Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Pontefract: The town of two saints

Do you know about Pontefract's saintly past? 

Discover Pontefract's claim to not just one saint, but two, in this blog!

Why were local saints important?

Possession of a saint was considered to be of great importance in medieval England. Bequests and pilgrimages brought in a lot of money to the local priories. 

This fascination with saintly bones was the subject of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones', the first Cadfael Chronicles book by Ellis Peters. Peters' medieval mystery novel gives an insight into the importance of the possession of such saintly relics.  

To have a saint buried in Pontefract was a great claim to fame for the medieval powerhouse of Pontefract, known by the 12th century as the Key to the North.

New research shows that Pontefract had not just one saintly burial, but two! These were Saint Thomas of Pontefract, and the lesser-known Saint Thurstan.

Drawings of two men, one believed to be either Edmund Crouchback or Thomas of Lancaster and the other Saint George. The Earl of Lancaster is wearing armour with a red tunic with three lions on. The two men are facing each other.
A miniature of an earl of Lancaster (possibly Edmund Crouchback or his son Thomas of Lancaster) with St. George from a medieval manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 231) - Wikimedia Commons

Who was Saint Thomas of Pontefract?

Saint Thomas of Pontefract (1278 - 1322) is a well-known figure in Pontefract's fascinating history. Known as Thomas of Lancaster during his lifetime, Saint Thomas of Pontefract was venerated as a local saint soon after his beheading. He became so important to Pontefract that a chapel was erected in his name on the edge of the town.

Thomas was a controversial character in life. He was one of the wealthiest men in the country and was also the cousin of Edward II. Thomas was estranged from his wife Alice de Lacy, whom he married for her money. He frequently fell out with the king and his associates. These disputes would eventually lead to his death. 

Captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, Thomas was brought to Pontefract Castle. Until this point Pontefract Castle had belonged to Thomas by right of his marriage to Alice de Lacy. Thomas was held in a tower he had ironically constructed for the purpose of holding his cousin Edward II - had he managed to capture him instead! 

Thomas was tried by a jury of the king and his close associates, without the right to a defence. Inevitably he was found guilty and sentenced to death by beheading. Thomas was beheaded on the 22 March 1322.

Part of the remains of Pontefract Castle, showing the entrance to the sally port, the curtain wall, and the keep looming in the distande
Part of the remains of Pontefract Castle today

Why was Saint Thomas of Pontefract considered a saint?

After Thomas' death, miracles were soon reported at the hill where he was beheaded. 

The most notable was a blind priest who rubbed sand stained with Thomas' blood into his eyes, curing his blindness. There were also reports of a child coming back to life after lying on Thomas' tomb for three days.

As news of these miracles spread, combined with respect for his rebellion against the king, Thomas became a popular figure. Thousands of people at a time would travel to the site of his miracles in Pontefract. A chapel was erected on the hill, as well as a mill. These were duly named St Thomas' Chapel and St Thomas' Mill, on St Thomas' Hill. These were still being recorded on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps in the 19th century.

But new research confirms that Saint Thomas wasn't Pontefract's only claim to saintly fame...

Who was Saint Thurstan, Archbishop of York?

It has long been known that Thurstan, archbishop of York from 1114 to 1140, retired to the Cluniac priory at Pontefract.  

Thurstan died just two weeks after he retired. He was buried in front of the high altar at Pontefract Priory.

Recent research by Dr Michael Carter from English Heritage revealed that Thurstan was recognised as a saint, through analysing early church documents.

In a record of Saints Feast days celebrated at Pontefract Priory, 6 February is recorded as the feast of the anniversary of the death of Saint Thurstan. Dr Carter states this is "unambiguous proof that Thurstan was indeed a saint".

A field with trees and houses in the background, and a blue information plaque about St John's Priory
The site of the former St John's Priory, Pontefract - Bill Henderson, Wikimedia Commons

Why aren't Saint Thomas of Pontefract and Saint Thurstan more widely known?

In medieval England there were many classes of saint that were done away with after the Reformation. 

Both of these saints are only mentioned on local records, suggesting that they fall into the category of local uncanonised saints.

