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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Speed

Pontefract Castle

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

A deposed king and a captured earl both met their demise at Pontefract. This once-mighty castle is now in ruins but is no less worth a visit.

Don't need accessibility info? Jump to The Visit to find out what it's like to visit Pontefract Castle and read about some of its histories.


Pontefract Castle

Castle Garth




Parking is available on-site and free of charge, but the main car park is a challenging journey from the castle entrance. There are two disabled bays outside the main entrance on Castle Garth. For visitors looking for the main car park, the postcode is WF8 2JF.

It is a long, slightly uphill journey from the main car park to the entrance, which involves navigating either steps or cobblestone pavement to reach from the car park itself.

Facilities on-site include an accessible toilet kept clean and in good order. A gift shop and small exhibition are also fully-accessible if the manual doors are propped open, which they have been every time I have visited. The cafe is accessed through automatic doors but is closed during winter. The nearest Changing Places toilet is located 3.3 miles away at the Junction 32 shopping outlet.

The Grounds are mostly gravel paths and grassed areas. Some higher and lower parts are only accessible via steps, which means that some information boards are not accessible. There are plenty of benches providing rest points around the paths, and picnic benches on the grass.

The Visit

Regular readers will know that I have a keen interest in the Wars of the Roses, and will therefore not be surprised to learn that Pontefract Castle, with its connections to the Battle of Wakefield, is one of my frequently visited sites.

Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, powerful ally to the Duke of York and father of the 16th Earl of Warwick (also called Richard Neville, known to history as The Kingmaker), was killed here despite his potential ransom, after being captured following the Battle of Wakefield.

According to the English Chronicle, as referenced by Keith Dockray and Richard Knowles in their essay The Battle of Wakefield (published in The Ricardian Vol. 9, No. 117 June 1992), Salisbury was lynched and beheaded by locals.

Salisbury’s head was displayed on a spike at York’s Micklegate Bar, alongside those of the Duke of York and his son Edmund. For more on those, see my post about Sandal Castle and the Battle of Wakefield.

But it's not just its Wars of the Roses history that makes Pontefract Castle such a historically significant site. In the thirteenth century, the castle played a part in the lead up to the Magna Carta, and in the sixteenth century, it was a key site in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. It also saw three sieges during the English Civil Wars of 1642 to 1651.

Pontefract Castle played a directly significant role in royal history not once but twice. The deposed King Richard II lost his life here in 1400, and Henry VIII visited with his wife Catherine Howard in 1541. Could this be the place where Catherine began her ill-fated affair with Thomas Culpeper? Allegedly so!

With all this history and more, Pontefract Castle makes for a great day out. Although little of the castle remains, the very grounds upon which it was built have soaked up all that history and you can sense a real connection to it just by being here. (Be sure to check out the exhibition to see some of the things that have been found by archaeologists.)

It is a mostly accessible site but there are some parts that can only be reached via steps, and there are of course some parts that require careful footing as you cross foundations.

Before I continue, I must say that although this blog focuses on mobility needs, I'm keen to see Britain's historic sites and museums become as accessible as possible for all. Pontefract Castle is one of the sites which I'm pleased to say has some information in audio format. However, these devices are powered by winding the handle, which proved impossible for me with my upper limb issues. I had people with me who were able to get them going, but I will point out that the official accessibility statement from Wakefield Council is encouraging and states that staff may be contacted if assistance is required.

Highlights include the former kitchen with discolouration of the stones from the ovens and the sallyport. Whenever I pass through it I find myself imagining all those who may have used it in its heyday.

A family-friendly location, Pontefract Castle has a play area and baby changing facilities.

Top Tips

  • Try to get there early in hope of getting one of the two disabled parking spaces at the entrance

  • Ask staff for assistance reaching items and operating doors, and contact them ahead of your visit if you will be alone and hope to hear the audio recordings but need help

For More on the History

Visit the castle website for a summary of some of its history:

For an introduction to the Plantagenets, including Richard II, try Dan Jones' The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England

For More on the Site

For their visitor information page:

Final Note

Despite all that history, Pontefract Castle is often overlooked. Other castles, better preserved and owned by big organisations, have so much to offer visitors, but so do places like this one. What’s more, admission to Pontefract Castle is free.

Reading about its history, especially the parts that interest you, will help you to make the most of your visit as you’ll be more likely to sense those connections.

As for my next location, watch this space. I have a few places in mind, but I’m allowing myself a little rest after illness before getting back out again.

Until then, happy travels!

*Disclaimer: This blog is written as a travel blog with a disability focus and history theme. It is intended to entertain and inform but is in no way a comprehensive guide and I do not attempt to provide a full accessibility guide for any site. Readers planning to visit any sites should check site websites or contact sites directly for up-to-date information on opening times, facilities, accessibility and other required information.

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