Of all the interesting history and sites in Pontefract, this is my favourite and I have been fascinated by it's history ever since we moved to the town about 12 years ago.
This unique historical artefact consists of two chambers, side by side, chiselled out of the sandstone hillside by medieval hermits. The entrances would have originally overlooked the Friarwood Valley towards St Richard's Friary further down the hillside, but in 1880 Pontefract Dispensary was built over the site and it is now hidden in its basement. The Hermitage leads to a remarkable spiral staircase of 65 steps cut into the rock, descending to a shallow basin of fresh spring water which lies 51 feet below the centre of Southgate. The hermits' chisel marks are clearly visible in the walls of the barrel-vaulted passage which has 4 alcoves for candles that would have been the only form of lighting. Near the bottom of the staircase is a carving of a skeleton in the wall, probably of medieval origin, but the graffiti scratched around the basin are certainly much later.
The cache is a black nano
The first hermit recorded in Pontefract was Peter of Pomfret who was executed by King John in 1213 for predicting his downfall. In 1386 it is recorded that Robert de Laythorpe granted the Hermitage and accompanying land to his brother Adam for life and he was followed by his son Robert. The Oratory was founded in 1432 by the 28th Canon of Nostell Priory, John de Huddyfield. It was a roadside chapel next to the Hermitage with a domed 8 foot ceiling, containing an altar with cross, fireplace and rock-hewn flue.