These uncanonised saints were not recognised by the Church officially. However, they were often of equal or even greater importance to their local people.

So Pontefract can now claim the fame of two saints - one you maybe knew about, and one you probably didn't!

Visit Pontefract Castle

This is just a snippet of the incredible history of Pontefract Castle! 
Want to learn more? Come and visit us! 
Pontefract Castle is open every day and is free entry. 
We also run Dungeon Tours and Castle Explorer Tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

How Wakefield’s Black Horse learned to gallop

Members of the Wakefield Word with Black Horse Poets writers' groups have kindly written this guest blog about their history. 

Read on to discover 'how Wakefield's Black Horse learned to gallop'!

6 members of the Wakefield Word Group, and Councillor Jack Hemmingway in the middle, smiling at the camera. Councillor Hemmingway is holding a trophy of a horse.
Members of the Black Horse Poets and Wakefield Word Group with their new patron, Councillor Jack Hemingway, in January 2024.
Left to right: Susan McCartney, William Thirsk-Gaskill, Jasmine King, Cllr Jack Hemingway, Angie de Courcy Bower, Lindsey Marie, Stefan Grieve

Michael Yates had been a newspaper journalist for a number of years, starting with the Wakefield Express series. After which he worked for the Sheffield-based evening paper The Star, commuting by bus every day from his Sandal home.

In 1996, he started teaching a Creative Writing class at Wakefield College and also became a part-time subeditor on the Huddersfield Examiner. One lunchtime he walked into Huddersfield’s Albert pub to see they had a poetry anthology on sale. He discovered it was produced by The Albert Poets, who met there regularly.

Roger Manns, a retired teacher of Modern Languages who taught at Wakefield’s St Thomas à Becket and Outwood Grange, had joined the Creative Writing class; and he shared Michael's interest in establishing a Wakefield poetry group. Roger’s cousin was then manager of Wakefield’s Black Horse pub in Westgate, so Roger and Michael went along to see him and secured a free meeting space in exchange for the promise of extravagant sums of money being spent at the bar. And in 1998 they wrote to all their Wakefield poetry pals begging them to join the newly created Black Horse Poets.

Over the years, there have been changes of venue and changes of officers, but the Black Horse Poets have always managed to hold regular monthly meetings of readings laced with thoughtful and friendly critique. They have also published three full-blown anthologies: 'Full Gallop' (2000), 'Front Runner' (2008) and 'Full Rein' (2013); issued pamphlets of poems every year between 2011 and 2019; produced a magazine called 'The Horse’s Mouth', and even made CDs and videos.

Members have held meetings or given public readings at such Wakefield locations as Drury Lane Library, Henry Boons pub, the Mocca Moocho coffee bar, the Orangery, the Black Rock pub, Wakefield Cathedral’s Treacy Hall, the Destiny Church, the Monkey Bar, Newmillerdam Country Park and Westgate Studios; also at Unity Hall as part of Wakefield ArtWalk.

In 2008, Wakefield MP Mary Creagh became the Poets’ patron and remained so until her election defeat in 2019. And she regularly judged their annual poetry competition.

In 2009, the 20-strong group was honoured with a civic reception. By 2016, the Poets had merged with prose group Wakefield Word, who hold separate meetings for writers of stories and plays.

Over the years, individual members have succeeded in publishing volumes of poetry, short story collections and even novels; and have had plays performed on stage and radio.

The Covid lockdown meant members had to meet by Zoom for two years and numbers fell. But now, in the year of their Silver Anniversary, Black Horse Poets and Wakefield Word meet at the Red Shed in Wakefield’s Vicarage Street with William Thirsk-Gaskill as president and Stefan Grieve as Chairperson, and their numbers have grown again.

Stefan Grieve has been chairperson of Wakefield Word since 2018, where he has led and organised meetings for the groups and been an active member in showcasing popular events and award ceremonies over the years.

Lindsey Marie is the newest member of the committee who covers all things publicity, so if you would like the group to be involved in any future events, performances or workshops, she would be delighted to hear from you, simply direct message the group’s Facebook page.

Even so, the group are always looking for new people. For further details contact group secretary Colin Hollis, or find them on Facebook.

Members of the Black Horse Poets and Wakefield Word Group have written a series of responses to objects in our 100 Years of Collecting Online Exhibition:

'Miss Gostick's Tea Set' by Susan McCartneyin response to the Alice Gostick pottery set 

'East End Town, West Side Face' and 'A Miner's Life for Me' by Jasmine King in response to our mining objects

A poem by Angie de Courcy Bower in response to the tulip vase

'The Snap Tins' by Angie de Courcy Bower in response to our mining objects

'Tale of the Celtic Stone Man' by Stefan Grieve (Chairperson), in response to the Celtic stone head

'The Asylum Whistle', also by Susan McCartney, in response to the West Riding Asylum nurse's whistle

'Liquorice Fields' by L. Marie, in response to the liquorice stamp.

Ken Hanson: A Mining Deputy's Story, also by L.Marie

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

100 Years of Collecting - new display with Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society (part 2)

2023 marks both 100 years since Wakefield Museum first opened, and the start of a century of collecting objects! 

To celebrate, our team have picked 100 objects that tell the rich heritage of our district

Most of them are already on display, so we asked our friends at Wakefield Civic Society and Wakefield Historical Society to pick a selection from our storeroom.

Their members have picked an interesting mix of objects. These cover work and industry, sports and leisure, entertainment and creativity, politics and protest, and law and order.

The objects are now on display in the 100 Years of Collecting case at Wakefield One. 

The 100 years of collecting atrium case at Wakefield One, containing a variety of objects chosen by society members.

This blog features the objects chosen by Wakefield Civic Society. It includes captions written by Kevin Trickett, society President. 

The Wakefield Historical Society captions are in this previous blog.

All of the full captions are available in the 100 Years of Collecting Online Exhibition (choose 'Objects on Display' and then 'Wakefield One'). 

Plaque from Sun Lane Baths, 1938

Written by Kevin Trickett, President of Wakefield Civic Society.

A rectangular plaque, with a lion's head and water pouring out into a body of water, and a fish swimming past

This plaque was rescued from the former Sun Lane Baths. Another decorative feature was the sculptured frieze on the exterior of the building which is now incorporated into the counter of the café in the new Baths built on the site.

Both the frieze, and the plaque exhibited here, are very typical of the Art Deco period when health and fitness were strongly promoted as key to a good life with an emphasis on exercise and access to sunshine. 
Buildings often had large windows to let light in and flat roofs or sun terraces where people could sunbathe.

They show stylised, geometric representations of people and animals such as the fish and lion’s head on the plaque. The lion’s head as well as giving forth water, can also be interpreted as representing the sun.

A lead panel of the same design as the plaque, with lion's head spouting water and fish swimming past
One of the painted lead panels in situ at Sun Lane Baths before demolition in 2006.
Photo courtesy of the Wakefield Express.

Wakefield city centre isn’t exactly known for its Art Deco buildings – and two buildings from the period (1920s - 30s) that stood in Sun Lane have been demolished. 

One was the ABC cinema buidling on the corner of Sun Lane and Kirkgate demolished in 2023 – the other was the former Sun Lane Baths demolished in 2006.

The Sun Lane swimming pool was designed in 1936-7 by Percy Morris, the then City architect. The Art Deco / Modern building provided slipper baths, a café and a terrace for sun-bathing as well as the competition-size swimming pool. 

A sculptured frieze on the exterior of the building was designed by Arnold Sharp, principal of Wakefield College of Art from 1927-1956. 

The facility was owned by and under the management of Wakefield Council.

Sun Lane Baths main swimming pool, with arched art deco roof.
Sun Lane Baths in 1963. Photo courtesy of the Wakefield Express.

In 2006, the Council made the decision to close the baths over fears about the structural integrity of the roof. The Society called for a new pool to be built on the same site and that the Arnold Sharp frieze be incorporated into the new building. Today, the frieze is situated along the counter front in the café area in the new Sun Lane Baths.

Flyer for a production of 'Bouncers' by John Godber, at Wakefield Theatre, 1994

Written by Kevin Trickett, President of Wakefield Civic Society.

A poster for Bouncers, with four men in black tie and arms folded but with women's legs wearing skirts and heels

Today’s Theatre Royal was designed by Frank Matcham (1854-1920) and opened in 1894. It stands on the site of an earlier theatre dating from 1776.

The original Theatre was declared unsafe by the West Riding County Council in 1892 and had to be demolished down to the foundations.

Front of the old Wakefield Theatre, a brick building with awning and painted signs that read 'royal theatre' and 'opera house'
The original Wakefield Theatre Royal on Westgate before demolition, around 1890

Other theatres are known to have existed in Wakefield, some pre-dating the 1776 one. For example, the Mayor of Beverley is known to have visited a theatre in the yard behind the Black Bull Hotel further up Westgate in 1774 and, behind today’s NatWest Bank at 56 Westgate is known to have stood the Corn Market Theatre, possibly dating back to to around 1755 but with a stage only 12 feet across (3.65 metres).

Unlike today’s theatre, which opens almost all year round, the original Wakefield Theatre opened just for for a few weeks in late summer – when people would come to Wakefield for the horse racing season (there was a course at Outwood close to today’s Grandstand Road).

Black and white photo of the current Wakefield Theatre Royal, a grand brick building taking inspiration from the old theatre
The Frank Matcham-designed Wakefield Theatre Royal in 1990

Whistle from West Riding Asylum, mid-1900s

Written by Kevin Trickett, President of Wakefield Civic Society.

Small metal whistle engraved with 'West Riding Asylum - Wakefield'. Has a metal loop to attach it to a chain.
As a result of campaigning by the likes of Samuel Tuke (1784 - 1857), legislation was introduced which made councils responsible for providing humane care of the mentally ill.

Stanley Royd Hospital, originally known as the West Riding Pauper and Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1818. It was one of a number of regional asylums being built around the country in the early part of the 19th century and which were intended to provide both care and, importantly, treatment for the mentally ill patients.

Negative still of West Riding Asylum in the background, a large building. There is a field with sheep in in the foreground
View of the West Riding Asylum in the late 1800s

The asylum was built to a design by architects Charles Watson (1771 - 1836) and his associate James Piggott Pritchett (1789 - 1868). Watson also designed the Court House in Wood Street, St John’s Square and, with Pritchett again, the Public Rooms (later the Mechanics’ Institute) in Wood Street.

Stanley Royd closed in 1995 and the site was redeveloped as housing. Watson and Pritchett’s building was preserved but converted into apartments.

Whistles such as the one exhibited would have been carried by hospital staff to summon help when needed.

Photo of boy jumping, taken by Jack Hulme in Fryston, 1940s

Written by Kevin Trickett, President of Wakefield Civic Society.

A black and white photograph of a young child jumping over a makeshift hurdle made out of some bricks and a stick in a street

Are our streets for parking – or for play?

Not too long ago, it was uncommon for most working class people to own a motor car. Industrial towns and cities in particular how rows and rows of terraced housing, sometimes with small back yards but seldom with what we would today recognise as a garden.

As well as providing access to people’s homes, streets were, therefore, spaces where children played and people met to chat, sometimes bringing chairs out onto the street and, at times of local and national celebration, holding street parties.

With the growth of car ownership, particularly since the 1950s onwards, many families now own cars and our streets are often busy with traffic – or jammed with parked cars.

But which would you prefer? Do modern housing developments being built today get the balance between motorists and pedestrians right? Are children provided with safe places in which to play?

Pens made from the mulberry bush at Wakefield Prison, 2010s

Written by Kevin Trickett, President of Wakefield Civic Society.

A set of wooden carved fountain pens and matching carry case, lined with blue felt

The children’s rhyme 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush' is often said to have originated at Wakefield Prison where prisoners excercised by walking around a mulberry bush in the prison yard.

