PONTEFRACT, (or Pomfret) a market and parish-town, in the wapentake of Osgoldcross, liberty of Pontefract; 2 miles from Ferrybridge, 11 from Aberford, 9 from Wakefield, 13 from Leeds, 14 from Snaith, Barnsley, and Selby, 15 from Doncaster and Tadcaster, 17 from Wetherby, 20 from Rotherham and Thorne, 24 from York, 177 from London. Market, Saturday. Fairs, first Saturday after January 13; first Saturday before February 2; first Saturday after February 13; Saturday before Palm Sunday, Low Sunday, and Trinity Sunday; Saturday after September 12; and the first Saturday in December, for horses, horned cattle, and sheep: the Fortnight Fairs are on Saturday next after the York Fortnight Fairs. Bankers, Messrs. Leathams, Tew, Trueman, and Co. draw on Messrs. Dennison and Co. 100, Fenchurch Street; Messrs. Perfect, Hardcastle, and Co. draw on Sir J.W. Lubbock, Bart. and Co. 11, Mansion House Street. Principal Inns, Star, Red Lion, and New Elephant. Pop. 4,447. The Church is a vicarage, dedicated to All-Saints (see Churches for photograph), in the deanry of Pontefract, value, ~£13. 6s. 8d. Patron, the King.
The situation at this place is extremely pleasant, as the town, crowning a fine eminence, is approached on all sides by a considerable ascent. The houses are handsome, the streets open, spacious, and clean, and the country about it adorned with many elegant Mansions.
According to Leland and Drake, this place rose out of the ruins of Legeoleum, which, in Saxon times, was called Kirkby, but changed by the Normans to Pontefract, from a broken bridge that was here.
Here Ilbert de Lacy, in the time of the Conqueror, built a very strong Castle: which devolved, by marriage, to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, one of the chief opponents of Gaveston, who, being taken in arms against Edward II. was condemned in his own Castle, and beheaded near this place. Here, Richard II. was confined a close prisoner by order of Henry IV. who, "by indirect and crooked paths, had met the crown," and therefore wished for the death of Richard; and one of those assassins, to be found in every corrupt court, ready to commit the most horrid crimes for reward, came to the place of this unfortunate monarch's confinement, and with eight of his followers, rushed into his apartment. The King, concluding their design was to take away his life, resolved not to fall unrevenged, but to sell it as dear as he could; wherefore, wresting a pole axe from one of the murderers, he soon laid four of their number dead at his feet. But he was at length over powered, and struck dead with a blow of a pole axe. Froisard, who had been secretary to his grandfather, says that he died in the tower, and that his body was placed on a litter, the head on a black cushion, and his face uncovered and carried through Cheapside, where the procession halted two hours. In the year 1417, the Duke of Orleans was a prisoner in this Castle, by order of Henry V; and, in the year 1461, the innocent Anthony, Earl of Rivers, Richard Lord Grey, Sir Thomas Vaughan, and Sir Richard Hawse, were all murdered here, by the tyrannic order of Richard III. In the civil wars of Charles I. this Castle several times changed its masters; but, the last and most remarkable siege was in the year 1647, when it surrendered to General Lambert; and, in 1649, was, by a resolution of Parliament, ordered to be dismantled: all the ammunition being first removed, conveyed to York, and lodged in Cliffords Tower, a great number of people were employed, with pick axes, iron crows, spades, and shovels, to demolish this noble fortress, which they fully accomplished in about ten weeks: the charge for which amounted to the sum of £777. 4s. 6d., an enormous sum in those days.
O Pomfret, Pomfret, O thou bloody prison!
Fatal and ominous to noble Peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls,
Richard the second here was hacked to death.
Shakespeare's Richard II.
Some fragments of mouldering ruins mark the place where this strong Castle stood, which serve to shew the infelicity of former times, when domestic broils convulsed and desolated the land.
The Church of All-Saints was formerly the parish church, but at what time built, or by whom, is not known. There appears to have been a Church here at the time of the survey, but Mr. Boothroyd, the historian of Pontefract, observes, this Church cannot be referred to a period so remote: the erection of this structure, from the style of its architecture, may, with greater probability, be referred to the time of Henry III. It was so much damaged during the siege of the Castle, that the inhabitants have ever since assembled for the celebration of divine service in the Chapel of St. Giles, now the parish church.
Here was a Benedictine Priory, founded by Robert de Lacy, in 1090, dedicated to St. John; a house of Dominicans, or preaching Friars; a house of Carmelites, or white Friars, built by Edmund de Lacy; a house of Austin Friars, and several Hospitals.
This borough was incorporated by Richard III.; and sends two Members to Parliament; the right of Election, is in the inhabitant house holders, of which there are about 700.
The town is governed by a Mayor, Recorder, twelve Aldermen, with a Common Council, consisting of twenty four Burgesses.
Pontefract has been long celebrated for its gardens and nurseries, and the finest liquorice in the kingdom, for which it is thus noticed by Drunken Barnaby:-
Veni Pomfret, ubi miram
Arcem, Angus regibus diram;
Laseris ortu celebrandam,
Varils gestis memorandam:
Nec in Pomfret repens certior,
Quam pauperculus inertior.
Lun, the author of the Newcastle Rider, and some other poems, was a native of this place. Though bred to the humble profession of a barber, and without the advantage of a literary education, some of his pieces, for keenness of satire, and justness of sentiment, would not disgrace the pen of Churchill.
John Bramhall, Archbishop of Armagh, in 17th century, was born at Pontefract. He had the living of (rectory) St. Martin's, Micklegate, York. In 1623, he had two public disputations at Northallerton, with a secular priest and a Jesuit, which gained him great reputation. --Magna Brit.
[Description(s) edited from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson © 2013]