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historic market town, Wakefield metropolitan borough, metropolitan county of West Yorkshire, historic county of Yorkshire, northern England. It lies east of the Pennine foothills, 4 miles (6 km) south of the River Calder above its confluence with the River Aire. Pontefract grew around a Norman castle as the market centre of a rich agricultural area. The castle, built in 1069, became an important stronghold, sustaining three sieges in the mid-17th-century English Civil Wars before the Royalists surrendered. With the development of coal mining in the locality in the 19th century, Pontefract acquired industries, especially engineering. Today it is still a market and service centre. It manufactures licorice confectionery (Pomfret cakes) and has a well-known racecourse. Pop. (2001) 28,250.