Mystery of 'forgotten' dungeon beneath Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire continues as survey finds no evidence of chamber

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A survey of the ground beneath Pontefract Castle has found no evidence of a forgotten chamber that past visitors claim they remember going inside.

Landowners the Duchy of Lancaster agreed to commission an underground survey of the bailey after John Atkinson contacted their estates office with information about an ‘oubliette’ he recalled entering during a guided tour when he was a teenager in the 1960s.

Mr Atkinson said the small chamber was hewn from rock, accessed via a trapdoor and wooden steps and not connected to other dungeons or underground rooms that are already open to the public at the castle near Wakefield.

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He claimed that the guide at the time told him it was the cell where King Richard II was kept during his imprisonment at Pontefract, where he died in 1400, but when he visited in more recent years, saw no sign of the trapdoor and thought that it had been grassed over or even infilled. In the 1980s, he believes the trapdoor was still visible, but padlocked and inaccessible.

Pontefract CastlePontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle

Mr Atkinson approached the Duchy after Wakefield Council, which manages the historic site, denied knowledge of the ‘oubliette’ and suggested that it was more likely to be part of the extensive network of cellars or the Civil War-era dungeon.

He even speculated that staff could have ‘forgotten about’ the separate chamber and lost the key.

His theory was supported by Christine Steels, who saw his appeal for memories of the chamber via a local history society.

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She remembered visiting the castle at around the same time the oubliette was open to tour groups, and descended into it herself. She also recalled seeing the padlocked trapdoor in later years and her guide mentioning the King Richard II connection. She believed the trapdoor had been close to the footpath around the bailey.

Wakefield Council suggested the 'oubliette' John Atkinson remembered entering in the 1960s could be the dungeon used during the Civil War that is open to the public - but he is adamant it was a separate chamberWakefield Council suggested the 'oubliette' John Atkinson remembered entering in the 1960s could be the dungeon used during the Civil War that is open to the public - but he is adamant it was a separate chamber
Wakefield Council suggested the 'oubliette' John Atkinson remembered entering in the 1960s could be the dungeon used during the Civil War that is open to the public - but he is adamant it was a separate chamber

In late March, Mr Atkinson received a response from the Duchy’s rural restorations manager Vicki Mathews confirming the results of a ground survey completed by experts.

She said: “The survey was carried out and on review of the report we struggled to find anything in the area that would show evidence of the oubliette. Wakefield Council under their lease are responsible for any investigation work on site and I believe that they are not planning to open up the area at the moment.”

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