Heading Northwards: Pt 1 – Lancaster Castle

Today we arrived at Preston train station to embark upon our usual trip between Preston and Carlisle. We had a few hours to kill before we actually needed to get to Carlisle so we made a few stops on the line on the way up to make it a more interesting day, beginning with Lancaster Castle…

Lanc 1

Lancaster Castle

Easily visible from the West Coast Main Line, and flying the flag high above the city of Lancaster, looms the unforgiving figure of Lancaster Castle, sat atop a hill with a commanding position in the Lancashire County Town. I can see why it was built here, as just for us it was a trek up to the main gate, never mind for an invading army. The hill here is quite steep and covered in cobbles, however the final destination is worth the climb. I suppose we didn’t make it easy for ourselves as we had our luggage with us, which the typical soldier wouldn’t have had to deal with!

Last time we visited, in Summer 2012, the main entrance was closed and access to the structure could only be gained from down the left hand side near Lancaster Priory which forms part of the complex. From 1955 until March 2011 the Castle operated as an actual prison for the Ministry of Justice, before eventually closing due to the condition of the building and the maintenance costs. When we visited it was only year after closure and it wasn’t yet ready for the public to be admitted, and it wasn’t until May 2013 that the Castle was opened as a tourist attraction with regular tours, and you can now enter through the main gate.

Lanc 2

Inside the Castle is an impressive structure, with high walls topped with turrets in every direction. This is the main courtyard, accessed via the main doors through the Castle Gatehouse as shown in the previous picture. On the right of the picture a part of the building has been converted into a Cafe/Shop with both indoor and outdoor seating areas. A number of souvenirs as well as tickets for the tours are also available from here. It made for a great place to relax with a cuppa and a Lemon Meringue! :P

The tours last over an hour and are at scheduled times throughout the day, and take in a large part of the Castle, with a history of the building told by an experienced tour guide.

Lanc 3

We picked a great place to sit and relax outside, next to a set of wooden stocks, which I am guessing are a more modern addition. Think I rather suit them!

This is the most we have ever seen of the Castle and it’s incredible how much of the older sections have been retained inside the main complex, and it must have been an amazing place to be a prisoner over the last 50 years. The Castle itself dates back many centuries, to a previous structure probably built by Roger de Poitou (1060 – 1140, Anglo-Norman Land Owner), as a large timber building built around a former Roman Fort. Passing through various hands throughout the next few hundred years, the Castle was eventually rebuilt in stone, like many Norman Castles of the time.

Lanc 5

One of the first sections to receive this treatment was the Keep, seen both here and on the previous photograph as the large square building at the back right side of the picture. We had a quick explore around the Courtyard and found a small passage leading through to a second, much smaller Courtyard containing the entrance to the Keep.

This was rebuilt in stone in the 12th Century. The next major addition was the Well Tower, in the 14th Century.These modifications were proven worthwhile after Scottish attacks in both 1322 and 1389 which reinforced the need for a stronger Castle. The Gatehouse was the brain child of King Henry IV (1367 – 1413) who began construction sometime after 1399. This was completed soon after and was one of the strongest parts of the Castle, and my personal favourite section of the structure.

Luckily for Lancaster, the Castle wouldn’t see conflict again until 1643, during the English Civil War when the Parliamentarians captured the Castle. The Royalists tried to retake the city twice, but without success, and soon the King (Charles I) was executed in 1649. By the end of the war, with Charles II on the throne, the war was over and the Castle stood down. It would become a Gaol (Jail) and Court for Lancashire, as until 1835 it was the only Court in the whole county, and many executions, usually by hanging, took place in the Castle. In 1868 Capital Punishment was abolished in public, so executions took place inside the Castle rather than on display. The final execution took place in 1910, and the Prison was shut until World War I when it was used to hold German POW’s. It’s next job was as a training centre for Lancaster Police Officers, from 1931 until 1937, before becoming the modern Prison I mentioned earlier.

Lanc 4

Looking down the side of the Castle you can see the Shire Hall, the Court, in the building on the left with the small spires on the turrets. There are so many different sections to the Castle, each one with incredible detail. It’s great that so much of the Castle is now accessible to the public, and it’s position on the hill above Lancaster rivals only the location of Edinburgh Castle, high above the Scottish Capital City.

Lancaster 1.5

I mentioned before about Lancaster Priory, which makes up part of the Castle Complex (although outside the physical Castle Walls) at the North End, overlooking the Lune Valley (the river that flows through the city). This stunning sandstone Church, called the Priory Church of St Mary, was originally built back in 1094 when the aforementioned Roger de Poitou created a Benedictine Priory here in 1904. The Priory’s Nave was widened in 1360 and in 1431 it was largely reconstructed after becoming part of Syon Abbey close to London. When the monasteries were abolished by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in 1539, the Priory became the local Parish Church in 1540.

The Tower at the West end of the Priory isn’t original, as it was demolished in 1753 when it became a hazard. Henry Sephton built the new tower in 1759, and it survives to this day. There have been numerous additions over the years, including many new organs replacing each other in 1811, 1872, 1922 and finally 1982.

The Church fits in perfectly with the Church as they both appear to have been made out of the same stone, and maintain the same colour scheme as each other.

Lanc 6

Coming out of the main courtyard, you can see the heavy metal entrance doors, and the cobbled slope outside. The large square that surrounds the Castle is also full of history, with a staggering amount of Listed Buildings throughout the city, and a number of them are located in the square.

Lanc 7

A few of the buildings have plaques on them, and one of the ones we spotted is shown above, “Number 24 with Attached Forecourt Wall”. The plaque states that it was the “Former Offices of the firm of Paley & Austin Architects 1868 – 1944″. A lot of the buildings around here are of a beautiful brick/stone construction, which gives you the sense of strolling through history as you explore the city.

Other examples of Listed Buildings in the square include 19 Castle Hill, a dispensary providing medicines for the poor built in 1785. Today it is an office and was converted in 1832 from being the dispensary. When it was built it was the second building used for this, and it is one of well over 100 fantastic Listed Buildings that survive throughout the city. You can find out more about them by using this link.

You can find out more about the many other attractions in the city in my dedicated post here, from the beautiful Town Hall, to the modern Millenium Bridge spanning the River Lune, with views of one of the most famous Lancaster landmarks, the Ashton Memorial. You can also visit the Castle’s official website for more information and visiting times here. As for us, it was time to continue our journey towards Carlisle and our next stop was at Oxenholme Lake District railway station, in the small village of Oxenholme, just outside the larger town of Kendal…

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