The prison, originally known as the Wakefield House of Correction, dates back to 1595 when a prison was built just off Westgate. This building was replaced by a newer building, a little further to the north and set further back from Westgate in 1770. This version was then replaced by another building in 1884.

Inside Wakefield Prison - shows a view down on of the wings with an arched ceiling and rooflights, cell doors, railings and walkways.
Inside Wakefield Prison in the late 1800s

At the beginning of the 17th century, King James I of England (formerly King James VI of Scotland) aspired to creating a British silk industry to rival those of France and Italy and started planting mulberry trees in large numbers, encouraging landowners across the country to do so. The mulberry tree is the sole food of the silkworm.

Unfortunately, it seems that the wrong sort of mulberry trees were planted – black mulberries instead of white mulberries and the silkworms failed to thrive in sufficient numbers.

A sprig of a mulberry tree from Normanton is said to have been planted in the prison yard where it grew into a full-sized tree.

Large mulberry bush in the grounds at Wakefield Prison
The mulberry bush at Wakefield Prison, 2011

Sadly, the tree died in 2017 although the intention was to replant a mulberry tree from one of the cuttings taken from the tree.

Monday, January 22, 2024

100 Years of Collecting - new display with Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society (part 1)

2023 marked both 100 years since Wakefield Museum first opened, and the start of a century of collecting objects! 

To celebrate, our team picked 100 objects that tell the rich heritage of our district

Most of them are already on display, so we asked our friends at Wakefield Civic Society and Wakefield Historical Society to pick a selection from our storeroom.

Their members have picked an interesting mix of objects. These cover work and industry, sports and leisure, entertainment and creativity, politics and protest, and law and order.

The objects are now on display in the 100 Years of Collecting case at Wakefield One. 

Members of Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society, and curator John Whitaker, looking into the display case and discussing its contents
Members of Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society at the display's unveiling, with curator John Whitaker

This blog features the objects chosen by the Wakefield Historical Society, along with the captions they wrote. The Wakefield Civic Society captions are in this blog.

All of the full captions are available in the 100 Years of Collecting Online Exhibition (choose 'Objects on Display' and then 'Wakefield One'). 

Dress from the Wakefield Pageant, 1933

Written by Deborah Scriven, member of the Wakefield Historical Society
An ornate green and gold pageant dress in an Elizabethan style, with a wide boned frame and cap

Historical pageants were popular in the 1920s and 1930s. 
Not to be outdone, Wakefield staged its own in 1933. 

Mrs Mabel Crook wore this costume as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting during the scene in which the Queen granted a charter to Wakefield for a free grammar school.

After more than four centuries, the school continues to flourish. The dress is a fascinating link between two very different periods in the city’s history.

Queen Elizabeth I and her ladies-in-waiting at the 1933 Wakefield Pageant. They are all in elaborate Elizabethan costumes, including the one in our collection.
Photograph courtesy of the Wakefield Express.

Mabel Crook (seated at the bottom left) as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies in waiting wearing the dress. This photograph is from a series taken by the Wakefield Express showing the 1933 Wakefield Pageant.

'Snooker for Women' campaign t-shirt, 1970s-80s

Written by Olivia Rowley, council member of the Wakefield Historical Society

White women's fit t-shirt with 'Snooker for Women' and illustration of two snooker balls headed for the pocket on it

I have to choose the snooker campaign t-shirt, being involved in the campaign. It was an exciting time.

Sheila Capstick innocently joined her Dad to play snooker one afternoon at the City Working Men’s Club in Kirkgate.

The local committee, the Club and Institute Union determined that women couldn’t play snooker.

The t-shirt symbolizes the power that certain males own.

Although so many women now participate in all sorts of sports, the sexism hasn’t ended!

The struggles of so many women throughout history must not be forgotten.

Olivia at a Snooker for Women demonstration, with her baby daughter in a pram. Other people around her are wearing the iconic t-shirts and have placards

'Me with our pram containing our now 44-year-old daughter on her first demonstration, but not her last'
Photo courtesy of Olivia Rowley

Lead weight, 1300s - 1400s

Written by Richard Knowles, Vice-President of the Wakefield Historical Society

A small shield-shaped lead weight featuring a fleur de lys motif

A lead merchant weight, known as a Lys and Crown type, weighing 1lb and believed to date from the 14th / 15th century.

