Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument which lies within the historic heart of Pontefract in West Yorkshire, a town that has been in continual occupation since Anglo Saxon times. The Castle has a long and colourful history and has frequently been at the centre of national events, acting as a Royal residence, centre of local administration and prison.
Painting of Pontefract Castle from the south, attributed to Alexander Keirinex, c.1625-30.Painting of Pontefract Castle from the south, attributed to Alexander Keirinex, c.1625-30.

During the English Civil Wars the castle underwent three Parliamentarian sieges before being demolished on the request of the townspeople of Pontefract, after which it was used as a place for liquorice cultivation. For the past 150 years the Castle has been used as a visitor attraction. This has included the use of the castle as a romantic ruin, the setting out of formal pleasure gardens and ornamental rose gardens, the arrangement of sporting activities (including tennis courts), and the development of visitor attractions (museum and tea rooms) and community uses (veterans’ shelter).

Pontefract Castle is now a heritage attraction managed by Wakefield Council on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster, and is open to the public seven days a week as a key local community and heritage asset and a historic focus of the town. Visitors use the heritage site as a place for recreation and enjoyment, and are able to walk around the Castle remains and read the on-site information boards relating the key elements of the monument ruins. Unfortunately, a lack of maintenance of the ruins has led to deterioration of the monument over time. Consequently, the Castle is now listed on English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk Register as category B – immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric.

As a result of this, Wakefield Council commissioned Lloyd Evans Prichard (LEP) to carry out a Condition Survey in 2010 and two phases of urgent conservation work were carried out in 2010 and 2011. The first phase of works included:
• Replacement of decayed steps up to the Keep
• Application of mesh to deteriorated wall heads to prevent potential rock-fall
• Excavation of Revetment Wall

The second phase of works focused on necessary works to the Gascoigne Tower, in order to consolidate the structure and secure the arch. The works included:
• Removal of cementitious mortar
• Taking down and re-building of the deteriorating rubble core
• Consolidation of walls and rebuilding of the arch
• Repointing in lime mortar
• Soft capping applied to the wall head

A larger scheme to address the future of the site and its structures was drawn up in 2010 and 2011. An early feasibility study was completed for the conservation and development works at the Castle to support a Stage 1 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This included:
• A condition survey of the castle site
• An outline conservation statement
• Concept Designs including site-wide landscaping proposals and a visitor centre with education and catering facilities
• Cost estimates


The council successfully achieved a Stage 1 pass following an application to the HLF in May 2012

In May 2013 the council appointed the Lloyd Evans Prichard consultant team to assist with the preparation of a HLF Round 2 application, including the preparation of information for, and submission of, the necessary Planning and Listed Building Consent Applications.

The applications for consent were submitted in October 2013. The HLF Round 2 application was submitted in April 2014 and the project was awarded a Stage 2 pass.

The approved financial budgets are:
Construction Costs £2,733,720
Museum Fit Out £56,093

The project started on site on in September 2014 and is due for completion in two phases:
Visitor Centre – July 2016
Ruin Consolidation and Landscape – February 2017

The primary need of the project is to remove Pontefract Castle from the Heritage at Risk Register.
The proposals to achieve this include:
• The consolidation of the ruins, which for many years have been deteriorating
• Tree removal and landscaping works to the Castle site
• Repair and rebuilding works to the Arts and Crafts Barn to create a new visitor centre
In addition to these, the project aims to:
• Improve accessibility for all across the monument
• Create an education and museum space within the new visitor centre to enable some of the archaeological finds from the site to be displayed, and for school and community groups to be catered for.
• Create viewing platforms and ‘views in’ to increase the visibility of the monument within Pontefract and the surrounding area.
• Create interest in the site, and make people aware of it to increase visitor numbers

Consolidation of the Ruins
A site-wide programme of thorough consolidation, re-pointing and wall top treatment, covering all masonry structures, will, over time, be carried out before deterioration of the stonework results in severe loss of the monument fabric. The aim of the programme of repair is to retain as much original fabric as possible, repairing and not replacing stonework unless absolutely essential for structural or weathering purposes; and to preserve the integrity of the castle remains through a sensitive approach and appropriate interpretation.

