I always love it when I visit a town and feel welcome. £2 for over four hours parking? Yes please! This says to me visit, shop and if you feel peckish then stop for a snack. I love being able to explore a place without having to worry about rushing back for the car park.
Full disclosure, if you’d have asked me what I knew about Pontefract before we visited it was very little. I knew about the cakes and… that’s it. Today I wanted to explore the town which for us means architecture, history and shops. We walked in the direction of town and stopped a great bunch of lads to ask if we were going the right way. The second time I felt welcomed into the town, a group of teenagers who happily explained the best way to walk in and some of the shops we could see along the way.. cheers lads!
A short walk and we were in the town centre. Living in a market town I always love to see other towns with a street market. We didn’t visit on a market day, we went on Tuesday and Pontefract has a street market on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9am until 4pm, but the market place was lovely. Keeping an open market helps a great deal in a town and many people I’ve chatted to have told me that their local market was a lifeline for them during the pandemic. Just give me a moment here while I slip in to describing how open and welcoming the market place felt, even thought there wasn’t a market on this particular day. The whole of the market place was so clean and tidy and the market stalls were all lined up and ready for traders…
Pontefract Old Town Hall stands proudly at one end of the Market Place. It was completed in 1785 and replaced by Pontefract Town Hall which was completed in 1882. Designed by Bernard Hartley I it was given Grade II* status in 1950 and designated a world heritage site on the 15th of November 1988.
During her many years the Town Hall has had a few jobs including a Magistrate’s Court and a Fire Station. I believe she is currently a hospitality and events venue and can be booked for weddings too.
Further down the Market Place is the market hall and indoor market. It was great to see that most of the stall were filled and lots of things to buy. Chatting to the lady in the card shop when I popped in to buy a birthday badge I got two great tips for things to see ~ Pontefract friendliness at work again ~ The Old Magistrate’s Court and The Castle. Whenever I visit a new place I always ask local people ‘If I’m only here for the day, what’s the one thing I should see?’ The Castle definitely came out top so Adam was very pleased!
Designed by Joseph Wilson, The Market Hall was built in 1859-60. It was built on the site of The Shambles (if you know where my lovely Chesterfield shop is located then you’ll know why this hurts my heart a little bit…) and opened by the Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston.
The whole of the original building apart from the stunning stone façade on Market Street was destroyed by fire. It was entirely rebuilt and re~opened in 1957. Further refurbishment took place in 1999 along with other work in the town. Researching a little bit of history for this blog took me to a lovely blog by Stanley Briggs. I’ll link here as he has some great old photographs of the town along with more history. http://www.stanleybriggs.com/pontefract.html
I loved looking around the indoor market but for me the best thing was the stunning exterior and the door flanked with two oh so British red telephone boxes. I’m so happy that Pontefract have chosen to keep and restore such an important building and it was so lovely to see it being used that I almost forgave them for building it on top of The Shambles… almost.
A quick hop across the Market Place, stopping off at ‘Buttercross’ which was built in 1743 to shelter people making butter. The 18th Century benches are still is use today and add another touch of character to this town that is full of surprises…
As recommended by a local lady in the card shop, we stopped to browse inside the Old Magistrate’s Court which is now an antique and craft centre with a cafe. Lots of different things to buy inside and quite a few family owned businesses too.
Over to the castle then ~ hurrah! We chatted to a friendly couple along the way who gave us directions and told us some stories about the town including when all you could see along the horizon was pits. They weren’t fans of the newer architecture in the town but recommended Pontefract as a place to live and encouraged us to visit again on market day.
With some savvy directions from another lovely local lady we found the quickest way to walk to the castle, taking a short cut around some new flats. There does seem to be a lot of housing in the town centre which is a very good thing and it seems like a very friendly place to live. As always when I write these blogs I’d be interested to hear from people who live in the town and can tell me if they use their town centre and market.
The high street had held on to it’s banks and some multiple retailers. We also found a street just off the main market place that was host to some different independent shops. As often happens on our days off, the time had flown away and we were after 5pm but we’ll certainly be back to explore the lovely independent shops that we found.
Built in 1070 Pontefract Castle was known (just not by me) as The Key to the North, controlling an important crossing of the River Aire. What surprised me most was just how vast this now ruined castle was. I should interject here and let you know that, although I enjoy learning about the history of English castles they are still all very new to me so if my descriptions seem a little naive that’s because they are. I am however, developing a keen interest in our fabulous castles, largely, I believe by osmosis from my lovely husband..
We didn’t take the tour today and the cafe was closed ( the perils of having Tuesday as our day off) but I would certainly recommend a visit to this lovely ruined castle to find out more about the fascinating history including the demise of Richard II who starved to death here after being imprisoned by Henry IV. It is also alleged that Catherine Howard, wife of Henry VIII, began her affair with Thomas Culpeper whilst visiting the castle in 1541. Lots to discover and you can find details on the Castle’s website which I’ll link here https://www.pontefractcastle.co.uk/
A quick walk back in to town and we discovered that Pontefract was also home to Peter and Fred Asquith’s first supermarket. Building on the success of this store, they went on to be co-founders of ASDA, merging with the Associated Dairies Company of Yorkshire. The name apparently derives from ASquith+DAiries.
Pontefract does blue plaques very well and it was enjoyable to learn the history of the town as we explored.
The town centre still has shops on the high street although I did notice an out of town shopping park (boo hiss) when we were taking in the view from the castle. Some of the shops were empty but the cafes and the pub, with the fab name ‘The Liquorice Bush’, were busy. I would love to revisit on a market day and see how busy the lovely high street is.
I really enjoyed our day in Pontefract and will be back to see some of the independent shops, enjoy the market and take the castle tour. If you’re planning a visit then do check out the links I’ve included to find the best days for what you’d like to do.
Thanks to the friendly people of Pontefract, it was lovely to meet you.
If you’ve got a hot tip for a place to visit then let me know in the comments. Thanks for spending a day with LJ xx