Their specific use remains uncertain, but they may be wool weights.

This example is illustrated in J.W. Walker’s ‘Wakefield Its History and People’ 2nd edition (1939). Walker states it was ‘dug up in a garden on the Eastmoor housing estate’.

Walker was also the founding President of the Wakefield Historical Society, established in 1924.

The suggested location of the find site and presence of a fleur-de-lys, may lead one to speculate on a Wakefield connection. This is perhaps understandable as there was, at this time (1930s) a lack of other archaeological examples. However, a number of very similar examples have now been found in North and East Yorkshire.

Drawing of a lead weight very similar to the one in our collection, shield-shaped featuring a fleur de lys design
Illustration of the weight in J.W. Walker's 'Wakefield: Its History and People' (1939 edition)

Weight and height scale from Wakefield's Hornsea Seaside School, 1930s

Written by Pete Taylor, member of the Wakefield Historical Society

Tall, thin weighing scales designed for children. There is a hook sticking out of the scales that weights can be added on to

These were used to monitor children’s health and physical development, a growing concern in the early 20th century.

From 1906 local authorities took steps to record the height, weight and chest measurements of children attending elementary school.

From 1921 they were empowered to provide children with vacation schools. 

Wakefield’s Hornsea Seaside School opened in 1938, operating as a residential elementary school for 24 weeks a year and a holiday camp during the summer break.

Mrs Paterson the matron weighing a young child on the weighing scales. She has a very stern expression as she reads the child's weight.
Weighing in: Mrs Paterson, the matron at the Wakefield Seaside School in Hornsea, weighing a new arrival.
Photo copyright of Hulton Archive / Getty Images.

Dunlop 200G Max Pro tennis racket, 1980s

Written by Jean Broadbent, member of the Wakefield Historical Society

Dunlop 200G Max Pro tennis racket, purple frame with orange handle

William Sykes, a leather worker, started a business making footballs but quickly moved into tennis rackets and other equipment.

After mergers with Slazengers (1942) and Dunlop (1959) they became well known particularly for tennis.

I loved playing and watching tennis but was never fortunate enough to own a Dunlop 200G Max Pro like this one.

It is evidence that this Wakefield company was at the forefront of scientific advances.

Horbury has an interesting history in sport, unusually in equipment rather than participants.

Steffi Graf and Virginia Wade posing with a framed 200G max pro racket, with Dunlop banners behind them

1980s Women’s tennis legend Steffi Graf presenting the millionth injection moulded 200G Max Pro racket to 1977 Wimbledon champion, Virginia Wade.
Photo taken at the factory in Horbury.

The display is at Wakefield One until end of May 2024.


Monday, November 20, 2023

100 Years of Collecting: Amazing Archaeology (Anglo-Saxons to Civil Wars)

We’re picking back up our time-travelling archaeological adventure with the Anglo-Saxons!

It follows on from our previous blog exploring prehistory to the Romans.

Anglo-Saxons and Vikings

In the 5th century AD central Roman rule collapsed and Britain dropped out of the Roman empire. Small kingdoms began to emerge in Britain.

In the Wakefield area the British kingdom of Elmet formed. In turn this was taken over by the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. 

Very few objects survive locally from the Anglo-Saxon and then Viking periods. This makes what we do have even more special! 

We have these two spearheads in Pontefract Museum:

A pair of long thin iron spearheads in a display case, they are partly corroded but generally well preserved

We also have part of an elaborately carved stone cross shaft on display at Wakefield Museum

It dates to the 9th century AD, and was found being used as a doorstep in a shop on Westgate 1000 years later!

A tall thin stone cross shaft with carved looping patterns. The cross and base have been recreated and are painted in blue, red and yellow.
The Anglo-Saxon cross shaft at Wakefield Museum, completed with reconstructions of the base and cross. These would have been painted in bold colours.

The most spectacular Viking find from our area is the Stanley Ferry Viking log boat. This is on display in Wakefield Library, kindly lent by York Museums Trust.

