. Knolles, or the Trinity, almshouse, was founded in the reign of Richard II., by Sir Robert Knolles, and endowed with an annual sum, payable from the revenue of the duchy of Lancaster, the moiety of an estate in Whitechapel, London, devised, by Mr. John Mercer, and other property, producing an income of more- than £108 per annum; the premises comprise a large common room, and sixteen lodging-rooms for seven aged men and nine women, between whom the revenue of the hospital is divided in equal weekly payments. Perfect's hospital was built at the joint expense of the corporation and the town, and endowed by Mr. William Perfect with land, which, with other donations, produces ail income of £40 per annum; the premises comprise three separate dwellings, each for an aged man and his wife, who receive each five shillings per week. The Bede house, of which the origin is unknown, is maintained by the overseers, for the residence of the parish poor. Thwaite's hospital, comprising two cottages with gardens, was bequeathed for the residence of four aged unmarried women, by Mr. Richard Thwaites, in 1620; the inmates divide among them the rents of the gardens, producing, together with subsequent benefactions, about £7 per annum. Cowper's hospital was founded, in 1668, by Mr. Robert Cowper,who .bequeathed two cottages, which have been rebuilt at the expense of the parish, and contain a kitchen and four sleeping-rooms, for four aged widows, who receive twenty shillings each per annum, and the interest of £100, bequeathed to them by Mr. Matthew Swimrey, in 1765. Two hospitals, or almshouses, built respectively by Mr. Matthew and Mr. Robert Franks, in 1737 and containing each apartments for two aged widows have an endowment of £11. 10., and £17. 10., per an* num, which sums are divided among them, in equal shares weekly. Watkinson's hospital was founded in 1765, by Edward Watkinson, M.D., who endowed it with personal estates producing £87. 14. 6.: the premises contain apartments for four aged men and four aged women, from the parishes of Pontefract and Ackworth, among whom the income, after paying the necessary repairs, is equally divided. George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, gave in trust to the mayor and corporation £200 per annum, to be distributed in loans to poor tradesmen; and there are numerous charitable bequests for distribution among the poor. Among the numerous monastic institutions formerly existing here, was a Cluniac priory, founded in the reign of William Rufus, by Robert de Lacy, and dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the revenue of which, at the dissolution, was £472. 16. 1.: there are not any remains. During the erection of this priory, the monks inhabited a building which afterwards became the hospital of St. Nicholas., before noticed. A convent of Carmelites was founded, hi 1257, by Edmund Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, of -which not even the site can be traced. A convent of Dominican, or Black friars, was founded, in 1266, by Symon Pyper, in a place now called Friar-Wood, which at. the dissolution consisted of a prior, seven brethren, and a novice. There was also an hospital for Lazars, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, of uncertain foundation, to which, in 1286, Archbishop Romain was a benefactor; the site is supposed to be occupied by Frank's hospital; and an hospital for a chaplain and eight poor brethren was founded, in the reign of Edward III., by William la Tabourere, which is supposed to be identified with the Bede-house. On the 25th of March, 1822, as two labourers were trenching the land for liquorice, in a field, called Paper Mill Field, near St. Thomas' Hill, one of them struck his spade against a stone coffin, which weighed about a ton and a half, and, on examination, was found to contain the skeleton of a man, with the head between the legs, in good preservation, supposed to be the decapitated remains of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who suffered on the 22nd of March, 1322, exactly five hundred years previously: the coffin and its contents were removed into the grounds of Frystone Hall, where they now remain. Dr. Bramhall, who after the Restoration was made Primate of Ireland, was a native of this place. Thomas de Castlefprd, a monkish historian, was a brother of the Dominican convent; and Dr. Johnson, a physician and eminent antiquary, resided in the town. Pontefract gives the title of earl to the family of Fermor, who are styled Earls of Pomfret."

"CARLETON, a township in the parish of PONTEFRACT, upper division of the wapentake of QSGQLDCROSS, West riding of the county of YORK, If mile S.E. from Pontefract, containing 132 inhabitants."

"EAST HARDWICK, a township in the parish of PONTEFRACT, upper division of the wapentake of OSGOLDCROSS, West riding of the county of YORK, 1 mile N.W. from Pontefract, containing 9.6 inhabitants. Stephen Cawood, in 1653, conveyed to trustees certain estates for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a chapel and a free school, and for other charitable uses: the annual income is £ 132, and thirty children, are educated free."

"KNOTTINGLEY, a chapelry in the parish of PONTEFRACT, upper division of the wapentake of OSGOLDCROSS, West riding of the county of YORK, 1 mile E.S.E. from Ferry-Bridge; containing 3753 inhabitants. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry and diocese of York, endowed with £600 private benefaction, £600 royal bounty, and £200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Vicar of Pontefract. The chapel is dedicated to St. Botolph. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyan Methodists. A school, in which thirty poor girls are instructed, is supported by bequests of £200 each, from Mrs.. Banks in 1792, and Mrs. Eliz. Brown in 1811. The village is situated on the banks of the river Aire, and has long been noted for its great production of limestone. A canal hence to Goole is in progress of formation."

"MONKHILL, a township in the parish of PONTEFRACT, upper division of the wapentake of OSGOLDCROSS, West riding of the county of YORK, containing 40 inhabitants."

"TANSHELF, a township in the parish of PONTEFRACT, upper division of the wapentake of OSGOLDCROSS, West riding of the county of YORK, 1 mile S.W. from Pontefract, containing 356 inhabitants. There is a small sum, the bequest of Richard Banister, in 1762, for teaching one child."

[Transcribed by Mel Lockie © from
Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England 1835]