Pontefract is a market town in West Yorkshire, England. It's one of the townships of the City of Wakefield and a commuter town for Leeds.
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.
See Wakefield and Leeds for long-distance travel options.
It's a small town yet it has three railway stations, all just unstaffed platform halts with no facilities.
1 Pontefract Monkhill near the castle is the best connected. This has trains every 30 min from Leeds, either via Castleford and Glasshoughton (for Xscape), or via Wakefield Westgate, Wakefield Kirkgate, Featherstone and Pontefract Tanshelf. These trains continue east to Knottingley, and twice M-Sa they extend to Goole. Monkhill has three direct trains M-Sa from London King's 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 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. The workarounds are either to use the town's other stations, or to stay on the train to Knottingley where it reverses and comes back through Platform 1.
2 Pontefract Tanshelf is south side of town near the racecourse. This has only the hourly service from Leeds via Wakefield.
3 Pontefract Baghill is on the line between York and Sheffield, with three trains each way M-Sa and two on Sunday. It's east of town centre.
Pontefract doesn't have long-distance coaches, travel via Leeds or Wakefield.
Arriva Bus 148 / 149 runs every 15 min from Wakefield (40 min) via Featherstone and continues east to Knottingley.
Bus 140 / 141 runs every 15 min from Leeds, taking 70 min via Stourton, Oulton, Methley, Castleford and J32 retail park.
Bus 476 runs every two hours from Selby, taking 80 min via Eggborough, Kellingley and Knottingley.
Bus 409 from Doncaster was axed in 2022, take a bus towards Wakefield and change.
The 4 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).
- 1 Pontefract Racecourse, Park Rd, Pontefract WF8 4QD (south edge of town), ☏ +44 1977 781307. 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.
- Old Station is a Country & Western music festival held two miles south of town, on A639 towards Ackworth. The next is 25-29 Aug 2022.
- Rugby League: Featherstone Rovers play in the Championship, the game's second tier. Their home ground is Post Office Road in Featherstone, three miles southwest of Pontefract. See Wakefield for Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity RL teams.
- Diggerland theme park is near Castleford .
- Supermarkets in town centre are Tesco, Morrisons and Asda.
- 1 Magistrates Market, 2 Front St, Pontefract WF8 1BP (in the old Sessions House, the magistrates' court 1813-2013), ☏ +44 1977 706518. 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.
- 2 Pontefract Market Hall, 53-54 Market Place, WF8 1AU (centre of town), ☏ +44 1977 722725, 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.
- The Broken Bridge, 5 Horse Fair (next to the bus station). Daily 08:00-00:00. A reliable JD Wetherspoon offering meals.
- 1 Ponty Tavern, 2 Cornmarket, WF8 1BJ, ☏ +44 1977 702 345.
- 1 Kings Croft Hotel, Wakefield Rd Pontefract WF8 4HA, ☏ +44 1977 600550. 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), ☏ +44 871 527 8886. Reliable mid-range chain.
- There's another Premier Inn at Xscape, Castleford WF10 4TA.
As of Aug 2021, Pontefract has 5G from EE and Vodafone, and 4G from O2 and Three.
Buses and many other points have free WiFi. Pontefract public library (M-W, F Sa) has internet stations, printing and copying.
Leeds for big city attractions, but medieval York is a must-see.
|Routes through Pontefract|
|Newcastle upon Tyne ← Wetherby ←||N S||→ Doncaster → London|
|Manchester ← Leeds/Bradford ←||W E||→ Goole → Hull|