Remarkably well-preserved fragments of a Viking-era log boat, displayed on a frame that demonstrates what the full boat might have looked like.
The Stanley Ferry Log Boat at Wakefield Library 

The Norman Conquest

The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods in Yorkshire ended with the Norman invasion of 1066 by William the Conqueror.

Although we don’t have many objects from the Norman period, we do have two awesome places where their legacy can be seen: Pontefract Castle and Sandal Castle.

Part of the stone keep at Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle, built in 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy

The standing stone remains at both these sites today are the reinforced replacements for the original Norman wooden buildings. 

These castles were key to turning William’s battlefield victory at Hastings into long-lasting conquest. They maintained dominance over the strategic landscape and the everyday life of local residents.

The main remains of Sandal Castle, an inner stone wall with two archways and the remains of a further part of the Castle to the right
Sandal Castle, probably built in the 12th century by the de Warenne family.

The Normans didn’t just build castles, however. They also built religious houses such as St John’s Priory in Pontefract. 

When this site was excavated in the 1950s and 1960s, some of the most interesting finds came from graves in and around the church.

This small cross was found around the neck of its owner. It is made of jet (the fossilised wood of the monkey puzzle tree), which was likely washed up on the beaches near Whitby.

A small stylised black jet cross with a series of circles engraved into its surface
The jet cross found at St John's Priory, Pontefract

You can see it for yourself at Pontefract Museum! It also features in the 100 Years of Collecting Online Exhibition.

Lost and Found

Most archaeological finds weren't originally as carefully placed in the ground. 

Many were lost, like this spear head, which was found in the Portobello estate near Sandal Castle. It was probably left behind during the bloody Battle of Wakefield in 1460.

A long pointed iron spearhead, which looks bumpy now due to corrosion before it was excavated
An iron spearhead, probably from the Battle of Wakefield in 1460

Other items were broken and thrown away, like these pottery fragments.

An array of pottery fragments, mostly curved, one part with a boar's face
Pottery fragments found at Sandal Castle

Although these fragments may not look impressive at first, when reassembled they from a portable urinal decorated with a boar’s head! 

Given that they were found at the Yorkist stronghold of Sandal Castle, and the boar was a symbol of Yorkist king Richard III - could it be that this was actually used for the ‘royal wee’?

A ceramic portable urinal, with a grey ceramic boar decoration. There's a handle to hold it in place and a hole to, well you know.
We carefully put the boar’s head decoration back together from its pieces. It is displayed alongside a replica of the urinal at Wakefield Museum.

We don’t know where the urinal was made but only a few miles away a major pottery industry was just beginning. 

Pottery making in Wrenthorpe became so important that the village became known as ‘Potovens’ after the kilns the pots were fired in.

Wrenthorpe pottery was distinctive, with dark colours and shiny glazes. This jug is a prime example! It was also found during excavations at Sandal Castle.

A tall brown ceramic jug with handle and off white leaf pattern on the front.
A Wrenthorpe jug, on display at Wakefield Museum and in the 100 Years of Collecting Online Exhibition

The English Civil Wars

A second Wrenthorpe pot also makes our 100 Years of Collecting list - but this time because of its contents!

The Ackworth Hoard consists of nearly 600 gold and silver coins, all buried in a Wrenthorpe pot, along with a gold ring.

A partially broken small brown pot with various gold and silver coins spilling out of it. There is also a gold ring.
The Ackworth Hoard

It was buried in the chaos of the Civil Wars during the siege of Pontefract Castle in the 17th century. It had probably belonged to a Royalist supporter, who wanted to prevent it from being taken by the Parliamentary troops billeted in Ackworth. For whatever reason, the person who buried it was unable to come back and retrieve it. 

The coins in the Ackworth Hoard were worth £85 and 12 shillings. This was a lot of money - around 7 years’ pay for a foot soldier during the Civil Wars.

The hoard remained untouched in the pot for over 350 years – until it was discovered in someone’s garden in the 20th century! 

You can see it for yourself on display at Pontefract Museum.

