DOMESDAY - PONTEFRACT
by ERIC HOULDER
Tateshale there are 16 carucates of land without geld where 9 ploughs
may be. Now Ilbert has 4 ploughs there are 60 small burgesses and 16
cottars and 16 villaines and 8 bordars having 18 ploughs. A church is
there and a priest. 1 fishery and three mills rendering 42 shillings and
three acres of meadow. Wood for pasture 1 leaguer in length and half a
leaguer in breadth. The whole manor 1 leaguer and a half in length and
half a leaguer in breadth. TRE (tempera Rex Edwardus) 400 shillings, now
300 shillings. Within this limit is also contained the almsland of the
This is the entry for Pontefract translated into modern English. Before the
excavations of the mid 1980s, no one knew the locations of any of the
buildings mentioned in the entry. However, the fishery, a series of
ponds designed to supply fish for Fridays, had been located by Richard
Holmes in what is now Grace’s scrapyard along the line of the Washbeck
at the base of Baghill. Two of the watermills (this was before the
introduction of the windmill) were almost certainly sited where the
medieval watermills survived into recent memory: in Mill Dam and beneath
the railway embankment behind The Cobbler’s.
The ‘80s excavations found the remains of the first Norman township along
Tanner’s Row and up the Booths. Beneath this was a cemetery containing
178 complete skeletons and the fragmented remains of a further 55. As it
continued out of the excavation area, and was found beneath the
buildings of the Castle, it must have been very extensive. C14 tests of
two of the skeletons supplied dates of AD 690 and AD 950, both with
standard deviations of 10%.
In the centre of the cemetery were the foundations of a stone church, with
traces of a previous wooden structure beneath. Standing on this spot it
is possible to see that Baghill Lane above the railway bridge, and
Monkhill Lane, are both aligned on this building.
Average height of the adult males was 5’7", and the females 5’3".
Evidence of disease was found in several individuals, including one
child with scurvy. 25 people suffered from iron deficiency, evinced by
pepperpot pitting in the root of the skull.
One child only suffered from Ricketts, resulting from calcium deficiency.
Lines and pitting on the teeth showed that several other individuals had
a lesser degree of calcium deficiency.
Fifty two percent of all births failed to survive past the age of ten! Even
this danger-decade had its black spot: the years between two and five
when nearly 20% died. Thereafter, mortality declines steeply to the
relatively safer years between sixteen and twenty-five when only 7.7%
Twenty-six to thirty-five had a 21% mortality, presumably because the females were
in the dangerous childbearing years whilst the males were of military
age. And, of course, most people were already dead! Only eight percent
of births lived to see forty-five!
The Norman Conquest
When Ilbert de Lacy arrived to take over his lands, he probably found a
thriving town surrounding the church and cemetery. However, he had to
cut away much soil and rock on the east of his new castle to make a
steep scarp slope. This removed much of the cemetery. The spoil was
replaced further down the hill, covering the now demolished church. A
new church was built where All Saint’s now stands, and a completely
new street pattern laid over the fill. This was the street pattern of
Tanners Row, The Booths and Beech Hill.
Thus, the main street of his town was The Booths, leading from the castle’s
east gate to the church. Only in the following century did the town
expand into what we now call the Market Place. For many years this was
called the New Market. Even as late as the seventeenth century, the
Booths area was called the Old Town. Its eastern limit was probably
Grange Lane (now called Box Lane). Most of the earliest settlement was
probably squeezed into the area between the two branches of the Washbeck
which meet close to the confluence of Bondgate and Box Lane.
So, the area surrounding All Saints was almost certainly the earliest
settlement of the area: the original Tateshale, (Tanshelf). This became
Pontefract some time in the twelfth century: the first mention of the
name is 1138. Pons Fractus means broken bridge in Old French (and
Latin). That bridge has been proved to lie beneath Knottingley Road
where the Washbeck runs under it at Bubwith Houses Farm.
Further Articles by Eric Houlder
Search For The Broken Bridge