During the 17th-century English Civil Wars, Pontefract like much of Yorkshire supported the Royalists. They remained resolute even after the execution of Charles I, hence the town motto Post Mortem Patris Pro Filio, Latin for "After the death of the father, support the son".
Pontefract was notable for growing liquorice, inspiring a famous poem by John Betjeman. Liquorice was first used as a medicine, but 18th-century apothecary George Dunhill noticed that the more sugar he added, the more he sold, so his throat lozenges morphed into Pontefract Cakes. What was now a confectionery business thrived, becoming part of Haribo in the 20th century, and a sweet smell often pervades the town. But local liquorice couldn't compete with imports from Turkey so the fields were grubbed out in the 1960s; there have been attempts to re-establish them.
It's a small town yet it has three railway stations, all just platform halts. The best connected is 1 Pontefract Monkhill to the north near the castle. This has trains every 30 min to Leeds, either via Glasshoughton (for Xscape) and Castleford, or via Pontefract Tanshelf, Featherstone, Wakefield Kirkgate and Wakefield Westgate. Eastbound these trains run to Knottingley, but twice M-Sat they extend to Goole. Monkhill has three direct trains per day (M-Sat) from London Kings Cross run by Grand Central Railway, continuing via Halifax to Bradford. These are not infrequently cancelled, and Grand Central tickets aren't flexible for other train companies, so it's usually safer to travel to and from London on LNER trains changing at Wakefield Westgate. Monkhill Platform 2 cannot be accessed by wheelchair: that's southbound from Leeds and Wakefield towards Knottingley, Doncaster and London. No access problems on the northbound Platform 1, or at the town's other two stations.
Arriva buses 148 & 149 run every 10 min west to Wakefield (40 min) and east to Knottingley. Bus 410/411 runs every 30 min to Leeds (one hour). Bus 409 runs every two hours to Doncaster (70 min). Coach X62 between Leeds and Hull stops at Xscape (three per day). Pontefract doesn't have long-distance coach connections, travel via Leeds or Wakefield. Pontefract bus station is in town centre.
The town is compact and walkable. Take bus 410 / 411 for Xscape.
- 1 Pontefract Castle, Castle Garth Pontefract WF8 1QH (north of centre). M-F 08:30-16:30, Sa Su 09:30-16:30. Norman castle where Richard II met a nasty end. In the Civil Wars it withstood Cromwell’s assaults but after surrendering was demolished to prevent future trouble. Free.
- 2 Pontefract Museum, 5 Salter Row WF8 1BA. M-F 10:00-16:30, Sa 10:30-16:30. Local history, from castle to cake. The shoe that Charlie Chaplin ate in The Gold Rush was made of Pontefract liquorice. Free.
- 3 Pontefract Hermitage, Southgate WF8 1AQ. Closed. There were hermits here from the 13th century, but in the 14th century they began tunnelling into the soft underlying sandstone, creating two chambers (the larger being called the "Oratory"). One hermit was convinced that God was underground, so down and down he carved, until he met water. Still, at least he'd made a useful well. The hermitage was forgotten until the 19th century, when the town expanded and a workman tumbled in upon the place. It became overlain by the Victorian redbrick Gothic dispensary of Pontefract General Infirmary, with occasional access by guided tour. In the 21st century PGI moved into modern premises nearby and the dispensary fell into disrepair and became unsafe. This means the Hermitage is closed.
- All Saints' Church is next to the castle, which is why the 14th century original church is a ruin, as first the Parliamentarians then the Royalists assaulted it. The present Anglican church was built within the ruin in 1967, and is combined as a benefice with the 18th-century St Giles Church in the market place. Of the former Cluniac Priory of St John the Evangelist, only the name "Monkhill" remains.
- See also the 18th-century Buttercross in the market place, and the 14th-century merchant's house in an alley off Cornmarket (known locally as the pub “Counting House”, but long closed and in urgent need of repair).
- Go to the races at 1 Pontefract Racecourse, Park Rd, Pontefract WF8 4QD (south edge of town), ☏ . This has regular flat-racing events April to October. The course encloses an agreeable park with a large duck pond. Just inside the course railings, there's a paved track for racecourse vehicles, so even in wet weather this is a good walking & running circuit of 2 miles 1 furlong. The bottom end of the park is marshy with a bird hide, and a tunnel cuts under the M62 to give access to J32/Xscape.
- 2 Xscape Yorkshire, Colorado Way, Castleford WF10 4TA. A big entertainment complex at Junction 32 of M62, midway between Pontefract and Castleford. Attractions include the Cineworld multi-cinema, indoor wall-climbing, bowling, trampolining, indoor golf and, yes, skiing on real snow. Plus a dozen bars and food outlets, J32 retail park adjacent, and a Premier Inn. Bus 410 & 411 runs at least hourly between Leeds and Pontefract Chequerfield, the bus-stop outside the retail park is for both directions as buses circle clockwise. From Wakefield, Bus X32 runs hourly (30 min) otherwise change buses in Pontefract. Coach X62 between Leeds and Hull also stops here. Trains run at least hourly between Leeds, Pontefract & Knottingley, get off at Glasshoughton not Castleford.
- Magistrates Market (in the old Sessions House, the magistrates' court 1813-2013). M-Sa 09:00-17:00; Su 09:00-16:00. Inside, the ground floor has little stores selling antiques, curios and collectables. The upper floor in 2019 is still being refurbished. The interior conversion is blandly functional so, if your aim is to admire the building itself, you do that best from outside in the street.
- 1 Pontefract Market Hall, 53-54 Market Place, WF8 1AU (centre of town), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 09:00-17:00.
- Mamma Mia, 61 Northgate (opposite the bus station). Tu-Sa 17:00-21:00. a reliable Italian restaurant.
- Plenty of cheap eats in town centre, but for high-end dining you'll do better in Leeds.
- 1 The Kings Croft Hotel, Wakefield Rd Pontefract WF8 4HA, ☏ . Popular for funeral teas, the crem's next door.
- 2 Premier Inn Pontefract North, A1 Business Park, 84 Knottingley Rd, Knottingley WF11 0BU (2 miles east of town off A645 / A162), ☏ . Reliable mid-range chain.
- There's another Premier Inn at Xscape, Castleford WF10 4TA.
Good 4G mobile signal throughout the area. Buses and many other points have free WiFi. Pontefract public library (M-W, F Sa) has internet stations, printing and copying.
|Routes through Pontefract|
|Newcastle-upon-Tyne ← Wetherby ←||N S||→ Doncaster → London|
|Manchester ← Leeds/Bradford ←||W E||→ Goole → Hull|