Modern thoughts on Lancaster Castle are often ill-conceived as to the facts, and sentimentally romanticised
as to its history.
One view commonly held is that in mediaeval times it was a place where Noblemen held lavish banquets,
drank wine and made merry, before riding forth through the gates to confront the Monarch's enemies.
Another image which seems to persist, is that of a fortress Castle, regularly holding out under siege, against
archery, cannon and musket, whilst defenders on the Castle ramparts raincd a hail of arrows upon their
A closc study of the Castle's past reveals that neither of these common perceptions is strictly correct. There
is little doubt that when the huge, square Keep was built on Castle Hill, it was, for many years, a Baronial
residence of great importance in North West England. Likewise, there have been occasions when its moat,
portcullis and gates have barred entry to opposing armics and uprisings, but there are no records of any
What is certain is that in Norman times, the castles of the Barons were used as prisons for their estates, and
in this respect Lancaster was no exception. For many centuries, the Castle served as a prison for those
offending against their masters, a jail for the County in mediaeval times, a County Gaol in the 18th and
19th Centuries, and a State Prison in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Given its long reputation as a place of detention, judicial trial and executions, the history of Lancaster
Castle must surely devote lengthy debate on its penal use. The reader will recognise that in the past
Lancaster Castle was a place of awe, privation and barbarous cruelty, a place whose very name was
synonymous with human suffering, anguish, despair and death.
The Castle can claim to possess the highest perimeter walls of any prison in the British Isles, and is the
oldest prison, still in use, in the whole of Europe.