For further information and opening times see www.lancastercastle.com
Lancaster Castle is one of the best preserved castles in the country. An impressive stone fortress, it played a central role in the County Palatine, as a stronghold and as a seat of justice and government.
A castle was established on this hilltop site in Roman times. The earliest structure standing today is the Norman keep c.1150.
The Honor, County, Town and Castle of Lancaster were granted by Henry III to his younger son Edmund, 1st Earl of Lancaster, in 1267. Lancaster Castle became a senior place of administration in the Duchy of Lancaster, with courts, a prison and offices.
Through the centuries, the castle has held thousands of prisoners, including criminals of all kinds, political prisoners and individuals persecuted for their faith. In 1612, during the reign of King James I, the castle was at the centre of a notorious trial when ten people from the Pendle area of Lancashire, and nine other people from the area, were accused of witchcraft. The defendants were imprisoned and tried in the castle. Ten people were found guilty and hung on the nearby moor.
In the late eighteenth century, the castle was substantially modified for use as a court and prison. During the same period, the medieval hall of the castle was demolished and a new building was constructed to house the Crown Court and Shire Hall. The last major extension to the Georgian county gaol was a female penitentiary built in 1821.
From 1800, defendants sentenced to death in the court would be hung at the castle instead of on the moor. More prisoners are said to have been sentenced to death at Lancaster Castle than at any other court in the country. Lancaster became known as ‘the hanging town’.
In 1999 The Queen attended a service in the adjacent Priory Church to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the link between the Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster. Afterwards the Constable of Lancaster Castle formally offered The Queen the keys to her castle. The keys were, of course, handed back to the Constable for safe keeping.
The castle was leased from the Duchy to Lancashire County Council and HM Prison Service until 2011 when it was closed as a prison. Since May 2013, the John O’ Gaunt gates have been open to the public as a visitor attraction offering frequent guided tours, a café , and a number of special events.
Morecambe Bay Guides
Knowledgeable local guides have escorted travellers across Morecambe Bay for centuries.
Spanning the coastline of northern Lancashire and southern Cumbria, Morecambe Bay has dangerous quicksands and fast moving tides. Until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, guides were provided by local religious institutions. Conishead Priory was responsible for the Leven Sands (in the Leven estuary) between Ulverston and Cark, and Cartmel Priory for the Lancaster or Kent Sands (in the Kent estuary) between Kent’s Bank and Hest Bank. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Duchy of Lancaster assumed responsibility for appointing the guides, making its first appointments in 1538.
The guides were provided with lands from which they received revenue. They also occupied a house each rent free and received a small salary from the Duchy. Salaries for the guides were met from revenue from lands which the Duchy received at the Dissolution, but these were gradually granted away.
The posts were always much sought after, as they conferred status amongst local fisherman. In 1873 an inquiry into the appointment and duties of the guides was instigated by a local justice. In 1876 the Duchy asked the Charity Commissioners to prepare a scheme to control the guides; this scheme remains in force today and responsibility for the Guides is devolved to the Trustees of an independent charity – Charity for Providing Guides Over the Kent and Leven Sands.
The guides’ duties were marking the channel each day with a safe route and acting as guides when crossings were possible. At the time of the 1949 Survey of Public Routes, there were arguments as to whether a path could be defined. Eventually it was agreed that it should be left to the guides to determine routes, due to the unpredictability of tide, wind and weather.
Nowadays, guided walks conducted by the guide take place between May and September each year. Times vary depending on the tides. The walk, which currently starts from Arnside and ends on Kents Bank, is very dangerous and should not be undertaken without the official guide. For more information see www.morecambe.co.uk//walk.html