“ Address: Salter Row / Pontefract WF8 1BA „
Pontefract's museum is located within an impressive art nouveau building that dates from 1904. This building was originally the Carnegie Free Library and even today it still has the feel of a library about it, although in other places it also reminded me of an old school building. It is located right in the heart of the town centre, adjacent to the parish church and close to the market and is therefore very easy to find.
I usually try and make a point of visiting museums when I am in area as they are an excellent way of finding out about an area and they are usually free to visit. Pontefract's museum is no exception to this rule as it is both free and a great place to discover all about the towns rich history.
The building that houses the museum is set out on two different floors but most of the exhibits are on the lower floor. As far I could see this lower floor would not pose any difficulty for disabled visitors and indeed during my recent visit there was a lady in a wheelchair visiting. The upper floor would however be a problem unless there is an alternative route than the old steep stairs that I took.
There is a large reception area just inside the main entrance and this also doubles up as a small gift shop. The exhibits on the lower level are displayed in two separate rooms. One of these is through a door to the right as you enter the museum whilst the other is in a room behind the reception.
The first room that the visitor steps into is the larger of the two ground floor rooms. This contains a number of different items that tell the history of the town over the past 3,000 years. Pontefract has a rich history although it is generally referred to by the name Tanshelf until more modern times. Tanshelf is now a small place on the edge of the town but reference to it as an important place is included in the Doomsday Book of 1089. Tanshelf/Pontefract had one of the most important castles in northern England and there were also two different priories. It is not surprising therefore that there are several artefacts that have been excavated from these sites during archaeological digs.
One of the displays tells the story of King Richard the Second's execution at the castle on the 14th February 1400. This was clearly a major national event but it is fair to say that the majority of the items held here are of interest on a more local level.
During the 19th century Pontefract became famous for liquorice and in particular Pontefract Cakes, which are liquorice based sweets. There is a display that tells the story of the town's association with this type of confectionery and a display cabinet full of old sweet tins was quite a trip down memory lane for me.
I found the lower floor of the museum very interesting but I very nearly missed the upper floor. Had I not been curious as to where a set of stairs led I would have left without discovering it. I asked a member of staff if the stairs led to any more public areas and she confirmed that it led to "The Glass Room" as well as some research rooms.
The Glass Room as its name suggests is full of glass items, but this is no ordinary glass, this is local Knottingley Glass. Knottingley is the next town to Pontefract but as it is smaller than Pontefract it doesn't have a museum of its own. Knottingley's glass industry dates back to the middle ages and it is still produced today, pretty much by the same archaic methods. It is characterised by its bright, vivid colours and intricate engraving.
I didn't actually go into the research rooms upstairs although I did have a quick peek through the doors. These rooms are a reminder of the buildings former use as a library. One of the rooms is dedicated solely to Knottinglry Glass and contains catalogues of every known piece produced. In addition to these catalogues there are also hundreds of books on the subject. Another room holds the areas census records dating back to 1841. These research rooms have desks, microfiches and photocopying facilities.
In summary I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Pontefract Museum although it is probably not the sort of place that you would travel far to.
It is open daily from 10am until 4.30pm (Monday to Saturday) and from 10.30am until 4.30pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Telephone: 01977 722740
A museum full of life, history and artefacts detailing the town's birth to the present day.