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)

Doncaster is a large town in South Yorkshire with a population of around 128,000 people. It is situated on the River Don, of which it takes its name and is known for many things, including, horse-racing and industrial heritage. The area has also acquired some notable tourist attractions, due to the large amount of country estates which established themselves here in the 18th Century.

The lovely Cusworth Hall Picture credit foto43 wikipedia creative commons
The lovely Cusworth Hall Picture credit foto43 wikipedia creative commons

One of these is Cusworth Hall, built in 1744 for local landowner, William Wrightson, with the chapel and library added later. The house was occupied until 1952, when the last owner died. Part of the hall re-opened as a museum in 1967 but parts of it remained closed to the public. The hall and gardens were fully restored in 2007, after a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund. Over the decades some parts of the hall and gardens had fallen into a state of disrepair. Eighteenth century ceiling paintings have been restored in the chapel, while the middle lake has been re-designed. The house still contains a museum dedicated to Doncaster and the surrounding area, displaying around 36,000 objects, including toys, photographs, mining tools and kitchenware, mainly donated by local people. The gardens contain the aforementioned lake, Lady Isabella’s rose garden and orchard amongst others.

Brodsworth Hall is a fine example of a Victorian Country House and has remained relatively unchanged since the construction of the present hall in the 1860s. Uniquely the interior of the house aims to recapture the mid-Victorian times with many of the objects from the era remaining untouched and in their original places since being a family home. Originally the land was owned by the former head of the Bank of England, Peter Thelluson of Switzerland from 1790. He left an unusual will in that his fortune, including the Brodsworth estate, which he requested to be put in a trust and remain untouched for three generations. The will was challenged by his descendants who fought for ownership of his estate, setting a precedent in British property law. In 1859 it was decided in court that the property was to be shared between Thellusson’s grandson, Charles and The 5th Lord of Rendlesham, who promptly destroyed the old house and built the present one in its place. The grounds feature several gardens with Italian, Rose and Formal themes as well as a picinic area, flower meadow and café.

Potteric Carr nature reserve is a haven for wildlife Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
Potteric Carr nature reserve is a haven for wildlife Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Potteric Carr Nature reserve is one of the largest in the county and is managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. It was established in 1968 and covers 490 acres of mixed habitats. It has seven miles of footpaths and several hides in which to view the abundant wildlife. The reserve is a good place to see species, such as Kingfisher, Bittern, Water Rail and summer migrants, such as Chiffchaffs and Terns. It also has a shop, café and learning centre. Moving into the centre of Doncaster lays its Museum and art gallery. These were opened in 1968 and display a history of the area and its people. Attached to this 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 houses a collection of working engines, pumps and machinery, which once drove the industries in Doncaster. Attached is a large garden centre and café.

Doncaster, due to its central location is an important transport junction. By road it is positioned adjacent to the A1, but with also easy access to the M62 and M18 motorways, meaning that it has fast, easy access to all four Ridings of Yorkshire. Doncaster railway station lies on the East Coast Mainline and built, in its present form, in 1938, although trains have existed in the town since 1849. It is one of the most important rail junctions in the UK, with no less than seven train operators run services from Doncaster, something matched only by Crewe. East Coast trains run services to London and Edinburgh, Trans Pennine goes towards Cleethorpes, and Manchester, while Northern Rail provides a more local service to Sheffield, Leeds and Lincoln. The station is also visited by other services from other towns or is a place in which passengers change trains. The words, “via Doncaster” are very common words seen on many departure boards throughout Yorkshire.

The town’s bus station is the poetically named, “Frenchgate Interchange” and is based at the town’s principle shopping centre. It was opened in 2006, replacing two older bus stations in the north and south of the town. It has 30 bus stands, providing services to other Yorkshire places including Barnsley and Sheffield to the West and Goole and Selby to the North and East. Robin Hood airport is located at the former RAF Finningley airfield and was opened in 2005. It is the smaller of the two Yorkshire airports and conducts flights to European destinations, such as Poland, Greece, Spain and Lithuania as well as some further afield, such as Egypt and Tunisia.

Doncaster racecourse hosts one of the oldest horse races in the world, The St Leger. Picture credit ba
Doncaster racecourse hosts one of the oldest horse races in the world, The St Leger. Picture credit wikipedia creative commons

The sport of horse-racing has been long 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, with records of regular meetings from the 16th century. Once discouraged, for “attracting ruffians to the town,” the sport thrived and by 1614 the authorities gave in and established an official racecourse. The venue hosts two of the oldest races on the calendar. The Doncaster Gold Cup, which has been run since 1766 and is the world’s oldest continued and regulated horse race in the world. The St Leger, first run in 1776 is the oldest classic race. Each September the four-day St Leger festival takes place and is one of the most important events in the calendar. In 1992 Doncaster racecourse hosted the first Sunday meeting, even though no betting was allowed to take place!

Doncaster has a long history in association football and has also made a significant contribution to the women’s game. Doncaster Rovers who were formed in 1879 by railway fitter, Albert Jenkins, and turned professional six years later. In 1946 they were involved in the longest ever football match against Stockport County in the FA Cup. After extra time the two sides were locked at 2-2 when it was decided (in an era before the penalty shoot-out) that they should play until one team scored. The game went on for another 203 minutes before the referee stopped the game and a replay was arranged, which Rovers won 4-0. In the 1990s Doncaster Rovers entered their most difficult era, when their chairman at the time withdrew his financial support and sent the club into administration. The club has since recovered after being acquired by John Ryan in 1998 and moved into the new Keepmoat Stadium. Rovers will start their 2014-15 campaign in League One after suffering relegation from the Championship.