Even in the middle of a siege, the soldiers in Pontefract Castle needed paying. Being cut off from the outside world made this difficult. 
Their answer was to create their own home-made coins from reused silver.

The silver would come from luxury tableware and candle-holders owned by the richest members of the garrison. The silver objects were cut up or melted down and reshaped. The 'siege coins' were then cut from the resulting silver sheet. 

You’ll notice that siege coins aren't circular in shape like ordinary coins. This is because it was much easier to cut a straight edge than a curved one!

Diamond-shaped silver siege coin, with image of Pontefract Castle and the year 1648 engraved on the front
One of the siege coins produced at Pontefract Castle

This example of a Pontefract Castle siege coin is in the Online Exhibition and on display in the Visitor Centre at Pontefract Castle. 

It has a standard design for these siege coins featuring an image representing the castle itself. It includes the year it was created and the Castle was under siege - 1648.

It also has a morale boosting inscription, which translates as "while I breathe I hope".

Reverse of the diamond-shaped siege coin with Charles I's royal cipher roughly stamped on the back. Part of it is cut off when the coin was cut,
Reverse side of the siege coin, featuring Charles I's royal cipher.

That brings us to the end of our amazing archaeology 100 Years of Collecting highlights!

There’s lots more objects exploring the many and varied stories of the Wakefield district in our Online Exhibition.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

New exhibitions at Pontefract Museum

Two new exhibitions have just opened at Pontefract Museum!

Ladies who Launch: Celebrating Pontefract's Women in Business

13 November 2023 - 19 October 2024
Free - no booking required

Rachel, one of the Yonder Events organisers, holding up a sign that says 'These are the times of our lives' on stage
Yonder Events bringing the vibes at their famous Yonder at the Castle event

Explore the fascinating history of female entrepreneurs in Pontefract in Ladies who Launch, a new interactive and immersive exhibition.

Get hands on and try some of the trades from past and present.

Step back in time to sample the sights and scents of Victorian Pontefract. Discover the local women leading businesses in sometimes surprising industries.

Celebrate the success stories of today’s inspirational businesswomen - from indulgent skincare and beautiful bouquets to therapeutic yoga and exhilarating events.

Tell us about the amazing women in your lives with our comment wall!

The exhibition features local entrepreneurs Michelle and Karen (Michelle's Flowers Ltd), Rachel and Hayley (Yonder Events), Emma (Santosha Yoga Studio) and Hollie and Lorna (Wild and Wood Skincare).

A fantastic team of Volunteer Researchers conducted research into four local Victorian businesswomen. Many thanks to Alice, Jennifer, Julia and Samuel for helping us to share these stories.

Boxed In (From Whence You Came) by Fern Woodhead 

13 November 2023 - 19 October 2024
Free - no booking required

A black and white oil pastel self-portrait of Fern, trying to squeeze themself back into a box. The box reads 'Defective - return to creator'
'Boxed In (From Whence You Came)' by Fern Woodhead, now on display at Pontefract Museum

Boxed In (From Whence You Came) is a brand-new artwork by Pontefract’s own Fern Woodhead (they / them).

The artwork explores Fern’s feelings about “being a queer person in an inherently non-queer society.” The striking oil pastel self-portrait is a response to Fern’s identity as a non-binary person and lesbian.

The display also features supporting commentary written by Fern along with personal items they have kindly lent for the exhibition. These include the Grayson’s Art Club exhibition catalogue in which they feature, and a hand-made crocheted lesbian pride flag.

Fern hopes that the exhibition will raise awareness and start conversations around sexuality and gender identity. Wakefield Museums & Castles are very proud to acquire and display such an important and inspiring artwork and to showcase exciting local talent like Fern. The acquisition contributes to ongoing work to diversify the collection so that it represents a wide range of people’s lived experiences.

Fern says "With this exhibition, I hope that we can bring more awareness and start more conversations about identity – all of us have an identity, so why shouldn’t we talk about it?"

Fern's full commentary on 'Boxed In (From Whence You Came)' and more information

Visitor and access information for Pontefract Museum