Saturday, 9 November 2019

A Geology Field Trip in Pontefract

The magazine at Pontefract Castle

Following my visit to St. Oswald’s church in Kirk Sandall, my next day out a few days later was as the leader of a field trip to Pontefract with the Sheffield U3A Geology GroupHaving developed the idea for this over a period of a few years, and prepared it in detail the month earlier with my friend Paul May, 23 of us, including our guest Adrian Pope, turned up at Friarwood Car Park on an overcast day to find that the payment machine had been stolen. 

A geological map of Pontefract

After a quick introduction, where I explained how the distinctive ridge on which Pontefract is set has been controlled by the subsidence and faulting of the Earth’s crust, we briefly examined the Newstead Rock behind Stringers Coaches before setting off up Southgate to the site of the now inaccessible Pontefract Hermitage

Newstead Rock at Stringers Coaches by Paul May

Here Adrian told us about the history of Pontefract Priory and, after a brief discussion about the formation of the valley in which the park is set and the mediaeval burgage plots on the opposite side of the road, we set off to Dark Lane to examine exposures of the Yellow Sands Formation

Stopping to look at the Yellow Sands Formation in a back yard

In this part of Pontefract, it was extensively mined using the pillar and stall method for use in the local glass making industry and as moulding sand in iron foundries. In several places, the collapse of the pillars has led to severe problems of subsidence of houses built above them. 

The Yellow Sands Formation

Adrian then showed the Group the spectacular exposure of the Yellow Sands Formation in his garden, the like of which the rest of the Group had never seen before and was thoroughly appreciated by everyone. 

Pontefract Museum by Linda Jackson

We then set off to the centre of Pontefract, where we had a quick look at the building stones used in the Buttercross and St. Giles’ church, before spending ten minutes in Pontefract Museum to look at some fine Bagley's Glass and the painting of Pontefract Castle before it was demolished and the magnificent Art Nouveau tiles and mosaic in the reception. 

The plaster cast for Admiral Nelson's death scene in Pontefract Town Hall

A trip to Pontefract is not complete without buying some Pontefract Cakes and, after the shop in the old market building did some good business with our Group, Adrian took us to the Town Hall to have a quick look at the original plaster cast model of Admiral Nelson’s death scene, for moulding the bronze casting on Nelson’s Column, and then made our way down to Pontefract Castle where we had lunch. 

Masonry at Pontefract Castle by Paul May

The afternoon session started with a walk down Castle Garth to All Saints church, stopping very briefly to look at the foundations of the Saxon church, and we had a good look at the various building stones and learned about its role during the English Civil War. 

All Saints church

Returning to Pontefract Castle, we finished our day out with a tour of the castle magazine, which was excavated in the C11 and has since been used for miscellaneous storage purposes and for keeping prisoners - many of whom scratched their names into the walls.

The magazine at Pontefract Castle


  1. We are a U3A geology group, of about 20 members, based in Wetherby, looking for local venues to visit as part of our program. Ideally we would be looking for someone knowledgeable to lead our group on a visit to the Pontefract area as it looks particularly interesting. If you can suggest anyone who may be able to help us could you please let me know. Kind Regards Margaret Lindley

  2. Thanks Margaret. Perhaps it would be best if you sent an e-mail to I don't have a car and the train connection to Pontefract from Rotherham isn't frequent, otherwise I could have led your U3A Geology Group myself. There is someone from the West Yorkshire Geology Trust that I made contact with a few years ago, who might be able to help.