Picture credit: Keith St Ange (IFY Community)
Doncaster is a large town in South Yorkshire, originally part of the West Riding. The town gets its name from the River Don and is home to around 308,100 people, according to the 2021 census. Doncaster is well known for many things, including horse racing and its industrial heritage.
The Yorkshire town is also home to notable tourist attractions. There are several country estates which established themselves in Doncaster during the 18th century.
As of the 1st November 2022, Doncaster is granted city status to celebrate The Queen’s platinum jubilee.
- Tourist Attractions in Doncaster
- Museums in Doncaster
- Travelling In & Out of Doncaster
- Horse Racing in Doncaster
- Sport in Doncaster
- Doncaster’s Nightlife
- Theatres in Doncaster
- Shopping in Doncaster
- History in Doncaster
- Doncaster Trivia
People often overlook Doncaster and its tourist attractions. There are many hidden gems within this Yorkshire town that are rich in history and make for a great day out to be enjoyed by the whole family.
One of these tourist attractions in Doncaster is Cusworth Hall, which is a Grade I listed building. Local landowner William Wrightson built the hall in 1744 and, within his ownership, added a chapel and library. The building remained occupied until 1952, when the last owner died. In 1967, part of the hall re-opened as a museum to the public with the other half remaining closed.
Over the decades, parts of the hall and gardens had fallen into a state of disrepair. Doncaster Council has since restored the eighteenth century ceiling paints in the chapel and re-designed the middle lake. In 2007, the council restored the hall and gardens after receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund.
Cusworth Hall still contains a museum that’s dedicated to Doncaster and the surrounding area. On display are around 36,000 objects, including toys, photographs, mining tools, and kitchenware mainly donated by local people.
The gardens and parkland are open to the public every day of the week. Within them is the middle lake, Lady Isabella’s rose garden, orchards, and much more. There are areas designed for picnics, a play area for children, and the area also welcomes dogs.
Brodsworth Hall is a fantastic example of a Victorian Country house that has remained relatively unchanged since the present hall was constructed in the 1860s. The interior of the house aims to recapture the mid-Victorian times with many objects from the era remaining untouched and in their original places since being a family home.
Peter Thellusson, a Genevan businessman, became the owner of the land in 1790 and would later become the former director of the Bank of England. When he died in 1797, he left an unusual will behind. All of his fortunes and land, including the Brodsworth Estate, were to be put in a trust for the benefit of future generations at the expense of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
His descendants challenged the will and fought for ownership of his fortunes and land, which was to set a precedent in British property law. The government passed The Accumulations Act 1892, more commonly known as the Thellusson Act, to stop this from happening again.
It wasn’t until 1859 that the court decided that the property was to be shared between the grandsons of his eldest son, Peter Isaac Thelluson, and his other son, Charles Thelluson. In 1806, Peter Isaac Thelluson became the Baron Rendlesham and destroyed the old house and built the present one in its place. The grounds feature several gardens with Italian, Rose, and formal areas along with a picnic area, flower meadow, and cafe.
Conisbrough Castle is a medieval fortification that was built around the 1170s to 1180s. William the Conqueror gave William de Warenne the castle, who later rebuilt it in stone along with the 28 metre high-keep. Despite being seized by the crown several times, Conisbrough Castle remained in the family line until the 14th century.
The Crown gave the South Yorkshire castle to Edmund of Langley before taking it back again in 1461. Conisbrough Castle fell into ruin after subsidence affected the outer wall. In 1737, the Duke of Leeds bought the castle ruin, which later became the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
During the 19th century, Conisbrough Castle became a popular tourist attraction until the council deemed it unsafe for the public in the 1980s. As a result, the local council, English Heritage, and other local charities took over and re-roofed and re-floored the castle.
In 2008, English Heritage took complete ownership of Conisbrough Castle. It is now open to the public every day of the week and visitors can roam around the ruins and grounds whilst learning about the history of the castle.
Potteric Car Nature Reserve
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust manages Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, which is one of the largest nature reserves in the county. Established in 1968, Potteric Carr covers 490 acres of mixed habitats and has seven miles of footpaths to explore. Along these footpaths, there are several hides to watch the abundant wildlife.
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve is a great place to see lots of different species including the kingfisher, bittern, water rail, as well as summer migrants such as chiffchaffs and terns. The South Yorkshire nature reserve also has a shop, cafe, and learning centre.
Close to the centre of the town is the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery owned by Heritage Doncaster, who opened the museum and art gallery in 1968, which displays the history of Doncaster and its people. Attached is the Regimental Museum of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which exhibits artefacts and medals from its history in the town since 1757.
Markham Grange Steam Museum is another institution that is not to be missed. The museum is home to a collection of working engines, pumps, and machinery that once drove the industries in the South Yorkshire town. On this site, visitors can enjoy its large garden centre and cafe.
Motorways & A Roads
Doncaster is an important transport junction because of its central location. It’s positioned next to the A1, with easy access to the M62 and M18 motorways. This makes the town the perfect location for accessing all three Ridings of Yorkshire (four if you include South Yorkshire).