The works undertaken in 2011 to consolidate the Gascoigne Tower was intended to provide a model for the site-wide programme of works. This area of the ruins demonstrated a variety of conditions, including the requirement for consolidation, rebuilding of deteriorated elements, removal of cementitious mortar, deep void filling and repointing in lime mortar and application of a soft capping to the wall heads. Such an approach offered the opportunity for previously approved principles, methods and finishes of repairs to be applied to the site-wide repair of the masonry structures. The work was been described in more detail within the Method Statements which were submitted within the supporting documentation for the tender

Tree Removal and Landscaping Works
The self-seeded mature trees, heavy vegetation and undergrowth are also a major concern. The root structure of this vegetation was substantial and there was clear evidence of stonework being undermined. There were also large amounts of masonry hidden within this undergrowth that needed to be uncovered and assessed. Vegetation was cleared as necessary and selected trees were carefully felled and their roots killed (complete removal could present further concerns for dislodging of stonework) in order to improve the existing situation. The tree felling was carried out in advance of the main contract to enable the landscaping works to commence.

Across the site, new pathways and trails are being laid and access to existing pathways is being improved. The motivation for this is to increase accessibility for all to areas of the Castle site which have previously been inaccessible.

Visitor Centre
The Arts and Crafts Barn was built in the mid 1880’s as a temporary structure. It was clad slightly later in the whimsical patterns that can now be seen and was previously used as a tea room for visitors to the Castle. In its existing condition, the barn is unusable; its appearance is dilapidated and it detracts from the Castle’s setting. The barn is in the process of being carefully restored and reordered, keeping as much historic fabric as is possible.

The existing asbestos roof has been carefully removed, and it is proposed to replace it with cedar shingles. This will incorporate new conservation roof lights to enable more natural light to penetrate into the Visitor Centre. The north-west elevation is made up of seven timber panelled bays and one stone bay. Each of the bays has decorative cladding of varied configuration, which remains in part to each and clearly demonstrates how charming the structure must once have been. The decorative timber cladding will be repaired where possible, or otherwise renewed, in an identical pattern to the existing. This will be applied to the face of a new timber rain-screen clad wall construction.

Modern building regulations require the building envelope to be thermally upgraded to offer improved levels of insulation. Bespoke secondary glazing will be installed to all existing windows to further increase the thermal performance of the building, with frames to match the tracery of the existing windows. The two newly inserted doors will be double glazed with slim-profiled glazing to increase thermal performance, the designs of which will be sympathetic to that of the existing windows.

The flexible education and resource space lends itself well to being located within the existing barn as it is predominantly an open plan space and will require minimal amount of disturbance to, and maximum appreciation of, the historic building fabric. This has been designed in an historic style, to compliment the Victorian characteristics of the barn, which will add to the individuality of the space as a learning environment and encourage active participation in events. The retail area will be located at the opposite end of the barn, which will again require a minimal amount of disturbance to the historic fabric of the building.

Service facilities will also be located within the existing barn, which will be situated in a free standing ‘box structure’ that will have minimal connection with the historic fabric. This will enable the area to be read as a modern addition to the barn and will avoid any potential disruption to the historic fabric. All service pipework etc. will run within new partition walls and cupboards, or under the new floors, again to avoid disruption to the existing building fabric.

From the outset it was envisaged that the extension to the barn would be a modern addition, which would contrast, rather than replicate, the existing structure. This will ensure that the extension can be read as a 21st century addition, rather than a pastiche with no definite architectural context. A similar palette of materials has been used to that of the existing barn, reinterpreting the existing structure in a modern way, through the use of primarily timber combined with elements of glass and zinc. The extension will be clean, simple and devoid of fussy detail in order to contrast and accentuate the craftsmanship of the existing barn.

A glazed link was incorporated as part of the extension in order to emphasise the point where the existing barn ends and the new extension begins. This glazed link will also facilitate views of the Gatehouse and original Castle entrance from the historic access route to the Castle.