Pontefract - The West Yorkshire town famed for its liquorice celebrates its ancient market
PUBLISHED: 18:40 17 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:12 20 February 2013
Final preparations are being made for a month-long party in Pontefract, as Paul Mackenzie reports <br/>Photographs by John Cocks
Theyre preparing to party in Pontefract. July will be a month-long celebration, with major events commemorating the towns past and hailing its future.
The West Yorkshire town will celebrate the anniversary of its medieval market charter, herald the launch of a new market and rejoice in its most famous export.
Pontefract was granted a Charter for a weekly market on Wednesday July 28th 1257 and the streets around the market place recall the trading tradition of the town, among them Shoemarket, Horsefair, Market Place, Beastfair, Ropergate and Cornmarket.
The anniversary will be celebrated with a service at St Giles Church at midday followed by a reception at the Town Hall for civic representatives of parishes and communities throughout Wakefield district. There will be displays of art, work by community groups and entertainment for the guests and organisers are hoping the celebrations will become an annual event.
The Wednesday and Saturday markets are still busy with stalls and shoppers and a new farmers market will begin on Friday July 16th and will then take place on the third Friday of each month.
But the biggest event will be the Liquorice Festival which is expected to attract thousands of people.
Pontefract has been connected with liquorice for at least 500 years and the annual festival began 15 years ago with the aim of recognising the town as a world centre of liquorice.
This years event, on Sunday July 11th, will feature music, entertainment and crafts as well as liquorice tasting and talks. Events will take place around the town centre and at the castle, that famous emblem of the town which is still stamped onto the millions of Pontefract Cakes made every year.
The first castle was built on a limestone ridge with commanding views shortly after the Norman invasion. Initially the building was a timber construction but stone defences were built and added to over the centuries until the castle was a large, grand and imposing landmark, which was home to 16 monarchs and remains the property of the Queen.
Entry to the castle grounds is free and there is largely unfettered access to most of the remains making it easy to imagine how impressive it must have been in its pomp.
But while castles elsewhere around the country many of them of much less historical significance than Pontefracts are slick tourist operations, there is a much less corporate feel here. That makes for a relaxed visit but with many of the information boards needing to be repaired, visitors can be left in the dark over some parts of the grounds.
Much of the castle Tony Robinson and your Time Team chums take note has yet to be excavated but the little on-site museum, which re-opened in April, gives a taste of the castles history.
And for more about the towns past, head back into the town centre and visit the rather lovely museum. Housed in a 1904 Carnegie Library, the museums small rooms are packed with artefacts, photographs and maps which trace the towns growth from Viking settlement to important medieval market town to horse racing centre to mining town and industrial centre.
The first records of horse racing here date back to the 1720s and the course, which stands on the edge of town near junction 32 of the M62, is now one of the finest in the country, with facilities, and the programme of races, having been improved greatly in recent years.
Pontefract was once the third largest town in Yorkshire, after York and Beverley.
Pontefracts rich loamy soil and deep topsoil is perfect for growing liquorice. In 1750 there were 47 liquorice growers in Pontefract but today most of the liquorice for the sweets made at the two factories which remain in the town is imported from Turkey.
In 1872 a parliamentary by-election in Pontefract was the scene of the northern hemispheres first secret ballot. The ballot box was sealed not with the seal of the borough but with the stamp used for the Pontefract Cakes.
Pontefract dates for your diary: Weekly markets are held in Market Place on Wednesdays and Saturdays; the new farmers market will be launched on July 16th, and the Liquorice Festival will be held on July 11th from 11am-4pm.
Pontefract will stage three race days this month: a singles night on Monday 7th, a family day on Sunday 20th, and a Wimbledon day on Monday 28th. It will also host the finale of the Yorkshire Summer Racing Festival on Sunday July 25th. www.pontefract-races.co.uk.
To find out more go to www.experiencewakefield.co.uk or call Wakefield TIC on 0845 601 8353.
Where it is: Pontefract stands in West Yorkshire beside junction 32 of the M62 and near its junction with the A1M.
Where to park: There is a large reasonably priced long stay pay and display car park in the town centre and shorter stay on-street parking around the town.
What to do: The castle is a fascinating, if under-developed, attraction and the compact museum in the town centre houses hundreds of interesting artefacts. Visit on a Wednesday and enjoy the weekly market too.