Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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May 2017

Tue 09 May 2017
Colin Penny  – History of Lancaster Castle.


Colin, museum manager at Lancaster castle, said its story began 900 years ago during the Norman conquest. Although the Romans had a presence at this lowest crossing point on the River Lune it was the Normans who built a wooden castle on Castle Hill in 1093.
The border with the Scots was just 10 miles north of this point, which was on the major north-south route on the west coast.
Its stone keep was built in the 12th century, most probably by King David, a Scottish king who had built Carlisle castle.
The reason it did not fall into ruin through the centuries was due to its role as a court and, with it, a prison. Henry II created circuit judges and the castle, along with others across England, became a court of law which lasted from 1186 to 1974.
Additions were made to it, most notably by King John in the 13th century, but as a castle it has not seen a lot of military action. On the other hand its prison has seen notable trials, not least the Lancashire Witches in the 17th century, which ended with several of the women being hanged. The last person, a female, burned to death at the prison was in 1772 for the crime of petty treason, she had killed her husband.

Colin Penny

George III had decreed that people sentenced in this way should be dead before being burned. Death was by strangulation.
During World War 1 German civilians were held there and one of those was a Joseph Pilates, who developed a training system that could be practised in a small space.
The prison finally closed in 2011.
Colin’s excellent talk was both enlightening and compelling, enough to encourage a visit to this historic castle.

Peter Robinson