Pontefract, (from the French for broken-bridge) also known as Pomfret, is a historic market town, municipal and parliamentary borough of West Yorkshire. It is ideally situated near to the A1(M) and M62 motorways.
Pontefract Castle dates from the Norman times and was destroyed during the English Civil Wars; the ruins are still visible today and are well worth a visit. Richard II was imprisoned and killed there in 1399. Shakespeare even mentioned Pontefract or Pomfret in Richard III, in words spoken by Earl Rivers:
0 Pomfret, Pomfret 0 thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the second here was hack d to death;
The name Pontefract itself does not actually appear in the Domesday Survey of 1086 but Taddenessdyf(or Tateshale), now Tanshelf, a part of Pontefract, does. Pontefract was in the royal estate of Tanshelf, where in AD 947, King Eadred accepted the allegiance of the Northumbrians and Wulfstan, the Archbishop of York. Eadred however, was unaware that Wulfstan planned to offer the Kingdom of York to the Viking Eric Bloodaxe, the King of Norway. Pontefract may have also been the base for Eadred s campaign against Eric Bloodaxe who was part Norse and part Danish. Eric Bloodaxe was elected King of York in AD 948 and he laid claim to the whole of Northumbria.
Pontefract s deep rich loam made it an ideal spot to grow liquorice and large scale cultivation was firmly established at the end of the 15th century. The celebrated Pomfret cakes, along with a wide variety of other liquorice confections, were made from the locally processed roots. Records show that Pomfret cakes were being made around 1614. The commercial cultivation of liquorice roots ended in 1944, with the last fields being in the vicinity of Bondgate in 1972. Although there is now no liquorice grown in Pontefract, there remains two major sweet manufacturing factories still producing liquorice sweets, including Pontefract cakes, the liquorice for which is now imported from Turkey, Belgium and America, already processed into slabs of thick pliable material.
Pontefract has a large public park covering some 365 acres on the western side of the town, within its boundaries is enclosed a racecourse, which dates back to the early 18th century. This was extended in the 1980 s and became the longest circular flat horse racing course in Europe.
The focal point of the town centre, in the market place, is the Buttercross, which was built in 1734. Behind the Buttercross is situated St. Giles Church, which was built in the first few years of the 12th century as a chapel-of-ease to All Saints Church, but due to the ruin of All Saints, St Giles became the Parish Church in 1789. In the town, adjacent to the hospital, are the Valley Gardens. In Southgate there is an ancient hermitage and oratory, which was cut 51 feet into solid rock and dates from 1396. Peter the Hermit of Pomfret is also mentioned in Shakespeare s play King John, when Philip Falconbridge, the bastard son of Richard I says:
"Here's that I brought with me from forth the streets of Pomfret"