Launch party for £3.5m castle restoration project

Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle

A mutli-million pound project to restore Pontefract Castle will officially launch with a fun day this weekend.

The £3.5m Key to the North project - which will see parts of the castle not seen by the public since the 17th century opened up to the public - will launch with the special event on Saturday.

There will be Civic War re-enactors, falconry displays, medieval musicians and free visits down to the castle’s dungeons.

Wakefield Council leader Peter Box said: “This is a fantastic project which will take the castle off the English Heritage At Risk register and improve enormously the visitor offer at the castle.

“We have already removed trees from around the site as part of the project and that has opened up amazing views across the area.

“However, we wanted to officially mark the start of the project, publicly thank our funders and invite the public to come along and join in the celebrations.”

The scheme has been funded through a £3.045m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) along with another £455,000 from the council and English Heritage.

As part of the four-year project a new visitor centre, with a cafe and classroom facilities will also be opened.

Fiona Spiers, head of HLF for Yorkshire and The Humber, said: “This project will enable visitors to appreciate the rich history of Pontefract Castle thanks to conservation work, a new visitor centre and an extensive learning programme with plenty of scope for public involvement. Volunteers will also be trained in a range of skills so they can play a full part in helping to bring local history to life.”

The launch event will run at the castle from 11am until 4pm with the official launch ceremony taking place at 1pm.

Tammy Whitaker, planning and conservation director for Historic England Yorkshire, said: “Historic England is very pleased to be supporting this project and we are excited to see how the site will be transformed over the coming months.

“Pontefract Castle has had a major influence on how the town has developed and reacted to national events such as the English Civil War. It’s great to see how the community now embrace the site rather than seeking its demolition as they did in the late 17th century.”

As part of the project, the castle’s Sally Port and Swillington Tower, which have not been accessible since the castle was destroyed in 1649, will be reopened.

Council bosses expect visitor numbers will almost double once the restoration work is complete.

Ben Cook, the council’s service manager for market, tourism and major events, said: “The castle is the town’s heritage. I don’t think most people realise the history but with the changes that are going to take place more and more people will become aware.

“We currently get around 55,000 visitors to the castle per year but by the end of this project we expect that to increase to 95,000 per year.”