Walk 52: Pontefract Town Walk: The ‘sweet’ smell of sugar

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Roughly 1 mile

Time to walk: This is a town centre walk so you’ll be dragged away into shops etc, but if the Indoor Market’s open we suggested you don’t miss it

Difficulty: Flat & all on hard pavements making it ideal for all times of the year

Parking: We parked in the public car park nearest the Haribo Factory 😉

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route:


We were working in this part of the country & had a spare afternoon on a glorious day so decided to see what nearby Pontefract had to offer. We knew it was associated with the sweet industry & had a noted Market. What we found was a lovely little town centre, full of history & friendly people

Pontefract is a historic market town in West Yorkshire. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is one of the five towns in the metropolitan borough of the City of Wakefield. The town’s motto is ‘Post mortem patris pro filio’, Latin for “After the death of the father, support the son”, a reference to English Civil War Royalist sympathies

At the end of the 11th century, the modern township of Pontefract consisted of two distinct & separate localities known as Tanshelf & Kirkby. The 11th century historian, Orderic Vitalis, recorded that, in 1069, William the Conqueror travelled across Yorkshire to put down an uprising which had sacked York, but that, upon his journey to the city, he discovered that the crossing of the River Aire at what is modern-day Pontefract had been blockaded by a group of local Anglo-Scandinavian insurgents, who had broken the bridge & held the opposite bank in force. Such a crossing point would have been important in the town’s early days, providing access between Pontefract & other settlements to the north & east, such as York. Historians believe that, in all probability, it is this historical event which gives the township of Pontefract its modern name. The name “Pontefract” originates from the Latin for “broken bridge”

Pontefract’s deep, sandy soil makes it one of the few British places in which liquorice can successfully be grown. The town has a liquorice-sweet industry & is famous for Pontefract Cakes although the liquorice plant itself is no longer grown there. The town’s two liquorice factories are owned by Haribo & Tangerine Confectionery


A Liquorice Festival is held annually. Poet laureate Sir John Betjeman wrote a poem entitled “The Licorice Fields at Pontefract”

The Licorice Fields At Pontefract

In the licorice fields at Pontefract
My love and I did meet
And many a burdened licorice bush
Was blooming round our feet;
Red hair she had and golden skin,
Her sulky lips were shaped for sin,
Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack’d
The strongest legs in Pontefract.

The light and dangling licorice flowers
Gave off the sweetest smells;
From various black Victorian towers
The Sunday evening bells
Came pealing over dales and hills
And tanneries and silent mills
And lowly streets where country stops
And little shuttered corner shops.

She cast her blazing eyes on me
And plucked a licorice leaf;
I was her captive slave and she
My red-haired robber chief.
Oh love! for love I could not speak,
It left me winded, wilting, weak,
And held in brown arms strong and bare
And wound with flaming ropes of hair.

So with the smell of sweets wafting all over the town…

Let’s Walk!

1. We start our walk next to the Bus Station in the wide street known as Micklegate first recorded in 1190 as “Magus Vico” – the Great Street…


As we’ll see as we walk round the town, Pontefract’s streets bear the names of what went on there in the past. The Liquorice Festival was being advertised when we were there in early February 2016


2. Head up the hill into the very short Bridge Street passing David Beckham’s pub (Golden Ball)…


The Horse Vaults pub on the left is in an area known as Horsefair, first recorded in 1742. The name refers to the space in the road where the fair was held, not to the street itself



3. Just before the Town Hall is Baxtergate which is first mentioned in 1421 & was the street of the Bakers. The oldest part of the Town Hall’s round the corner, but the administrative office is pretty impressive too



There’s an old door here too which looks like it may be part of an old gaol


The Town Hall was built in 1656 on the site of the Medieval Hoot Hall. Until 1813 it was used as a Magistrates Court & Quarter Sessions with Police Cells underneath. It also housed the Fire Station

It looks better from the front…


Underneath the front’s the local police station – how quirky is that!


4. Facing the Town Hall, the street down the hill on the right’s known as Gillygate which was one of the main entrances to the town from the south



5. The Market Square was developed in 1200 & was a vast open space about the size of 6 football pitches which ran from here to Ropergate, then to Cornmarket & then back to Woolmarket via Salter Row. It’s a fabulous place & well worth spending some time around…


6. Barclays Bank on the left’s an impressive old town house…


This mid 18th century house was once the Black Bull Inn & became the Bank of Latham & Tew which merged with Barclays in 1906


 7. Move across to the other side of the square where there’s The Red Lion…


This is old of the oldest inns in the town. The present facade was designed by Robert Adam   in 1776 for Sir Rowland Winn of Nostell Priory

8. Next door though is where we’ve really come to visit – Pontefract Indoor Market. Yorkshire has a reputation for some of the best indoor markets in the world & this one’s a little cracker



On Wednesday, Friday & Saturday the market extends outside into the square, but today we had to be content with the great indoor version



You need a key? Take your pick…


Loved the Indoor Market & the locals are happy to welcome you, have a chat &, then in traditional Yorkshire fashion, give you the ‘put-down’. They know how to politely put you in your place

9. Just along from the Indoor Market’s The Buttercross which we’re pleased to report was still being used as a public meeting place when we were there…


The Buttercross was built in 1734 & originally had a flat roof which was replaced by the current one in 1763 at a cost of £46. Covered market crosses were common in the 18th century & it was there to give cover to dairy producers – we’ve seen a similar one in Uppingham. The local records also show that in 1776 a certain John Nutt brought his wife to the market cross & sold her to a Mr Ryder for 5 shillings. It’s noted that “all persons were satisfied”

