Chambers at Large in Pontefract Castle, West Yorkshire, England.
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
The name Pontefract brought to mind liquorice flavoured sweets and not being a huge fan of aniseed I was unsure as to what Pontefract Castle would offer.
I was pleasantly surprised and I have to firstly acknowledge the efforts made to make this castle of interest to young people. The information on the numerous signs around the ruins included ideas for youngsters to do, thus encouraging, I hope, an interest in history. My inner child had fun searching for the holes in the walls left by cannon fire and reading about the garderobe (that’s toilet to those not in the know), which emptied straight out onto an outer ditch, another deterrent to any would be attacker!
Unfortunately the castle is in ruins but there was a great deal to learn and there are a number of interesting features, one of which was the dungeons. I arrived too late to do the tour, as I didn’t follow the advice I am now going to impart: consult the website to find out the opening times!
The castle was once made up of six roundels which, if seen from the air, would have formed a floral pattern. It was where Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s fifth wife) began an affair with her husband’s close friend, Sir Thomas Culpepper, both being executed for treason without a trial. Later in the seventeenth century Pontefract Castle was besieged three times during the English Civil War. A Royalist stronghold the castle was finally defeated after the third siege when those within the walls ran out of food.
A more entertaining tale was of the Trojan beds. When a Royalist named Colonel John Morris learned that Parliamentarian troops were looking for new beds he ordered that his troops dress as country gents and carry their own beds to the castle. This neatly tricked the guards who were expecting a delivery of beds, but once inside the Royalists took out their concealed weapons and captured the castle, which became the Royalists last stronghold in the Civil War.
The remaining walls reveal other evidence of interest. The kitchen ovens, are still visible in the lower part of the walls where the heat has turned the bricks a bright pink. Siege money, silver lozenge shaped coins, were possibly minted in the ovens to pay the soldiers fighting off the Parliamentarian’s attack. Weapons and armour may have been forged there too during the sieges. and examples of such are on display in the reception area.
Pontefract Castle was destroyed when the Parliamentarians took power as local people did not want the destruction the sieges inflicted to happen again. Besieging armies carried disease, stole from locals and many civilians were killed. The destruction of the castle was carried out in a very controlled manner and anything of use was sold, the profit from which went to rebuild the town.
I spent a very fruitful hour walking around the ruins, chatting to the gardener tending the liquorice plants, reading all the items of interest, then sitting on one of the numerous benches available to enjoy the sunshine and a cup of tea from the café.
On the way out a striking house caught my eye. A plaque on the wall declared it was once a barbican built to defend the entrance to the castle, but later is reputed to be the first debtor’s prison in England.
Pontefract Castle proved to be a mine of information and if it wasn’t for the fact I had an appointment in Leeds I would have stayed longer. It’s lovely to go somewhere and find a hidden gem. It is FREE to the public, a pleasure to visit and I extend a big thank you to all who made my visit worthwhile. Keep up the fabulous work.
Not too far from Pontefract is Saltaire. Please check out my blog about this UNESCO site: