DONCASTER, a market-town, borough, and parish in the West Riding of the county of York, in the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill. It is situated on the river Don, on the great north road, which passes through the whole length of the town ; it is 162 miles north-north-west of London, and 37 miles south-by-west of York. Doncaster was the Danum of Antoninus, and was called Dona Ceastre by the Saxons, from which its present name is derived. Doncaster is one of the cleanest, most airy, and most beautiful towns in the kingdom. The approach from London, by a wide and nearly level road, ornamented with ancient elm-trees, is magnificent. The town stands on the Watling Street of the Romans. Coins, urns, and other Roman remains are occasionally dug up in various parts of the town and neighbourhood.
Under the Municipal Reform Act the borough is divided into three wards, with six aldermen and eighteen councillors ; it has also a commission of the peace. The clear income of the corporation is about £8,000 per annum, of which large sums are expended in lighting, paving, cleaning, and watching the town, in repair of roads, improvement of the estates, police expenses, and in contributions to various charities. The air is considered remarkably pure and salubrious, and this circumstance, combined with its advantageous situation and its comparative freedom from local assessments, renders it a desirable residence for persons of limited income. The population of the borough was in 1801, 5,697 ; in 1811, 6,935 ; in 1821, 8,544 ; in 1831, 10,030. The population of the townships in the soke of Doncaster, including Hexthorpe-with-Balby, Loversal, Rossington, Aukley, Blaxton, and Wheatley-with-Sandall, was, in 1831, 1,700.
Doncaster has a few iron foundries, a sacking and a linen manufactory on a small scale. In 1787, Dr. Cartwright introduced the manufacture of muslins by power-looms, of which he was the inventor, into the town ; but the attempt to make Doncaster a manufacturing town was unsuccessful. As the centre of a large agricultural district, the markets and fairs are attended by a large rural population, who contribute greatly to its support. Although it is one of the largest corn-markets in the kingdom, there is no corn-exchange ; a spacious area between the shambles and the cattle-market is used for the sale of corn. The town also derives support from the numerous opulent families residing in its vicinity, and from the continual intercourse on the north road. Though the navigation of the Don renders it an eligible situation for general traffic between the manufacturing districts and the eastern coast, no advantage has yet been taken of the facilities thus afforded for making it a place of trade.
The public buildings in Doncaster are the mansion-house, a handsome structure, which has cost about £10,000, and which is used for the meetings of the corporation, for concerts, assemblies, and occasionally for public meetings ; the town-hall, in which the quarterly sessions for the borough and annual sessions for the wapentake are held ; the gaol, which is built on the improved principle for the classification of prisoners, a betting-room, and a theatre. The stand, on the race-ground, may also be considered as one of the public buildings ; it was erected at the expense of the corporation, and is both elegant and commodious. The stand tickets sold during the race week produce an income of about £1,700 a year. The churches of Doncaster are, the parish church, dedicated to St. George, and Christ Church. The former is a spacious and elegant cruciform structure, with a fine square tower, 141 feet high. The various details of the exterior and interior are particularly fine, and well deserving of the attention of the antiquary. Christ Church was erected a few years ago, from a fund left for that purpose by the late John Jarratt, Esq. The spire was 160 feet high ; in November, 1836, it was struck by lightning, the tower was much injured, and that part of the edifice is at present (May, 1837) a mass of ruins. The interior is uninjured, and the service has not been interrupted by the accident. The living of the parish church is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of York, and in the patronage of the archbishop of York. Christ Church is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the trustees of the late Mr. Jarratt. The dissenting places of worship are for Friends, Methodists, Independents, Catholics, and Presbyterians.
The educational establishments are numerous. There are many boarding-schools for both sexes, a grammar-school, a national-school, a British-school, and six Sunday-schools. All these schools are well supported. The number of pupils instructed in Sunday-schools exceeds 1,000 ; they are taught by 150 teachers and superintendents. The Yorkshire institution for the Deaf and Dumb is situated near the race-course : it is a school of instruction and industry. Other institutions are the Subscription Library, the Mechanics' and Apprentices' Library, and the Lyceum Literary and Scientific Society. A valuable library also belongs to the church, which is accessible to all the inhabitants. The public charities which belong to the town are numerous. St. Thomas's Hospital, endowed in 1588 by Thomas Ellis, is an asylum for six "poore and decayed housekeepers of good name and fame." Its present income is £335 a year. Quintin Kay's charity of £300 per annum, is chiefly devoted to the relief of poor and reduced persons, and to the apprenticing of six poor children to mechanical or handicraft trades. Jarratt's charity is for the relief of six reduced housekeepers. There are several other bequests for purposes similar to those enumerated. The other charities in Doncaster are the dispensary, the lying-in, clothing, sick, and soup charities. The total number of accounts kept at the Doncaster savings' bank to November 1836 was 2,050, amounting to £81,711.
The races at Doncaster are held in the third week of September, and continue for five days. It is said that they are a source of great emolument to the town, but this is very, doubtful. It is certain that they are productive of great immorality, not only among the casual visitors, but also among the permanent residents. The race-ground, which is about a mile from the town, is perhaps unrivalled. The St. Leger stakes excite great interest not only throughout the kingdom, but in all parts of the world. The municipal body subscribes largely to the maintenance of the races, under the idea that they tend to the prosperity of the town. Potteric Car, on the south of Doncaster, was a morass of many miles in extent, till the year 1766. It is now completely drained, and yields luxuriant crops.