Alongside the Buttercross is the Town’s pump. Water flowed from a spring in Wakefield Road via a lead conduit to tanks under the Market Place, which are still there. The pump lifted it up for use by the inhabitants. It was not until 1844 that a well at Halfpenny Lane was sunk & piped water began to be supplied

10. Just behind The Buttercross’ is the wonderful St Giles Church…


We wandered into this recently renovated church & were welcomed with opened arms & offered a personal tour – thank you people of Pontefract you are so welcoming


The church has undergone a massive renovation & some people love it, some don’t – for example all of the pews have been removed & replaced by modern chairs. St Giles Church is often referred to as ‘The Church at the Heart of the Town’. It’s unique, octagonal tower is visible from miles around


The origin of the font is unknown, but it’s believed to be over 550 years old – it’s still used for baptisms today



Looking back down the aisle, the arched pillars are the oldest part of the church dating back to around 1350



The new gallery can be seen above & at the back. The stained glass windows are pretty impressive too…



 The church is very much the heart of the community with St Gile’s Centre opening in 2012 following the renovation. It now provides a town centre resource for use by local groups, clubs & numerous other organisations. Attached is a cafe run by volunteers

11. Exit the church & turn right down Shoe Market & then immediately left down Ducks & Green Pease Row…


John Lund a local barber, wig maker & political satirist lived in this area in the 1700s. His best known satirical work is named after this alley


Unfortunately this alleyway has a more recent unpleasant association – it was the scene os a particularly nasty murder in 2011

12. At the end of the alley turn right up Beastfair which is obviously where livestock markets were held..

There’s an old drinking trough as memories of times gone by…


Across the street is the Malt Shovel Hotel which has cellars reputed to go back at least to the 14th century, but above ground-level the building has been very much altered, if not rebuilt



13. Just past the pub is another narrow alley called Swales Yard…


…at the end of which is the Merchants Warehouse, which was undergoing renovation when we visited…


This half-timbered building dates from 15th century. The market bell once hung from the front of it & Leonard Healaighe, a former mayor of the town lived here between 1565 -1601

14. Back out of Swales Yard at the top of Beastfair is the War Memorial. This area is an extension to the medieval market square & was originally called West Chepe…


Surrounded by numerous inns, one can imagine this area being extremely busy. Continue along the main street which becomes Corn Market…


15. In the picture above you can just make out the magnificent Sessions House on the right…


Richard III granted the town a Charter with authority to hold its independent Quarter Sessions which moved here from the Town Hall which we saw earlier about 1820. When these sessions ceased in 1972 it became the Magistrates’ Court. It also incorporated a Police Station &, unfortunately, closed for business on 22nd March 2013. Today it’s open to development offers

16. The smell of sweets is getting stronger & about 100 yards further on the right’s we find the culprit – Haribo!


Haribo is a German confectionery company, founded in 1920 by Johannes “Hans” Riegel, Sr. Its HQ is in Bonn & the name comes from an abbreviation of Hans Riegel, Bonn

Haribo is one of the biggest manufacturers of gummy & jelly sweets in the world, with its products mainly consisting of gummy bears, other jelly sweets & liquorice. The company has five factories in Germany & 13 throughout the rest of Europe, & sales offices in almost every country in Europe, as well as in the United States & Australia

Haribo’s key brands in the UK are Starmix, Tangfastics, Supermix, & Maoam, with Maoam being its own line of chewy sweets. They were once the distributor of Pez products in the United Kingdom, but this is no longer the case. Haribo makes Pontefract Cakes at their factory in Pontefract, West Yorkshire & other locations


17. About turn & back along Corn Market passing more inns on the way…


Artisan Tap is a range of venues in the UK providing a haven for Craft Beer lovers. They stock an eclectic mix of beers from around the globe within their rotating menu offering of over 80 choices


18. This time pass the left side of the War Memorial where there’s more watering holes to choose from – The Green Dragon, & The Ponty Tavern


Look for the small entrance back into Shoe Market. “Seldes”, or small cobblers shops were first recorded along here in 1258


19. On the left is Pontefract Library…


They were said to have a more detailed leaflet about this local walk, but that wasn’t the case & had never heard of it! Pass around the library to the left…


…where ahead now is the Museum…


The museum is located in an Art Nouveau building which was originally a Carnegie library. The library was opened in 1904 & designed by George Pennington. In the 1970s a new library was built & the Carnegie building was converted into a museum. It retains a tiled entrance hall and original 1904 furnishings


The museum also tells the story of Pontefract & its people, together with the history of Pontefract Castle from the construction of a wooden fort after the Battle of Hastings to its demolition by public request after the last siege of the Civil War

It also find covers how the town grew, thanks to the barracks, coal mine & liquorice manufacture

Although we’re not visiting the castle ruins on this walk (they’re slightly out of town down past where we started), it seems an apt place to briefly mention the history of one of the country’s most impressive strongholds. King Richard II is thought to have died there & it was the site of a series of famous sieges during the 17th century English Civil War


Here’s how it looks today


20. Turn round to see the church we were in earlier – you can clearly see the renovations…


Now walk down the narrow shopping street known as Salter Row…


The northern end of the market area was the poorer side of the town. The street names along here bear witness to this…Ratten Row means ‘poor’ & Pudding Middens was the dumping area for offal from the butchers in the Shambles (now the Market Hall)

21. At the end the street bends right into Woolmarket…



In the 17th century this area was known as Hemp Cross & was probably the site of public hangings

Turn left & we’re back at the bus station where we started this walk

So that’s Pontefract & what a charming market town it is, plenty of history, welcoming locals & some excellent fare (try the Yorkshire Curd Tart from Thomas’).


It’s a place we’d definitely return to

And the smell…we’ll never forget the smell…

The light and dangling licorice flowers
Gave off the sweetest smells

Go Walk!