A History of Doncaster

By Tim Lambert

The Roman Fort at Doncaster

The history of Doncaster began when the Romans built a fort in the area about 71 AD. The Romans called the fort Danum. However, in the 4th century Roman civilization declined and the last Roman soldiers left Britain in 407 AD.

After the Romans left a village there was a village by the fort. It was called Don ceaster. In time the name changed to Doncaster.

Doncaster in the Middle Ages

In the 12th century, Doncaster grew into a busy town. In 1194 King Richard I gave Doncaster a charter (a document granting or confirming certain rights). In the Middle Ages Doncaster was a busy little market town although it would seem tiny to us. In 1204 Doncaster suffered a disastrous fire. In the Middle Ages, most buildings were of wood so fire was a constant hazard. On the other hand, if buildings did burn they could be easily replaced.

The street name gate is derived from the old Danish word ‘gata’ which meant street. In Medieval towns, craftsmen of one type tended to live in the same street. Baxter is an old word for baker so Baxtergate in Doncaster was the baker’s street. Frenchgate may be named after French-speaking Normans who settled there.

In the 14th century, friars arrived in Doncaster. The friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach. In 1307 Franciscan friars arrived in Doncaster. They were called grey friars because of the color of their costumes. Carmelites or white friars arrived in the middle of the 14th century.

Doncaster 1500-1800

During the 16th century and 17th centuries, the little market town of Doncaster continued to grow. This was despite outbreaks of plague in 1562, 1582, 1583, 1604, and 1606. Each time plague struck a significant part of the town’s population perished but each time it recovered.

Doncaster gained a grammar school in 1575. However, Doncaster suffered an outbreak of typhoid in 1700.

In the 18th century, Doncaster was a coaching town. Many stagecoaches passed through Doncaster and there were many inns.

A stagecoach

The Mansion House in Doncaster was built in the years 1744-1750.

Doncaster gained its first theatre in 1776. Furthermore, Doncaster is famous for horse racing. St Ledger was first held in 1776.

In 1792 a dispensary opened in Doncaster where the poor could obtain free medicines.

Doncaster in the 19th century

By 1831 Doncaster had a population of 10,000. By the standards of the time, it was quite large. However, like all towns in those days, it was dirty and unsanitary and many of the inhabitants lived in squalid and overcrowded conditions.

However, things improved in the late 19th century when sewers were built in Doncaster and a piped water supply was created. An infirmary opened in Doncaster in 1853. The first free public library in Doncaster opened in 1869.

A new Guildhall was built in 1847 and a Corn Exchange, where grain was bought and sold was built in 1873. Meanwhile, the railway reached Doncaster in 1849. Railways meant the end of the stagecoaches but they brought new prosperity to the town. The first public library in Doncaster opened in 1869.

St George’s Church was rebuilt in 1858. It was designed by the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).

In 1827 the Corporation decided to light the streets of Doncaster with gas. Doncaster gained electric light in 1899.

In 1853 the Great Northern Railway moved its engine-building works from Boston to Doncaster. The engine works became the main employer in the town. In the late 19th and 20th centuries industry in Doncaster was dominated by engineering.

Doncaster in the 20th century

From 1902 electric trams ran in the streets of Doncaster. However, trolleybuses replaced trams in the years 1928-1931. The trolleybuses were in turn phased out in the years 1961-1963.

Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery opened in 1909. (A new purpose-built museum opened in 1964). Also in 1909, Britain’s first aviation meeting was held in Doncaster. Elmfield Park opened in 1923.

In 1914 the Borough of Doncaster was extended to include Hexthorpe, Wheatley, and Balby. Doncaster grew rapidly in the early 20th century and by 1951 it had a population of 83,000. Furthermore, in the 20th century, Doncaster became known for its butterscotch.

Doncaster escaped relatively lightly during the Second World War although there was a serious attack in May 1941 when 2 parachute mines fell on the town.

The Frenchgate Centre (originally called the Arndale Centre) opened in 1968 and Waterfield Centre was built in 1969.

Doncaster in the 21st century

Robin Hood Airport opened near Doncaster in 2005. Danum Gallery, Library, and Museum opened in 2021. In 2023 the population of Doncaster was 158,000.

A Timeline of Doncaster

c 71 AD The Romans build a fort in the region. It is called Danum.

12th Century A village called Doncaster grows into a small market town

1194 King Richard I gives Doncaster a charter

1204 Doncaster is badly damaged by a fire but it is soon rebuilt

1307 Franciscan friars arrive in Doncaster. they are called greyfriars because of their costumes.

c 1350 Carmelites or white friars arrive in Doncaster

1562 Plague strikes Doncaster

1575 Doncaster gains a grammar school

1582 Plague returns to Doncaster

1606 Plague strikes Doncaster again

1700 Doncaster suffers an outbreak of typhoid

1750 The Mansion House is built

1770 Doncaster is a stage coaching town

1774 Doncaster gains its first theatre

1776 The first St Ledger is held

1792 A dispensary opens where the poor can obtain free medicines

1827 Doncaster is lit by gas

1831 Doncaster has a population of 10,000

1847 A new Guildhall is built

1849 The railway reaches Doncaster

1853 The Great Northern Railway moves its engine building works to Doncaster

1869 The first free public library opens in Doncaster

1899 Doncaster is lit by gas

1902 Electric trams run in the streets of Doncaster

1909 Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery opens

1923 Elmfield Park opens

1941 2 parachute mines fall on Doncaster

1951 The population of Doncaster is 83,000

1967 The Frenchgate Centre is built

1969 The Waterfield Centre is built

2005 Robin Hood Airport opens