Doncaster is a town now in South Yorkshire, England. Together with its surrounding suburbs and settlements, the town forms part of the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster, which had a population of 302,400 at the 2011 census. The town itself has a population of 127,851. Doncaster is about 20 miles (32 km) from Sheffield. A variety of industries encouraged the expansion of Doncaster over the 19th and 20th centuries including coal, glass-making, confectionery (particularly toffee), and railway and locomotive building.
Historically, Doncaster was an ecclesiastical parish in the lower-division of the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill.
Possibly inhabited by earlier peoples, Doncaster is built on the site of a Roman fort, which was constructed in the 1st century AD at a crossing of the River Don. The commands of Antoninus Pius and Notitia Dignitatum called this fort Danum, from which the town derives the "Don-" part of its name; "caster" (ceaster) an Old English adaptation of the Latin word Castra, meaning a military camp. The monk Nennius, in the 9th century, referred to it with the name "Caer Daun". Doncaster was home to the Roman Crispinian horse garrison. The cavalry took its name from Crispus, son of Constantine the Great. Crispus, son of the Emperor, lived at Danum (Doncaster) whilst his father lived further north at Eboracum (York).
The Doncaster garrison units are named in the Notitia Dignitatum or Register of Dignitaries, produced around the turn of the 5th century near the end of Roman rule in Britain. This important administrative document contains the name of almost every military unit in the Roman Empire, as well as the names of their respective garrison towns. The garrison unit was originally recruited from among the tribes living near the town of Crispiana in Upper Pannonia, near Zirc in the Bakony region of western Hungary. The inclusion of Doncaster in the register demonstrates the importance which the Romans assigned to the town. The Doncaster entry is listed under the command of the Dux Britanniarum or the 'Duke of the Britons'. Doncaster provided an alternative direct land route between Lincoln and York. The main route between Lincoln and York was Ermine Street, which required parties to break into smaller units to cross the Humber Estuary in boats. As this was not always practical, the Romans considered Doncaster to be an important staging post.
The Roman road through Doncaster appears on two routes recorded in the Antonine Itinerary. The itinerary include the same section of road between Lincoln and York, and list three stations along the route between these two coloniae. Iter VII and Iter VIII is entitled "the route from York to London". The section below shows distances from Iter VIII.
A route through the north Derbyshire hills was opened in the latter half of the 1st century AD, possibly by the militaristic governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola during the late 70s. The first section of the road to the Doncaster fort had probably been constructed since the early 50s.
Several areas of known intense archaeological interest have been identified in the town; many, in particular St Sepulchre Gate, remain hidden under buildings. The Roman fort is believed to have been located on the site that is now covered by St George's Minster, next to the River Don.
Early and medieval history
The town was an Anglo-Saxon burh, and is mentioned in the 1003 will of Wulfric Spott. Shortly after the Norman Conquest, Nigel Fossard refortified the town and constructed Conisbrough Castle. By the time of the Domesday Book, Hexthorpe was described as having a church and two mills. The historian David Hey says that these facilities represent the settlement at Doncaster. He also suggests that the street name Frenchgate indicates that Fossard invited fellow Normans to trade in the town.
As the 13th century approached, Doncaster matured into a busy town; in 1194 King Richard I granted it national recognition with a town charter. Doncaster had a disastrous fire in 1204, from which it slowly recovered. At the time, buildings were built of wood, and open fireplaces were used for cooking and heating. Fire was a constant hazard.
During the 14th century, numerous friars arrived in Doncaster who were known for their religious enthusiasm and preaching. In 1307 the Franciscan friars (Greyfriars) arrived, and Carmelites (Whitefriars) arrived in the middle of the 14th century. In the Mediaeval period, other major features of the town included the Hospital of St Nicholas and the leper colony of the Hospital of St James, a moot hall, grammar school, and the five-arched stone town bridge, with a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Bridge. By 1334 Doncaster was the wealthiest town in southern Yorkshire and the sixth most important town in Yorkshire as a whole, even boasting its own banker. By 1379 it was recovering from the Black Death, which had reduced its population to 1,500. By 1547 its population exceeded 2,000. The town was incorporated in 1461, and its first Mayor and corporation were established.
Many of Doncaster's streets are named with the suffix 'gate'. The word 'gate' is derived from the old Danish word 'gata,' which meant street. During Medieval times, craftsmen or tradesmen with similar skills, tended to live in the same street. Baxter is an ancient word for baker; Baxtergate was the bakers' street. Historians believe that 'Frenchgate' may be named after French-speaking Normans who settled on this street.
The Medieval township of Doncaster is known to have been protected by earthen ramparts and ditches, with four substantial gates as entrances to the town. These gates were located at Hall Gate, St. Mary's Bridge (old), St. Sepulchre Gate, and Sunny Bar. Today the gates at Sunny Bar are commemorated by huge 'Boar Gates'; similarly, the entrance to St. Sepulchre Gate is commemorated with white marble 'Roman Gates'. The boundary of the town principally extended from the River Don, along what is now Market Road, and Silver, Cleveland and Printing Office streets.
Because access into town was restricted, some officeholders secured charters to collect tolls. In 1605, King James I granted to William Levett of Doncaster, brother of York merchant Percival Levett, the right to levy tolls at Friar's and St. Mary's bridges. Having served as mayors and aldermen of Doncaster, the Levetts probably believed they could control a monopoly. In 1618 the family began enforcing it but, by 1628, the populace revolted. Capt. Christopher Levett, Percival's son, petitioned Parliament to enforce the tolls. But Parliament disagreed, calling the tolls "a grievance to the subjects, both in creation and execution," and axed the Levett monopoly. (Doncaster's Levet Road is named for this family, as are the nearby hamlets of Hooton Levitt and the largely extinct Levitt Hagg, where much of the town's early limestone was quarried.)
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the town of Doncaster continued to expand, although it suffered several outbreaks of plague between 1562 and 1606. Each time the plague struck down significant numbers of the town's population.
First English Civil War
During the campaign of the First English Civil War, King Charles I marched by Bridgnorth, Lichfield and Ashbourne to Doncaster, where on 18 August 1645 he was met by great numbers of Yorkshire gentlemen who had rallied to his cause. On 2 May 1664, Doncaster was rewarded with the title of 'Free Borough' by way of the King expressing his gratitude for Doncaster's allegiance.
Doncaster was already a communications centre at this time. Doncaster sat on the Great North Road or A1, due to its strategic geographical importance and essentially Roman inheritance. This was the primary route for all traffic from London to Edinburgh and Doncaster benefited from its location.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Doncaster.