It is located at 53°31' North, 1°8' West - the site of a Roman fort which was built in the 1st century A.D. at the site of a crossing across the River Don. The Romans called this fort Danum, from which the town derives the Don part of its name; caster was the Roman word for "fort". In Anglo-Saxon times, Doncaster is thought to have been the site of a palace of the Kings of Northumbria.
The town was rebuilt by the Normans after William I took the throne. The Normans also built a castle at nearby Conisbrough. From around the 16th century, it grew rich from the stagecoach trade. This led to horse breeding in Doncaster, which in turn led to the start of horse races there. There is evidence that horse races were held in Doncaster as far back as the early 17th century, but it is the St. Leger Stakes, first held in the 1770s, which makes the town's races famous.
Following the Industrial Revolution, the railway came to Doncaster, and the Great Northern Railway Locomotive and Carriage Building Works was established there. This was to build both the Mallard and the Flying Scotsman. Today, the town remains on the main East Coast line running from London to Scotland.
During World War I and World War II, the rail industry gave way to munitions building. Afterwards, Doncaster became one of the largest coal mining areas in the country, with the industry employing more people in the area than anything else. However, along with many other areas, a large number of mining jobs were lost in the late 1980s, and several pits closed. Today, coal mining has been all but eliminated from the area.
More recently, the town has sought to reinvent itself as primarily a commercial and leisure centre. Its horse races remain very famous, and the town also has a men's football club, Doncaster Rovers F.C, and one of the most successful women's football clubs in the country, Doncaster Belles L.F.C.
Doncaster is the home of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, which administrates the surrounding area, including Conisbrough and Finningley, where there are plans to convert an old Royal Air Force base into a passenger airport.
The council was the subject of a major police investigation in the late 1990s, when it became apparent that several councillors were guilty of corruption. Over twenty councillors, all of them from the majority Labour Party, admitted to various frauds or were convicted of them, leaving very few Labour councillors in their jobs. Most of them had made quite small false expense claims, but some had taken large bribes in return for granting planning permission.
It is widely thought that this scandal, which became popularly known as "Donnygate", was a major factor behind the residents of the area voting for the establishment of a directly elected mayor in 2001. The first mayor, Martin Winter, was voted in in 2002. Like most of the council, he represents the Labour Party.