Picture credit: Keith St Ange (IFY Community)
“Doncaster is a noble, spacious town, exceeding populous, and a great manufacturing town, principally for knitting; also stands upon the great northern post-road.”- Daniel Defoe (18th Century writer)
Originally part of the West Riding, Doncaster is a large town in South Yorkshire. The town gets its name from the River Don which it’s situated on and is home to around 128,000 people according to the 2011 census.
Doncaster is well known for many things. These include horse racing and it’s industrial heritage.
The area has also acquired notable tourist attractions. There are a large number of country estates which established themselves in Doncaster during the 18th Century.
Tourist Attractions in Doncaster
One of these tourist attractions is Cusworth Hall, a Grade I listed building. It was built in 1744 for the local landowner William Wrightson. Within his ownership, a chapel and library were added.
The house was 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. Eighteenth century ceiling paints have since been restored in the chapel and the middle lake has been re-designed. In 2007, the hall and gardens were fully restored after a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund.
Currently, 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 everyday. You’ll find the middle lake, Lady Isabella’s rose garden, orchards, and much more. It’s ideal for picnics, walking the dog, and letting children play in the play area.
Brodsworth Hall is a fantastic example of a Victorian Country House. It has remained relatively unchanged since the construction of the present hall in the 1860’s.
Uniquely, the interior of the house aims to recapture the mid-Victorian times. There are many objects from the era that remain untouched and in their original places since being a family home.
From 1790, the land was owned by Peter Thellusson, a Genevan businessman. He 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 Brodsworth Estate, was to be put in a trust for the benefit of future generations. This was at the expense of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
The will was challenged by his descendants who fought for ownership of his fortunes and land. This was to set a precedent in British property law. The Accumulations Act 1892, more commonly known as the Thellusson Act, was passed to stop this from happening again.
In 1859, 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. Peter Isaac Thelluson became the Baron Rendlesham in 1806.
Baron Rendlesham promptly destroyed the old house and built the present one in its place. The grounds feature several gardens with Italian, Rose, and Formal areas as well as a picnic area, flower meadow, and cafe.
Conisbrough Castle is a medieval fortification that was built around the 1170’s -1180’s and was given to William de Warenne by William the Conqueror. The castle would later be rebuilt 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.
After being given to Edmund of Langley and then back again to the Crown in 1461, the castle fell into ruin where it’s outer wall was badly affected by subsidence.
In 1737, the Duke of Leeds bought the ruins which would later become the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. During the 19th century, Conisbrough Castle became a popular tourist attraction.
The castle was deemed unsafe for the public in the 1980’s. This led to the local council, English Heritage, and other local charities to take over and re-roof the keep and re-floor.
In 2008, English Heritage took ownership of Conisbrough Castle. Currently, visitors can roam around the ruins and grounds whilst learning about the history of the castle.
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve is one of the largest in the county and is managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Established in 1968, it covers 490 acres of mixed habitats.
In total there are seven miles of footpaths for you to explore. Along the way, you’ll find several hides where you can watch the abundant wildlife.
The reserve is a great place to see lots of different species. These include the Kingfisher, Bittern, Water Rail, as well as summer migrants such as Chiffchaffs and Terns. Potteric Carr Nature Reserve also has a shop, cafe, and learning centre.
Museums in Doncaster
Closer to the centre of the town is the Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery. It opened in 1968 and displays the history of Doncaster and its people.
Attached to the museum and art gallery is the Regimental Museum of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. It exhibits artefacts and medals from its history in the town since 1757.
Markham Grange Steam Museum is another not to be missed. It’s home to a collection of working engines, pumps, and machinery that once drove the industries in Doncaster. Attached is a large garden centre and cafe.
Travelling In & Out of Doncaster
Doncaster is an important transport junction due to its central location. It’s positioned adjacent to the A1 with easy access to the M62 and M18 motorways. This makes it the perfect location for fast, easy access to all three Ridings of Yorkshire (four if you include South Yorkshire).
The town’s railway station lies on the East Coast Mainline. The current station was built in 1938 although trains have existed in the town since 1849.
Doncaster Railway Station is one of the most important railway junctions in the UK. No less than seven train operators run services from Doncaster, something that is only matched by Crewe.
East Coast trains run services to London and Edinburgh, and Trans Pennine goes towards Cleethorpes and Manchester. Northern Rail on the other hand provides a more local service to Sheffield, Leeds, and Lincoln.
The station is also visited by other services from different towns and is also a place in which passengers change trains. The words “via Doncaster” are very common and can be seen on many departure boards throughout Yorkshire.
Doncaster’s bus station is called “Frenchgate Interchange” and is based at the town’s principle shopping centre. It opened in 2006 replacing two older bus stations in the north and south of the town.
It has 30 bus stands and provides services to other Yorkshire places. These include Barnsley and Sheffield to the West, and Goole and Selby to the North and East.
Robin Hood airport was opened in 2005. It is located at the former RAF Finningley airfield.
It’s the smaller of the two Yorkshire airports and conducts flights to European destinations. These include Poland, Greece, Spain, and Lithuania as well as some further afield such as Egypt and Tunisia.
Horse Racing in Doncaster
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 inevitably led to them being raced. Records of regular meetings date back to the 16th Century.
Originally, horse racing was discouraged for “attracting 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 hosts two of the oldest races on the calendar. The Doncaster Gold Cup and St Ledger which both 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 on the other hand 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 Doncaster Racecourse.