Doncaster Railway Station
Doncaster’s railway station lies on the East Coast Mainline. In 1938, the council built the current station although trains have existed in the town since 1849. Doncaster Railway Station is one of the most important railway junctions in the UK with no less than seven train operators running services from Doncaster, something that is only matched by Crewe.
Three of these train operators are the East Coast, Trans Pennine, and Northern Rail. East Coast trains run services to London and Edinburgh, and Trans Pennine goes towards Cleethorpes and Manchester. Northern Rail provides a more local service to Sheffield, Leeds, and Lincoln.
Other services from different towns also visit Doncaster Railway Station, which acts as a place passengers change trains. The words “via Doncaster” are very common on many departure boards throughout Yorkshire.
Doncaster’s bus station is called “Frenchgate Interchange” and opened in 2006. It’s based at the town’s shopping centre, replacing two older bus stations in the north and south of the town. The station has 30 bus stands and provides services to other Yorkshire places, including Barnsley and Sheffield to the West, and Goole and Selby to the North and East.
Robin Hood Airport
In 2005, Robin Hood Airport opened at the former RAF Finningley airfield. It’s the smaller of the two Yorkshire airports and conducts flights to European destinations, including Poland, Greece, and Spain, and some further afield, such as Egypt and Tunisia.
Robin Hood Airport’s board announced the possible closure of the airport in July 2022. The owners consulted to determine the future of this South Yorkshire airport and decided on the 26th September, the airport would slowly stop its flights starting on the 31st October. Its final flights are expected to operate on the 4th of November 2022.
The sport of horse racing has long been established in Doncaster. Its popularity originated from the old hospitality trade which thrived in the town, taking in stagecoaches travelling on the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh. The abundance of horses in the town led to them being raced with records of regular meetings date back to the 16th century. Originally, people discouraged horse racing as it “attracted ruffians to the town”. Despite this, the sport continued to thrive and in 1614, the authorities gave in and established an official racecourse.
Doncaster Racecourse is famous for hosting two of the oldest horse races on the calendar, which are The Doncaster Gold Cup and St Ledger. Both races had their first run in 1776.
The Doncaster Gold Cup is the world’s oldest continued and regulated horse race in the world. St Ledger is the oldest classic race. Each September, the four day St Leger festival takes place. It’s one of the most important events in the calendar for the Doncaster Racecourse.
In 1992, the Doncaster Racecourse hosted the first Sunday meeting, which proved to be extremely popular with horse racing enthusiasts. During this time, people legally could not bet on horses.
Doncaster has a long history in association with football and has made significant contributions to the women’s game. Railway fitter Albert Jenkins formed Doncaster Rovers in 1879 who, six years later, would turn professional.
In 1946, Doncaster Rovers were involved in the longest ever football match against Stockport County in the FA Cup. After extra time, the two sides locked at 2-2 when the referee decided the teams should play until one of them scored – this was in an era before the penalty shoot-out. The game continued for another 203 minutes before the referee stopped the game and arranged a replay at a later date, which the Doncaster Rovers won 4-0.
The football club entered their most difficult time in the 1990s. Their chairman withdrew his financial support and sent the club into administration. Since then, the club recovered after John Ryan gained it in 1998 and has moved into the Keepmoat Stadium.
Doncaster Rovers Belles
Formerly the Belle Vue Belles, Doncaster Rovers Belles are the town’s ladies’ team. Arguably, the Donny Belles rugby team has been more successful than their male counterparts. In 1969, a group of female lottery ticket vendors formed the team at Belle Vue, the former home of Doncaster Rovers, and are one of the country’s most successful ladies teams who dominated the women’s game throughout the 1990s.
The Belles merged with the Rovers in 2003 and have since shared their training facilities and club shop. Ten years later, in 2013, the club was demoted from the Women’s Superleague.
Rugby League also has a powerful presence in Doncaster. The town’s team had two names before deciding on Doncaster RLFC. From 1995 to 2005, fans knew them as Doncaster Dragons and then, between 2006 to 2007, Doncaster Lakers.
Doncaster RLFC, also known as “The Dons”, formed relatively late compared to other rugby league clubs. In 1951, The Dons shared the Keepmoat Stadium with the Doncaster Rovers.
In 1989, Princess Diana opened The Dome to the public, which is a sports facility for recreational sport. The Dome boasts a swimming pool, multi-level ice rink, which was the first in the UK, and a sports hall amongst other facilities. More recently, it has been a venue to several rock concerts and hosted Kings of Leon, the Kaiser Chiefs, and Ian Brown.
Doncaster has a vivacious nightlife that is popular and enjoyed by many. On the High Street, Cleveland Street, and surrounding areas, you’ll find forty pubs and bars to choose from.
From historic pubs to backstreet bars, you’ll be until the early hours of the morning. A few of the more notable nightclubs are Flares, CoCo, and Secrets.
“Cast” theatre opened its doors to the public in 2013 and replaced the old Civic Theatre. The venue hosts a mixture of plays ranging from dance shows, comedy, and musical performances. Cast Theatre also boasts a dance studio, rehearsal room, along with a cafe bar where people can enjoy a drink and light bite to eat before or after their show.
