Conservation work completed at Pontefract Castle

18/04/2019, PR-9037

​Visitors to Pontefract Castle can go on a time-travelling journey from Sunday (April 21) to explore parts of the site last seen 370 years ago.

​The Sally Port - which has been hidden from view since 1649 – is being opened up to give a window back into the period of the English Civil Wars.

The secure gateway, which was used as an emergency exit from the castle in times of trouble, has been fully restored so that people can go inside and experience the past for themselves.

The transformation has been made possible thanks to a hugely successful £4.5million project, which has just been completed, with the help of specialist craftsmen, archaeologists and volunteers.

On Sunday (April 21) visitors will be able to see the work that's taken place and the difference that's been made to the castle.

Launched in 2015, the Key to the North project had an ambitious goal, to repair the castle ruins so it was no longer on Historic England's heritage at risk list, to reveal more of its hidden history, and to make it more accessible to visitors.

Pontefract Castle was built in the 11th century and is believed to be where King Richard II was imprisoned and murdered.

The castle has been a ruin since 1649 when it was held as a royalist stronghold during the English Civil War and besieged by Parliamentarian forces. 

During the conservation works, archaeologists made important finds including a post-medieval floor and the remains of a gatehouse and drawbridge pit.

Interestingly, seven cannon balls were found embedded in the castle wall, that were fired during the first of three sieges that took place during the civil wars.

Other fascinating objects were unearthed, giving an insight into people's day to day lives, such as clay pipes and pipe bowls. These were discovered as part of a community archaeology project, which involved school children and other volunteers, all helping to uncover the past.

The remains of a gatehouse were also discovered, and Historic England has awarded a grant of £85,000 for the area to be excavated. The work will take place in the autumn and schools and the public will be involved.

Another key element of the project has seen a new visitor centre created. It was the first stage of the project to be completed and opened in 2017. Since then it has welcomed thousands of people.

Using traditional craftsmanship, combined with modern techniques, the visitor centre is now home to a learning area, which can be used as a classroom or a lecture area and is very popular with schools. It's also home to a shop and an exhibition space where people can learn more about Pontefract Castle and its treasures. There's also a new café area.

As part of the project, access has been improved across the site thanks to new stairways and paths.

Signage has been improved, and a bandstand that doubles as an outdoor classroom has been added.

Tom Stannard, Corporate Director for Regeneration and Economic Growth at Wakefield Council, said: "It is fantastic that the project has been such a great success and has uncovered parts of the castle not seen in hundreds of years. 

"Pontefract Castle has always been a very important part of the district's heritage. The conservation work has revealed more about the story of this very important site, which will continue to be enjoyed by people now and in the future.

"The conservation work will help encourage even more people to come and visit and enjoy our important historic site."

The £4.5million Key to the North project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, Epac landfill charity, the Wolfson Foundation and Wakefield Council.

The castle is open seven days a week and is free to enter. For more information visit: www.pontefractcastle.co.uk