PONTEFRACT: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1868.


"PONTEFRACT, (or Pomfret), a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the upper division of the wapentake of Osgoldcross, West Riding county York, 9 miles from Wakefield, 23 S. by W. of York, and 176 N. by W. of London. It is a station on the western section of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, by which it is connected with the Great Northern and North-Eastern lines. The town is situated on a hill not far from the confluence of the rivers Aire and Don, and about 3 miles from the Aire and Calder canal. It is a place of great antiquity, and appears to have arisen from the ruins of the Roman station Legiolium, now Castleford, which is in the vicinity. It was called by the Saxons Kirkby, but after the Conquest obtained the name of "Pontfract" (Pons fractus), from the breaking down of the bridge over the river Aire by the Northumbrian insurgents in 1070, to arrest the progress of William the Conqueror, who was in pursuit, with a formidable army. The castle was originally built by Alric, or Ælfric, the Saxon, but having fallen into decay, was rebuilt by Hildebert de Lacy, to whom at the time of the Conquest William granted the honour and manor of Pontefract, and by whose family it was held until the early part of the 14th century, when it came into the possession, through marriage, of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, uncle to Edward II. The history of Pontefract Castle, is, perhaps, one of the most interesting on record, as having been the scene of more stirring and important historical events than any other similar edifice in England. This same Earl of Lancaster was taken prisoner, with many other barons, and beheaded for procuring the death of Gaveston. It was here that Richard II. was imprisoned, and "hacked to death," that Archbishop Scrope was beheaded in 1405, and that Richard III. put to death Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, Lord Grey, and others, to pave the way the more readily to his accession to the throne. It was also the place of confinement of the Duke of Orleans, taken prisoner at Agincourt, and was occasionally visited by Edward IV., Henry VII., and Henry VIII. It was taken by the celebrated Robert Aske, at the head of the "Pilgrims of Grace." During the civil wars of the reign of Charles I. Pontefract Castle was more than once besieged by both the royalists and parliamentarians, and was finally taken and dismantled by Major-General Lambert in 1649. The keep, which originally covered 7 acres, is the only portion now remaining. The population of Pontefract in 1851 was 5,100, with 1,069 inhabited houses, which in 1861 had increased to 5,346, with 1,122 inhabited houses; the parliamentary limits, however, are much more extensive, including in 1851 a population of 11,515, which had increased in 1861 to 11,736. The town is chiefly noted for its extensive nursery-grounds, the growing of liquorice, and the manufacture of the far-famed Pontefract liquorice cake. There are also hat manufactories, extensive malting and brewing establishments, large potteries, brick and tile works, corn-mills, iron and brass foundries, and several coalmines, in the immediate vicinity. The town consists mainly of one long street, crossed by several side streets. It is well paved, drained, and lighted with gas, and has a good supply of water. It was first chartered by Richard III., and is governed by the mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, with the style and title of "the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough or town of Pontefract." It returns two members to parliament, the mayor being the returning officer. The principal public buildings are the townhall, erected at the joint expense of the county and the corporation; the market-house, a neat structure of stone, built in 1859; the union workhouse, a mechanics' institute, theatre, dispensary, two commercial banks, and savings-bank. From the castle hill is an extensive prospect over the vale of the Aire, and northwards, as far as York Minster. In the immediate vicinity of the town are extensive market gardens and nurseries. The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of York, value £258. The church, dedicated to St. Giles, is an ancient Norman structure, frequently restored, and is now the parish church, having been made parochial by Act of Parliament in 1790. The living of All Saints, which was originally the parish church, is a perpetual curacy,* value £300, in the patronage of the Archbishop of York. The church of All Saints is the oldest building in the town, and is now in ruins, with the exception of the transept, which was restored some years ago for Divine worship. There are also chapels-of-ease at Carleton and East Hardwick, the latter recently repaired at the expense of the Rev. Bernard Greenwood, the chaplain. In addition to these churches are the district churches of Knottingley and East Knottingley, the livings of which are perpetual curacies,* varying in value from £150 to £129. There is also a Roman Catholic church, built of stone, about 1750, and enlarged in 1856. The Wesleyans, Independents, Primitive Methodists, and Quakers, have each a place of worship. The free grammar school, founded in the reign of Edward VI., has three exhibitions at University College, Oxford. There are likewise National, Sunday, Roman Catholic, and British schools, besides several denominational schools, and many private schools. The endowed hospitals and almshouses are numerous, some of very ancient date, as Knolle's almshouses, erected in Richard II.'s reign, Bedehouse and Perfect's, Watkinson's, St. Nicholas, Cowper's, Trinity, and Frank's. The general sessions of the peace for the West Riding are held annually at Pontefract; a county court is likewise held in the town. Archbishop Bramhall, and Lund, "a barber poet," were natives. Johnson, the antiquary, was a resident; and it gives title of Earl Pomfret to the Fermors. Races take place about 1 mile to the W. of the town at the end of July, and there is a good race-stand in the park. The Badsworth hounds are kept within a short distance, and attract many sporting country people to Pontefract. In the park, at a little distance from the town, are traces of the ancient road Watling Street, and vestiges of a Roman camp, but these have been partially obliterated by the recent enclosure of the waste lands. Two newspapers have been established, the Pontefract Telegraph, and the Pontefract Chronicle. Market day is Saturday. Fairs are held on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, 5th May, 5th October, and first Saturday in December. A statute fair is held on the Thursday nearest 5th November."

"CARLETON, a township in the parish of Pontefract, wapentake of Osgoldcross, in the West Riding of the county of York, 2 miles to the S. of Pontefract. It is situated near the Great Northern railway The church, dedicated to St. Michael, was erected in 1850. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Ripon."

"EAST HARDWICKE, a township in the parish of Pontefract, upper division of the wapentake of Osgoldcross, West Riding county York, 2 miles from Pontefract. The land is fertile and well cultivated. The village, which is small, is situated on the road to Doncaster. The living is a curacy in the diocese of York, value £100, in the patronage of trustees. The charities amount to about £120 per annum, derived from the estate of Stephen Cawood, which are applied to the church, school, and relief of the poor."

"KNOTTINGLEY, a parochial chapelry in the parish of Pontefract, West Riding county York, 2 miles N.E. of Pontefract, and 13 from Leeds. It is a station on the Pontefract and Goole branch of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway. The village, which is very considerable, is situated near the river Aire and the Calder canal. The principal trade is in malting and tanning; there are also several corn mills and factories. The living is a perpetual curacy* in the diocese of York, value £129, in the patronage of the crown and bishop alternately. The church is dedicated to St. Botolph. There are places of worship for Dissenters, also National and Sunday schools."

"MONKHILL, a township in the parish of Pontefract, upper division of the wapentake of Osgoldcross, West Riding county York. It adjoins the town of Pontefract on the E. side of Castle Hill, where once stood the grange of St. John's Priory."

"TANSHELF, a township in the parish of Pontefract, upper division of the wapentake of Osgoldcross, West Riding county York. It adjoins the W. end of the town of Pontefract, of which it is a suburb."

"WHELDALE, a hamlet in the township of Ferry-Frystone, parish of Pontefract, West Riding county York, 2 miles N.E. of Pontefract, and 19 S.W. of York."

[Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868]
by Colin Hinson ©2013