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Pontefract Town Defences

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Pontefract.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of Wakefield.
1974 county of West Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Yorkshire West Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: SE453220
Latitude 53.69322° Longitude -1.30736°

Pontefract Town Defences has been described as a Urban Defence although is doubtful that it was such.

There are no visible remains.


No remains of earthen ramparts. (Bond)

Beresford suggested an original presence of a line of defences around the town, but there is little firm evidence for this (Anon, draft town survey)

Beresford (1967, 525) proposed a larger primary borough, defined by Back Northgate and Walkergate. There is no denying the symmetry of this arrangement, but it
does not take into account the topography of this part of Pontefract. Beresford further proposed a walled borough, built integrally with the castle (1967, 160, fig. 37), a notion perpetuated by Aston and Bond (1987, 126), but one which can not be sustained on documentary or archaeological grounds. There are more persuasive reasons to suppose that the new borough might once have had earthwork defences, and there are parallels for earthwork defences at other similar towns of the period (Barley 1975, 60; Beresford 1967, 504). Beresford's supposition that the defining streets to the north-west and south-east reflected the course of a defensive circuit is reasonable, but not for Back Northgate and Walkergate, particularly as the latter extends far to the south-east of the scarp top which is represented by the line of Southgate, topographically the more likely south-eastern edge of the new borough. Southgate and Northgate are much more likely candidates for streets reflecting the course of any earthwork defences and could, with Baxtergate and Finkle Street, meeting at the western end of Micklegate, represent an intervallum road, or back lane.
There are some thirteenth-century documentary references to ditches, but these are more readily construed as references to the castle ditch (the hopedic or upper dike) at the eastern end of Micklegate (Holmes 1899, 144–46). A reference to the 'town dike' to the north of Walkergate in 1322 (Ellis 1893, 302) may well, however, be an allusion to the borough defences. (Roberts and Whittick 2013)

The first post-Conquest town may well have been marked by a boundary ditch but there is nothing to suggest defensive banks. This area is that just to the west of the castle being the area between Back Northgate and Southgate. It does not include the later Market Place (in an area of later medieval expansion) or the parish church (to the East of the Castle in the area of pre-Conquest settlement). As with many Yorkshire towns the 'gate' element in some street names is from the the Danish gata meaning road and not a reference to town gates. Pontefract was the largest town in medieval West Yorkshire and strived for borough status from an early date. Nothing in the various charters for the town suggests the presence of defences, there are no grants of murage.
The location of the town on a ridge is suggested as defensive. The defensive value of high ground is much overstated generally and certainly is here where the reasons for the towns location clearly have more to do with avoiding the low marshy and flood threatened land and with the cultivatable quality of ridge land (remembering that in medieval towns people grew much of their own food in the long strips behind their houses and that, because this food was vegetables rather than cereal, this land needed to be of particularly good quality).
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:07

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