In 1995, a local acting group called the Doncaster Literary Society opened the Doncaster Little Theatre. The theatre is very community focused and hosts a rich programme of both professional and amateur productions.
The Frenchgate shopping centre dominates Doncaster’s retail experience. Originally, the arcade building used to be called the Arndale, but this changed in 1988 when it was sold and re-developed. Frenchgate shopping centre became the first integrated public transport and retail exchange when the bus station was built.
In 2006, the shopping centre extended and became modernised. This expansion brought new businesses and visitors to the Frenchgate and is now home to many high street shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Doncaster is a notable Yorkshire town in several ways. Not only is it an important transport hub with excellent links to Yorkshire and the rest of the UK, it also has plenty of things to see and do.
Doncaster dates back to 1 AD and was an important Roman fort which was built at a crossing by the River Don. The fort appears on the “Notitia Dignitatum”, Register of Dignitaries, which is an important historical document which outlines all the Roman Empire’s military units.
The military base called “Danum” was a very important location in the empire. It had a strategic location between two of Roman Britain’s biggest cities, which were York and Lincoln.
After the Romans had left Britain, Doncaster continued its role as a military town and became an Anglo-Saxon “burh” which was used as a fort against attacks from the Vikings. Burhs and administrative centres were commercialised, and this status carried on into the Norman era and beyond.
The South Yorkshire town is recorded in the 1086 Domesday book. However, the book reveals Doncaster wasn’t where it is now, and was instead based around the modern day Hexthorpe, which is a small suburb by the side of the river.
Many tourists visit Conisbrough Castle every day of the week. A man called Nigel Fossard originally constructed the castle and used it as extra fortification and control over the town.
Richard I granted Doncaster a town charter in 1194. As a result, the Yorkshire town grew into an important settlement in Yorkshire.
In 1204, Doncaster suffered a great fire which destroyed everything that was not made of stone. Soon after, residents rebuilt the town and continued to prosper throughout the Middle Ages. By 1334, Doncaster was the wealthiest town in South Yorkshire and the sixth most important in the county.
Over time, the layout of the town was also becoming distinctive. Many of the street names ended in the suffix “gate” which comes from the old Danish word “gata”, meaning street. This prefix was associated with the most prominent trade on that street, such as Baxtergate, which was where the bakers were. It’s believed that “Frenchgate” may have come from the number of Normans who lived there.
Allegiance to the Crown
Doncaster was already a wealthy town when Charles II rewarded it by giving it “free borough” status in 1664 for its allegiance to the crown. The town had helped Charles’ father during the English Civil War. After Charles II granted the reward, it attracted a lot of landed gentry to the borough with vast estates such as Brodsworth Hall, Cantley Hall, and Wheatley Hall, all being established in the 17th century.
A Great Location
The town’s location has always been favourable since the Roman Times. It’s on the Great North Road, or the modern day A1. This made the town an important stopping place for travellers from London to Edinburgh who stopped in Doncaster and spent their money on the hospitality industry.
During the Roman era, the number of horses in the area was significant. As a result, the locals started a tradition of breeding, grooming, and racing in the area, which has since continued.
Unlike other towns, Doncaster was slow to industrialise. It became a major manufacturing town relatively late compared to its surrounding areas. However, by the early 20th century, coal mining became Doncaster’s principal industry, with glass-making following behind.
Doncaster’s access to waterways meant they could export the coal to power steel factories in Rotherham, Sheffield, and Scunthorpe. Like most of South Yorkshire, these industries declined, ending in the closure of many of its pits in the 1980s and 1990s.
Unlike other towns, more notably Barnsley, South Yorkshire town Doncaster kept a few of their mines open. In 2007, Hatfield Main Colliery re-opened when a power station was built there which needed the coal to fire it.
Other industries also thrived in Doncaster, the main one being tractor-making, which started in the 1940s and ended in 2007. Confectionery has also made up a prominent part of Doncaster’s economy. Parkinson’s Butterscotch, which formed in Doncaster, is where this form of toffee was invented.
The closure of its coal mines hit hard. However, the town reinvented itself and embraced modern service industries. Doncaster’s location once again proved its worth as the area is now an important centre for the distribution industry. Many major companies now have warehouses on the flat land around Doncaster, including Tesco, Amazon, Next, IKEA, and Fabergé.
Doncaster International Rail Port
Situated amongst the warehouses is the Doncaster International Rail port. Built in 1995, it distributes goods to Europe using a terminal at the Channel Tunnel.
An Identified Town
Throughout history, Doncaster has had many things going for it, most significantly its location. Romans first identified the town as an easy way to access Lincoln without having to cross the Humber Estuary. Nowadays, Amazon has identified the town who class the area as the best place to distribute their products to customers throughout the UK.
During the Roman Times, Doncaster was called Danum.
Doncaster was built to help cross the Humber Estuary.
Doncaster is twinned with six towns:
- Dandong in China
- Avion in France
- Hertenn in Germany
- Gliwice in Poland
- Wilmington in North Carolina
- Salgotarjan in Hungary.
Doncaster was home to the oldest regulated horse race in the world, which first ran in 1776, The St Leger.