On 8th May 1756, markets for horned cattle at Pontefract were opened having not been allowed for several years on account of ‘a distemper which had so long raged amongst them……The distemper continued for many years, and many were very great sufferers…..notwithstanding so many died yet beef was not dear…’
On 14th August 1705, Joseph Taylor recorded in his book ‘A Journey to Edenborough in Scotland’: ‘we lay at Pontefract, [8 miles. Expen. £l. 8s. 6d.] a pretty Market Town. It sends two Members to parliament, and is very famous for Liquorish, which grows in great abundance almost in every place, The people make black and white Cakes of it, which they send to London and all over England, being very good for colds, Here we saw that old Castle, memorable for the Murder of Richard the 2nd, And also for the brave defence it made in the Civill Warrs, but it’s now onely a heap of ruines ; and the walls enclose a Garden or plantation of Liquorish, amongst the ruines …’
On 19th September 1786, the ‘Leeds Intelligencer’ reported that committees of local inhabitants in several towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire had been formed by constables to superintend and regulate all parochial matters, especially relative to the poor and the highways. The rules of the Pontefract Society included: ‘ That we will on every proper occasion encourage and assist the various parochial officers in the execution of their duty, particularly in suppressing all kinds of irregularities or tippling in the alehouses in the Lord’s Day, and in searching for vagrants, cheats, etc., and taking them before the magistrates ; and also in giving information ourselves, where we have personal knowledge and proof of the breaking of our excellent laws, for the due observance of the Sabbath, and against swearing and other notorious immoralities.’ William Wilberforce was so impressed by the success of the West Riding ‘campaigns’ that he tried to convert the movement into a national one.
On 7th October 1745, Lady Sophia Fermor, the second daughter of Thomas, 1st Earl of Pontefract died of fever aged twenty-four a few weeks after the birth of her daughter. Sophia was reputedly the author of ‘Woman Not Inferior to Man’, a radical text proclaiming the rights of women including quotes:
‘I think it evidently appears, that there is no science, office, or dignity, which Women have not an equal right to share in with the Men: Since there can be no superiority, but that of brutal strength, shewn in the latter, to entitle them to engross all power and prerogative to themselves: nor any incapacity proved in the former, to disqualify them of their right, but what is owing to the unjust oppression of the Men, and might be easily removed………….
We must be at least as well qualified as [Men] to teach the sciences; and if we are not seen in university chairs, it cannot be attributed to our want of capacity to fill them, but to that violence with which the Men support their unjust intrusion into our places……….
And as our sex, when it applies to learning, may be said at least to keep pace with the Men, so are they more to be esteem’d for their learning than the latter: Since they are under a necessity of surmounting the softness they were educated in (…) to which cruel custom seem’d to condemn them; to overcome the external impediments in their way to study; and to conquer the disadvantageous notions, which the vulgar of both sexes entertain of learning in Women. (…) it is self-evident, that many of our sex have far outstript the Men. Why then are we not as fit to learn and teach the sciences, at least to our own sex, as they fancy themselves to be?’
On 4th July 1752, Sir Robert Monckton-Arundel, 4th Viscount Galway, was born. He served as MP for the family seat of Pontefract in 1774 and from 1780-1783, then giving up his seat following his appointment as envoy to the Elector Palatine. However, on this appointment not materialising, he was elected to the York constituency in 1783. Failing to re-gain Pontefract in 1790, he was successful in 1796 and resigned his seat in 1802. He was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1784 and was Comptroller of the Household (ancient position in the royal household including helping with the auditing of accounts, arranging of royal travel and adjudicating upon offences committed within the bounds of the palace) from 1784-1787.
On 1st April 1707, Pontefract Town Council ordered that the lead pipes ‘yet ungot between Broad Land End and the Castle’ be used towards the repairs of the Conduit in Market Place indicating that Pontefract Castle had once been supplied with water from the town via Micklegate, Market Place and Ropergate. On the same date, a General Town Meeting held in the Moot Hall resolved that ‘the Constables doe Imediately repayre the Pillory and make it sufficient before Easterday next’. The pillory (a wooden device securing the offender’s head and hands whilst subject to public abuse) was probably in Pontefract’s Wool Market known as Hemp Cross or Hide Cross in earlier times. The town’s stocks (for holding the offender’s feet and ankles), which stood near the porch of St Giles’ Church, survived until about 1872.
A will dated 29th March 1728 by Mrs Dorothy Frank declared that her executors, within twelve months of her death : ‘…should lay out and dispose of the said £100 (nearly £18500 in today’s money) in a purchase of lands, and that they and their heirs should employ thirty shillings (nearly £280 today) per annum out of the said rent for the benefit and advantage of the poor children of the Charity School in Pontefract..the rest and residue of the issues and profits to be employed and bestowed yearly about the time of Christmas among such aged and sick persons of the said town of Pontefract, as her trustees and their heirs shall think fit.’
On 30th October 1711, Pontefract Corporation made an order: ‘That Mr Waterhouse, the present Mayor, do make a warrant to some person who will take and collect the Toll of the boats that pass and repass on the river Aire, betwixt Knottingley and Temple Hurst. And that if any person refuse to pay the same, that the person so nominated and appointed distrain for the same. And that he be indemnified by the town for so doing…….the same shall be granted by lease to such persons in Trust….and that the profits thereof be and go to the public use of the Charity School of Pontefract.’ A set of rules for the management of the school was soon agreed. Initially, the school educated and clothed twenty-four boys and twelve girls.
On 9th August 1726, Volume III of Daniel Defoe’s travelogue A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain: Divided into Circuits or Journies was released (and later on 13th October 1738, the second, revised edition), having been published in three volumes between 1724 and 1727. Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe in 1719), novelist and pamphleteer wrote about Sandal and Pontefract:
‘From Wakefield, we went to see the ancient Town of Pontefract. …. In Pontefract, and the Castle, much Blood has been spilt, in different Ages. Here, Henry (sic), the great Earl of Lancaster, who was Lord of the Castle, and whose Ancestors had beautified, inlarged, and fortified it, was beheaded by his Nephew, King Edward II with three or four more of the English Barons. Here Richard II was murder’d, and, if History may be credited, in a most cruel manner: and here Antony Earl of Rivers, and Sir Richard Gray, the former Uncle, and the other Brother-in-law to King Edward V were beheaded by King Richard III. In the late Civil Wars, a small Party of brave Fellows took this Castle by Surprize for the King, and desperately defended it to the last Extremity; but being at length obliged to yield, five of them attempted to break thro’ the Besiegers Camp, three of whom perished in the Attempt.
The Town is large and well built, but much smaller than it has been. The Castle lies in Ruins, though not demolished…..in the year 1735, the old (market) Cross was pulled down, and a handsome Dome, supported by a Colonnade of Doric Pillars (the charge whereof was defrayed by a Legacy left by one Dupere, an Inhabitant of the Town) was erected for that Purpose. The Ruins of The Castle shew it to have been a Noble Pile. A round Tower, yet standing, is intire, in or near which, the Tradition is, King Richard II was slain. Adjoining to this Tower are Winding airs, which descend into several Vaults, and subterraneous Passages.’
On 21st August 1783, John Gully, an English prize-fighter, horse-race owner (won The Derby in 1832, 1846 and 1854, St Leger in 1832, 2,000 Guineas in 1844 and 1854) and politician was born. He was MP for Pontefract from 1832-37. He was portrayed by boxer, Henry Cooper, in the 1975 film, Royal Flash.