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Lancaster castle As well as being a major tourist attraction, with regular tours throughout the season, be prepared, this is no ruin. Owned by the Queen, until March 2011 Lancaster Castle was a fully functioning seat of judgement and retribution, and still contains the local County Court, which hears more serious cases. Looming over the city from the mound once dedicated to early spiritual pursuits it provides a constant subliminal reminder of establishment muscle.

You can see where the County Court regularly sits in the historic Shire Hall courtroom hung with coats of arms of the county sheriffs that go back almost a thousand years. Famous (and infamous) cases from the so-called Lancashire Witches to the 'Birmingham Six' mistrial were held here and you can see the trapdoor where steps lead down (hence the expression 'to get sent down') from the defendants' dock to the cells.

Deeper in the Castle you can also see the ancient dungeons and instruments of interrogation, slavery and execution, each of which has its weird, sad and fascinating story. Frankly, it's scary stuff, being shut up (an optional and mercifully brief treat) where martyrs like St Edmund Arrowsmith and also the famous Lancashire Witches spent months in the rank dark. Apparently there were more death sentences handed down here than at any other court in the country — even London. 3000 people were deported to penal colonies in Australia.

Now that the prison has closed the castle is looking forward to a new and happier life with plans for a museum, a hotel and many events. The castle gates are open to the public from 10am-5pm daily and it is free to enter the castle courtyard, where there is a new cafe and giftshop.

estuary skylineOverlooking the Lune estuary, it's a great strategic position and the first fort was built there in AD 79 under the command of the Roman general Agricola. Toward the end of the 11th century the first castle proper was erected there, (as well as a Benedictine Monastery on the ancient sacred site where Lancaster Priory now stands) by the Norman baron, Roger of Poitou, who was charged with holding the territory against the Scots. Since then there have been lots of additions. For generations the little pre-industrial towns of Manchester and Liverpool turned to the great City of Lancaster and its Castle for their justice.

The castle has never stopped working and is the repository of such a history and so many well-known stories that it's really a must for visitors to the area, or anyone wanting to learn about Lancashire's history. The guides are helpful and friendly and really know their stuff too. There are some excellent Hallowe'en tours. Eek! It's the real deal!

Some of the castle is still off-limits to tourists - because right up until March 2011 it was also a 'Category C' Prison housing over 200 prisoners. As I said before, it's not a ruin, it's a fully working castle. The Castle belongs to the Queen and was rented from her for this purpose on a long lease, now ended. A substantial proportion of the Queen's income is raised from her holdings in the Duchy of Lancaster, as, since the Wars of the Roses, the crown holds the Duchy of Lancaster, so she is the Duke. We understand that the Duchy is planning to include a boutique hotel and museum of 'justice' so soon you may be able to stay 'at Her Majesty's pleasure' in the very castle where the Lancashire Witches and numerous saints and martyrs were held. Your accommodation is likely to be considerably better!

Parts of Lancaster Castle are almost 1000 years old. You need to be steady footed on those narrow, twisty stone staircases. While it is free to enter the castle courtyard, the gateway entrance is steep uphill and cobbled all the way to the courtyard.
Disabled access is via the gift shop at the rear of the castle. The stone ramp along the wall left of the main gate ends in steps. Stay on the flat.

Open daily ALL YEAR, 10am to 5pm

Guided tours at 30-minute intervals (Court sittings permitting) from 10.30am to 4pm. Tour duration 45 mins. Themed evening tours available for group bookings. Tours available for pre-booked school groups. Gift shop and cafe.

See Lancaster Castle website for more history, events and info.

Find out about the summer evening Guided Walks around the castle and area - from Witches and Martyrs to Ghosts and Murderers. Forget the X-Files... check out our EVENTS section!

Some details of convicts transported to Australia and elsewhere are held by Lancashire County Council. If you have any queries, contact:

Christine Goodier
Lancaster Castle Manager
The Shire Hall
Lancaster Castle
Castle Parade
Lancaster LA1 1YJ
Tel (01524) 64998

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