In 1992, Doncaster Racecourse hosted the first Sunday meeting which proved to be extremely popular. At this point no betting was allowed to take place.
Sport in Doncaster
Doncaster has a long history in association to football. The town also made a significant contribution to the women’s game.
In 1879, Doncaster Rovers were formed by railway fitter Albert Jenkins. Six years later Albert would turn professional.
Then, 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 it was decided that they should play until one team scored. This was in an era before the penalty shoot-out.
The game went on for another 203 minutes before the referee stopped the game. A replay was arranged at a later date and the Doncaster Rovers won 4-0.
In the 1990’s, the football club entered their most difficult time. Their chairman at the time withdrew his financial support and sent the club into administration. Since then, the club has recovered after being acquired by John Ryan in 1998 and moved into the Keepmoat Stadium.
Formerly the Belle Vue Belles, Doncaster Rovers Belles, or “Donny Belles”, are the town’s ladies team. Arguably, they have been more successful than their male counterparts.
In 1969, the team was formed by a group of female lottery ticket vendors at Belle Vue, the former home of Doncaster Rovers. They are one of the country’s most successful ladies teams who dominated the women’s game throughout the 1990’s.
The Belles merged with the Rovers in 2003 and shared their training facilities and club shop. In 2013, the club were demoted from the Women’s Superleague.
Rugby League also has a strong presence in Doncaster. The town’s team had two names before deciding on Doncaster RLFC. From 1995 – 2005, the team were known as Doncaster Dragons and then between 2006 – 2007, Doncaster Lakers.
Doncaster RLFC, also known as “The Dons“, formed relatively late. In 1951, they shared the Keepmoat Stadium with Doncaster Rovers.
Recreational sport is dominated by the sports facility known as The Dome. Princess Diana opened it to the public in 1989.
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 a number of rock concerts and hosted Kings of Leon, the Kaiser Chiefs, and Ian Brown.
Doncaster has a very lively 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 up until the early hours of the morning. A few of the more notable nightclubs are Flares, CoCo, and Secrets.
Theatres in Doncaster
In 2013, “Cast” theatre opened its doors and replaced the old Civic Theatre. The venue hosts a mixture of plays, dance shows, comedy, and musical performances. It also boasts a dance studio, rehearsal room, and cafe bar.
The Doncaster Little Theatre was opened in 1995 by a local acting group called the Doncaster Literary Society. It hosts a rich programme of both professional and amateur productions.
Shopping in Doncaster
Doncaster’s retail experience is dominated by the Frenchgate shopping centre. The arcade building used to be called
the Arndale but was sold and re-developed in 1988.
This led to the bus station being built. The Frenchgate shopping centre then became the first integrated public
transport and retail interchange. It was further extended and modernised in 2006.
This expansion brought new businesses and visitors to the shopping centre. It’s now home to a number of high street shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Doncaster is a notable Yorkshire town in many 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. It 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 document that outlines all of 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: York and Lincoln.
After the Romans had left Britain, Doncaster continued its role as a military town. Doncaster became an Anglo-Saxon “burh” which was used as a fort against attacks from the Vikings.
Burhs and administrative centres were also commercialised. This status carried on into the Norman Times and beyond.
Doncaster can be found in the Domesday book of 1089. However, the book shows the centre of the town was based around the modern day Hexthorpe, a small suburb by the side of the river.
Conisbrough Castle was originally constructed by Nigel Fossard. It was to be used as extra fortification and control over the town.
Richard I granted Doncaster a town charter in 1194. The place was beginning to grow into an important settlement in Yorkshire.
In 1204, Doncaster suffered a great fire which destroyed everything that was not made of stone. Soon after, the town was rebuilt and continued to prosper through the Middle Ages. By 1334 it was the wealthiest town in South Yorkshire and the sixth most important in the county.
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 usually associated with the trade which was the most prominent on that particular street such as Baxtergate which was where the bakers were. Interestingly, it’s believed that “Frenchgate” may have come from the number of Normans who lived there.
Doncaster was already a wealthy town. Its allegiance to the crown during the English Civil War was rewarded by becoming a “free borough” in 1664 granted by Charles II.
The town had helped his father during the Civil War. This attracted a lot of landed gentry to the borough with vast estates such as Brodsworth Hall, Cantley Hall, and Wheatley Hall being established in the 17th Century.
Doncaster’s location has always been favourable since the Roman Times. It’s situated on the Great North Road or the modern day A1.
This made the town an important stopping place for travellers from London to Edinburgh. Travellers who stopped in Doncaster spent their money on the hospitality industry.
The presence of horses in this area was significant. This started a tradition of breeding, grooming, and racing in the area.
Surprisingly, 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. This was soon followed by glass-making.
The town’s access to waterways meant that they could export the coal to power steel factories in Rotherham, Sheffield, and Scunthorpe. Like much of South Yorkshire these industries declined, ending in the closure of many of its pits in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Unlike other towns, more notably Barnsley, Doncaster kept a few of their mines open. Hatfield Main Colliery re-opened in 2007 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. This started in the 1940’s 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 managed to reinvent 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. These include Tesco, Amazon, Next, IKEA, and Fabergé.
Situated amongst these is the Doncaster International Rail port. Built in 1995, it distributes goods around Europe using a terminal at the Channel Tunnel.
Throughout history, Doncaster has had many things going for it. Most significantly its location. The town was first identified by the Romans as an easy way to access Lincoln without having to cross the Humber Estuary.
Nowadays, the town has been identified by Amazon.com. They class the areas as the best place to distribute its 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.