PARTS of Pontefract Castle not seen by the public since 1649 will be opened up as part of a £3.5m conservation project.
Wakefield Council, which runs the castle, announced today that the major Key to the North project would push ahead thanks to a substantial £3.045m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The castle, a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, has a long, bloody and colourful history, including being a Royal residence, a prison, and the site of the murder of Richard II in 1399.
The money will allow parts of the castle not seen by the public since 1649 to be opened up, including the Sally Port and Swillington Tower. Victorian paths and three viewing platforms, two of which will be fully accessible, will be restored.
The project, which includes additional funding from English Heritage and Wakefield Council, will include vital conservation work which will take it off English Heritage’s ‘At Risk’ register.
The Arts and Crafts barn will be extended to provide improved learning facilities, and a shop and a café will be built.
Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box said: “We are delighted that the HLF is supporting our work at Pontefract Castle with this grant. The money will help put Pontefract on the map for tourists, building on what is an already popular site, and will certainly bring wider economic benefits into the town.”
Coun Les Shaw, the Council’s cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, said the castle was significant not just in the district’s history, but in that of the entire country.
He said: “How amazing to think that we can open up parts of this immensely important building not seen for hundreds of years.”
Fiona Spiers, Head of HLF Yorkshire and the Humber said the Fund was impressed by the passion and support local people had shown for the project, which she hoped would “lead to many more visitors discovering the charms and history of the castle.”
Bloody history of castle
IT was immortalised by Shakespeare as a “bloody prison, fatal and ominous to noble peers”.
The first timber castle was built at Pontefract in the 11th century, and over the centuries it was frequently at the centre of national events.
Edward I called Pontefract ‘the key to the North’ and the murder of Richard II at the castle inspired Shakespeare to write about it in two of his plays. During the Wars of the Roses from 1454 to 85, it was a Lancastrian stronghold, and during the English Civil Wars, from 1642 to 1651, the Royalist castle underwent three sieges before being demolished on the request of the townspeople of Pontefract in 1649.
Since then, it has been used for liquorice cultivation and as a pleasure garden.