Doncaster Rovers Belles are the town’s ladies team, who have arguably been more successful than their male counterparts. Formed in 1969, 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, dominating the women’s game throughout the 1990s. In 2003 they merged with Rovers and shared their training facilities and club shop. Controversially the club were demoted from the Women’s Superleague in 2013 and currently play in the second tier.

Rugby League also has a presence in the shape of Doncaster RLFC, who currently play in the Championship. They formed relatively late, in 1951 and share the Keepmoat Stadium with Doncaster Rovers. Recreational sport is dominated by the sports facility known as The Dome. It was opened by Princess Diana in 1989 and boasts a swimming pool, multi-level ice rink, the first in the UK, and a sports hall amongst other facilities. In recent times the Dome has provided venue space for a number of rock concerts and has hosted such names as Kings of Leon, the Kaiser Chiefs and Ian Brown.

Nightlife in Doncaster revolves around the forty pubs and bars on the High Street, Cleveland street and surrounding area. It also has a few nightclubs including “Flares” and “The Social” to name but a few. Doncaster has recently opened a brand new theatre, known as “The Cast,” replacing the old Civic Theatre, which has closed its doors. The venue, which opened in September 2013 stages a mixture of plays, dances shows, comedy and musical performances. It also boasts a dance studio, rehearsal room and café-bar. The Doncaster Little Theatre was opened in 1995 by a local acting group, the Doncaster Literary Society and hosts a rich programme of both professional and amateur productions.

The Frenchgate centre is Doncaster's principal shopping centre. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
The Frenchgate centre is Doncaster’s principal shopping centre. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

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 saw the building of a bus station, making it the first integrated public transport and retail interchange, which was further extended and modernised in 2006. The mall houses a number of high street stores, cafes and restaurants.

Doncaster is an important Yorkshire town in many ways, which is nowadays an important transport hub, with excellent links not only to Yorkshire but the rest of UK. However there is plenty to see and do for those who choose to stop a while.

Doncaster started as an important Roman fort, which dates back to 1AD and built at a crossing by the River Don. The military base, named “Danum,” was a very important location in the empire, due to its strategic location between two of Roman Britain’s biggest cities, York and Lincoln. The fort also appears on the “Notitia Dignitatum,” or Register of Dignitaries, an important document which outlined all of the Roman Empire’s military units. Once 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 were also commercial and administrative centres too and this status carried on into the Norman Times and beyond. In the Doomsday book of 1089, however it shows that the centre of the Doncaster was based around what is modern day Hexthorpe, a small suburb by the side of the river.

Conisborough Castle was an important seat of power in the Doncaster area during Medieval Times. Picture credit: Stephen Hamilton (IFY Community)
Conisborough Castle was an important seat of power in the Doncaster area during Medieval Times. Picture credit: Stephen Hamilton (IFY Community)

Conisbrough Castle was constructed by Nigel Fossard as extra fortification and control over the town. Richard I granted Doncaster a town charter in 1194 and the place was growing into an important settlement in Yorkshire. In 1204, the town suffered a great fire destroying everything not made of stone. The town was soon rebuilt and continued to prosper through the Middle Ages and by 1334 it was the wealthiest town in South Yorkshire, 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 for street, “gata.” The prefix was usually associated with the trade which was the most prominent on that particular street, e.g Baxtergate, where all the bakers were and interestingly “Frenchgate,” may have come from the number of Normans, who lived there.

Doncaster was already a wealthy town and 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 and this reward 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, which had always been favourable since Roman Times, sat on the Great North Road, or modern day A1. This made the town an important stopping place for travellers from London to Edinburgh and made further money through the hospitality industry. The presence of horses in the area also started a tradition of breeding, grooming and racing in the area.

Surprisingly the town was slow to industrialise and it only became a major manufacturing town relatively late compared to other places. However, by the early 20th Century coal mining was Doncaster’s principal industry, along with glass-making. The town’s access to waterways meant they could export the coal to power the steel factories of Rotherham, Sheffield and Scunthorpe. But like much of South Yorkshire these industries declined, ending with the closure of many of its pits in the 1980s and 90s. However, unlike other towns, notably Barnsley, Doncaster kept a few of their mines open. Indeed Hatfield Main colliery re-opened in 2007 when a power station was built there, which needed the coal from below to fire it. Other industries also thrived in Doncaster, most notably tractor-making, which started in the 1940s and ended in 2007. Confectionery has also made up a prominent part of Doncaster’s economy in the shape of Parkinson’s Butterscotch, and is where this form of toffee was invented.

In the post industrial age Doncaster has re-invented itself as a distribution centre. Picture credit: Ashley Dace. geograph creative commons.
In the post industrial age Doncaster has re-invented itself as a distribution centre and railport. Picture credit: Ashley Dace. geograph creative commons.

Although the closure of its coal mines hit the town hard it has still managed to re-invent itself and has embraced modern service industries. Doncaster’s location has once again proved its worth, as the area is now an important centre for the distribution industry. Many major companies have warehouses on the flat land around Doncaster, such as Tesco, Amazon, Next, IKEA and Faberge’. Situated amongst these is the Doncaster International railport, which was built in 1995 and can distribute goods around Europe using a terminal at the Channel Tunnel.

Throughout history, Doncaster has had many things going for it, most significantly its location. It 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 as the best place to distribute its products to customers throughout the UK.

Doncaster was called Danvm in Roman times and was built to help cross the Humber estuary.

Doncaster is twinned with no less than six towns all over the world, which are, Dandong in China, Avion, France, Hertenn in Germany, Gilwice, Poland, Wilmington in North Carolina and Salgotarjan in Hungary.

Doncaster was home to the oldest regulated horse race in the world, The St Leger., which was first run in 1776