Pontefract Castle - An Artists View

Points of Interest

Norman Chapel

In digging the foundations for the Norman Chapel the builders disturbed the graves of a Saxon cemetery which had covered much of the site.


The Dungeon

The Dungeon lies below the inner bailey. It may have been the cellar to the original Great Hall of the castle. Later it was used a powder magazine. Civil War prisoners were kept chained up on a narrow ledge at the foot of the stairs. Some carved their names on the wall.You can still see the pick marks made when the dungeon was excavated from the bedrock, an outcrop of coal measures sandstone known as the Pontefract Rock. You can tell that the workers who hacked it out were right-handed because of the lobsided lean to the tunnels. The Dungeon is open on a regular basis to visitors.

Part Two of Richard Bell's Tour

The Gascoigne Tower may or may not have been the place where Richard II (1367-1400) died under mysterious circumstances. It certainly looks like the setting for a Shakespearean tragedy. An ancestor of the Victorian naturalist Charles Waterton acted as one of the king's jailers, on the instructions of Henry Bollingbroke (Henry IV). Waterton has a walk on part in the play and the family kept a first folio edition of Shakespeare in their library at Walton Hall.

Look for this gardrobe, a medieval toilet, at the foot of the Motte. No complicated plumbing to go wrong here, originally there was simply a plank to sit on and a hole that opened over the moat below.The medieval Royal Court was often on the move, a retinue of a thousand or more might descend on a castle like Pontefract. Privacy was hard to find within the castle walls and it is quite likely that, on occasion, important issues were discussed right here in this gardrobe.

Walk around to the outer wall of the Keep and you'll see a door that leads to another castle dungeon. The access to this one is rather difficult and, at the moment, it is not open to the public. Peering inside gives you a glimpse of the inner life of a 12th century castle. Think about where that narrow staircase goes. First it climbs up inside the motte, then drops steeply down to it's centre. A well-worn plank crosses a 'bottomless' pit to a single stone cell where the prisoners were shut away in complete darkness. Another 5 cells were sealed long ago.

The castle was demolished with the full approval of the town's-people. The ruins of may still bear the scars of the Civil War Siege. Golf ball-size holes on this stone above the Sally Port may be holes made by musket shot, while a bucket-sized hole nearby are the result of a Parliamentarian cannon ball during the Civil War Siege.

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