Doncaster forms the second largest urban area in South Yorkshire after Sheffield. It is named after the river Don which flows near the town centre, and after the Latin ‘castrum’, which denotes the former presence of Roman fort. Doncaster is indeed a very ancient town, founded in Roman times. While it remained a small market town for much of its history, it suddenly became a large industrial town in the 19th century. As a result, it is now pretty deprived and derelict, as with many former industrial towns in the North of England. Doncaster is however quite an interesting place to visit.
Doncaster is located on a large railway junction and as a result, the town is usually familiar to Northern train passengers who travel between Edinburgh and London. It was also famous in Victorian and Edwardian times for its steam engines factory. Last but not least, Doncaster is renowned everywhere in the UK for its horse races, its racecourse being the most prestigious in Yorkshire (after York). The two best races in Doncaster, the St Leger Stakes and the Doncaster Cup, take place in September and they date back from the 17th century. Doncaster and its races appear in Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders.
The town centre comprises some very fine buildings, including a collection of elegant Georgian townhouses. These are to be found along High Street, Hall Gate and Hall Cross Hill, three streets that form a single axis. At the end is Hall Cross, a 1793-cross built to replace an earlier monument. The most beautiful Georgian building in Doncaster is the Mansion House, located on High Street. It was built in 1744 to house the town’s official receptions. Only two other mansion houses survive in England – in London and York. Newcastle also had its own, but it is now demolished. Although this type of building usually served as the residence for the mayor, the Doncaster Mansion House was designed only to be a place of entertainment. It is sometimes open to the public, during open days and afternoon teas (see website).
Doncaster Market dates from the Middle Ages and it is now distributed in several buildings, the most interesting being the Corn Exchange. It was built in 1875. Close to river Don, Doncaster Minster is the main church in town and it was rebuilt in 1855 by Sir Gilbert Scott, architect of St Pancras station in London. There are no obvious remain of the Middle Ages in Doncaster, but some streetnames recall this period, including Frenchgate which refers to the Normans who came with William the Conqueror.
Doncaster has its own museum, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery. It is housed in a concrete building a bit out of the centre. It focuses on local history, art and biology. The art collection is quite poor but the history displays give a very good idea about the history of Doncaster and of England as a whole, with rooms dedicated to each main period (Romans, Saxons, Industrial Era and so on). Free entry, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (website).
Another museum can be found at Cusworth Hall just outside of the town. Doncaster is famous for its zoo, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park (website). A few miles east of the town, nature lovers can visit two beautiful reserves, Potteric Carr and Thorne Moor. They are both managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.