Notes: Situated in the city centre. There is ample parking both nearby and in the town but all is pay and display. The castle is well sign-posted.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A heavily modified medieval castle along with Victorian era prison exhibits, courtroom and (limited) areas of the category C prison (closed in 2011). Internal access is limited to guided tours only but these are informative and comprehensive. Note whilst court remains in use for legal cases, internal photography is restricted.
1. The name Lancaster derives from the old English term 'Roman Fort on the River Lune'. "Lan" is a corruption of 'Lune', whilst the "caster" is a modification of 'castra' which in Latin means Legionary camp.
2. The Keep, which may have been originally built by David I of Scotland during his ownership of the Lordship during the Anarchy, was rebuilt in 1585.
3. Famous prisoners at Lancaster Castle have included George Marsh and George Fox (Quaker).
4. The Well Tower is also known as the 'Witches Tower' as it is believed the Pendle Witches were held here in 1612. These individuals suffered as a result of King James I's imposition of the death penalty for witchcraft. There were multiple convictions, and subsequent hangings, largely based on prosecution evidence that hinged on gossip and false confessions.
Commanding the crossing point over the River Lune, the site of Lancaster Castle has been occupied for two thousand years. The Romans built a fort here to extend their grip over the troublesome north whilst in the medieval era ownership of the area was disputed between England and Scotland.
HISTORY OF LANCASTER CASTLE
The first known fortification on the site of Lancaster Castle was a Roman fort called Calunium built in AD 79 as the military extended its grip northwards. It seems to have remained occupied throughout the Roman era and may have housed a cavalry unit. By AD 367 it had been re-assigned as a shore defence fort possibly in response to attacks from Ireland.
The arrival of the Normans led to construction of a castle although little is known about it; the assumption is the castle was a ringwork fort. During the Anarchy Lancaster, including the castle, was handed to the Scots in return for peace on the northern border. The area was handed back to the English as part of the post-war settlement and by the mid-thirteenth century was being rebuilt in stone. The improved defences proved sufficient; when the Scots attacked Lancaster in 1322 the castle withstood the attack. A further attack by the Scots in 1389 prompted a further upgrade programme after the accession of Henry IV.
During the first Civil War the castle was initially garrisoned for the Royalists but was taken by Parliament in 1642 and withstood an attack the following year. However in 1651, during the third Civil War, Charles II was proclaimed King of England in Lancaster but ultimately saw his army defeated at the Battle of Worcester.
Lancaster Castle’s most consistent use has been as a prison. The first recorded use as such was in 1196 but it was from the late eighteenth century that the castle was used exclusively for this function with substantial modifications being made; the medieval curtain walls and Great Hall were demolished whilst purpose built cells and a courtroom were constructed. In 1821 female cells were added. With financial cutbacks to the Prison service the use of the castle as a gaol ceased in 2011 but the courthouse remains in use although this may end in the next few years.