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The History of Lancaster Castle Pt1

Lancaster Castle,  a trip back in time discovering the origins of the castle from the early Roman period to the present day.

Lancaster Castle stemmed from an original fort built by the Romans overlooking the town of Lancaster and the River Lune to help combat the invading forces of the Picts and Scots.   Following the demise of the Roman Empire in Britain during the 5th century, Lancaster fell into decline and it was not until the Norman Conquest that the present castle took on a more solid structure with the building of the Norman Keep by Roger of Poitou.

Lancaster led a very turbulent and colourful life having a succession of owners.  A total of 265 executions took place within her walls, as well as the infamous Pendle witch trials of 1612.  A total of ten people were tried and convicted of witchcraft.      If you were unlucky enough to be imprisoned within her walls from the later half of the 18th century onwards, you could have found yourself transported to the new found colony of Australia.

 In 1399 Richard II seized the castle from the 2nd Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt after his death and claimed the castle in the name of the monarchy.  When Henry IV ousted Richard in the same year, the castle became part of the Duchy of Lancaster where it has remained ever since.

Henry undertook a massive rebuilding program which saw the addition of a twin-towered gatehouse.  The gatehouse consisted of two 20 metre high towers consisting of several floors with the top two being dived into a number of rooms.     A Well Tower (which became know as the Witch’s Tower) was built during the 14th century and consisted of two deep wells and several underground dungeons.    These dungeons went on to house people accused of witchcraft prior to their trial at Lancaster Castle during the reign of King James I in the 16th century.

In 1585, Elizabeth I rebuilt the upper storey of the 12th century Keep.

Extensive modifications were undertaken during the 18th century, converting the castle into a prison. The use of which, has lasted for over 3 centuries.  Separate complexes were built for female and male prisoners as well as a Wardens house.     This wide-ranging refurbishment program began in 1788 with the warden’s house and cumulated in the prison for male inmates in 1796. 

The rooms of the gatehouse were converted in to prison cells which were used to house debtors.  These rooms were quite comfortable and reserved for those debtors who were able to lay their hands on a little moneyPsychology Articles, enabling them to live a comfortable life compared to others in the same predicament.    Prior to that they were probably used and maintained by the Castles Constable.     This was not the first time the castle was used to house prisoners.  A  Reference to prisoners being held at the castle dates back to 1196

The last major build program undertaken at Lancaster Castle was in 1821 when a new female prison was built to the design of Joseph Gandy who had been trained by James Wyatt and had worked for John Nash.

In Pt2 we will find out about the infamous witch trials of 1612 and how you could have been transported to Australia during the later half of the 18th Century. You will learn about her Royal visitors and debtors prison.

I hope you have enjoyed this read and I look forward to your visit in Part 2.

Best Wishes and have a Great Day!

Stuart Bazga  

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A Guide to Castles of Europe was born from childhood dreams and aspirations. It is my hope to educate and stimulate you into exploring these castles for yourselves

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