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Doncaster is a former mining town in South Yorkshire, locally referred to as "Donny"; the town expanded dramatically in population with the development of coal mining; however, the closure of the coal mines in the 1970s and the early 1980s caused many economic difficulties; these seem to have been overcome by the development of its service industry; the already good communication links with the rest of the UK supported this development.

The Doncaster skyline is dominated by the minster in the middle of the town; the Frenchgate Shopping Centre also holds an important position in the skyline, along with the Doncaster College Hub building and Cusworth Hall; the Hall is an 18th century Grade I listed country house in Cusworth, near Doncaster, set in the landscaped parklands of Cusworth Park, Cusworth Hall is a good example of a Georgian country house.

Doncaster is located on the site of a Roman fort which was built in the 1st century AD at a crossing of the River Don; the Roman Empirical command of Ninius called this fort "Caer Daun"; later under the commands of Antoninus Pius and Notitia Dignitatum they called this fort Danum, from which the town derives its name; the "Don-" (Old English: Donne) and "caster" (ceaster) an Old English adaptation of the Latin word Castra, meaning a military camp; it was the home to the Roman Crispinian horse garrison; the cavalry took its name from Crispus, son of Constantine the Great, who lived at Danum (Doncaster); his father lived 40 miles (64 kilometres) 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, amongst other things, the name of almost every military unit in the Roman Empire, also the name of their respective garrison towns; the garrison unit was originally recruited from among the tribes-people living near the town of Crispiana in Upper Pannonia, near Zirc in the Bakony region of western Hungary; the fact that Doncaster is included, highlights the importance placed by the Romans on Doncaster; the 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 meant crossing the Humber Estuary in boats; for obvious reasons this was not always practical and thus Doncaster became an important staging post on the Roman map; a route through the north Derbyshire hills was opened up sometime in the latter half of the 1st century AD, possibly by the militaristic governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola during the late 70s, although the first section of the road to the Doncaster fort had probably been in existence since the early 50s; the Roman fort is believed to have been located on the site that is now St George's Minster next to the River Don.

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; David Hey contends 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 12th century approached, Doncaster matured into a busy town and in 1194 King Richard I granted Doncaster national recognition with a town charter; during the Middle Ages Doncaster evolved further and it was then later in 1204 that Doncaster suffered and recovered from a disastrous fire; at this time, buildings were built of wood and fire was a constant hazard.

In 1248, a charter was granted for Doncaster Market to be held around the Church of St Mary Magdalene, which in the 16th century became the town hall and was ultimately demolished in 1846; some 750 years on, the market still exists with its busy stalls located both outside and under cover; the market also occupies the 19th century 'Corn Exchange' building, opened in 1873 and extensively rebuilt in 1994 after a major fire.

During the 14th century a number of friars arrived in Doncaster who were known for their religious enthusiasm and preachings; in 1307 Franciscan friars (Greyfriars) arrived and the 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 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 already recovering from the Black Death and had a population of around 1,500 people; by 1547, it had over 2,000.

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 thereby confirming that Baxtergate was indeed the bakers' street; it is assumed 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 leaving four substantial gates as entrances to the town; these gates were located at Hall Gate, St. Mary's Bridge, 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 also commemorated, this time with white marble 'Roman Gates'.

The boundary of the town principally extended from the River Don, along what is now, Market Road, Silver Street, Cleveland Street and Printing Office Street; because the access into town was circumscribed, 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 felt they could pull off their monopoly; in 1618 the family began enforcing it, but by 1628 the populace revolted; Capt. Christopher Levett, Percival's son, petitioned Parliament; but Parliament disagreed, calling the tolls "a grievance to the subjects, both in creation and execution," and axed the Levett monopoly.

During the 16th and 17th centuries the town of Doncaster continued to expand; this was despite several outbreaks of plague from 1562 until 1606; each time the plague struck down significant numbers of Doncaster's population.

During the campaign of the First English Civil War, King Charles I marched by Bridgnorth, Lichfield and Ashbourne to Doncaster, where on 18th August 1645 he was met by great numbers of Yorkshire gentlemen who had rallied to his cause; on 2nd May 1664, Doncaster was later rewarded with the title of 'Free Borough' by way of the King expressing his gratitude for Doncaster's allegiance.

Doncaster is the home of Lakeside Village a large shopping centre; the centre provides discount shopping for major brands of clothing, footwear, sportswear, homewares, music, books, gadgets and confectionery; it first opened, as the Yorkshire Outlet, in 1998 but has undergone a major expansion since; it now provides around 50 shops as well as a children’s play area and cafes; is is located just a short distance away from the M18 motorway and is a draw for shoppers and tourists alike.

A new 26ft (8m) high sculpture called Danum, the Roman name for Doncaster, was unveiled in a newly developed square in Doncaster; the 60,000 stainless steel statue was designed by local sculptor Michael Johnson, who worked with schools and community groups to design it.

The sculpture is the centrepiece of the new Sir Nigel Gresley Square, named after the former chief engineer of the London and North Eastern Railways (LNER); Danum is meant to reflect the history of the region, from the local Iron Age tribes to the Victorian railway works.

The LNER's Doncaster railway works were a major employer in the early 20th Century and produced some of the UK's most famous locomotives, such as the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman; the new square was opened as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and will eventually house Doncaster's new theatre.

Famous People: Diane Rigg.


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