Lancaster Castle is a medieval castle in the English county of Lancashire. Its early history is unclear but may have been founded in the 11th century on the site of Roman fort overlooking a crossing of the River Lune. In 1164, the Honour of Lancaster, including the castle, came under royal control. In 1322 and 1389 the Scots invaded England, progressing as far as Lancaster and damaging the castle. it was not to see military action again until the English Civil War. The castle was first used as a prison in 1196 although this aspect became more important during the English Civil War. The castle building is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, which leases part of the structure to Lancashire County Council who operate a Crown Court in part of the building.
As well as being a fortification, the castle was also Europe’s longest-serving operational prison until its closure in March 2011. In addition, its courtrooms have witnessed many famous and infamous trials over the centuries, including those of the Lancashire Witches who were convicted and sentenced to death in 1612.
The castle was also the site of the trials of the Lancashire Martyrs between 1584 and 1646, and Geoge Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, was imprisoned there for two years.
The grand jury Room houses some superb Gillow furniture, and in the Shire Hall, there is a magnificent display of heraldic shield.
The Crown Court dock still has the branding iron which was used on ‘malefactors’ until 1811. From 1596, many prisoners convicted at the Castle were sentenced to transportation, initially to the West Indies and American colonies, and later to Australia. Visitors can also experience briefly what it’s like to be locked in one of our 18th-century cells. Since May 2013 the guided tour has also included the chapel yard and main courtyard of the former prison.
The former A-Wing has been opened up at Lancaster Castle as part of its guided tours, with a new ‘Prison Life’ exhibition in the ground-floor cells. This new exhibition, which opened on Monday 15th August 2016, allows visitors to view the cells at their own pace, as part of the existing tour.
There is also a varied programme of events throughout the year, including theatre, music, dark history tours, children’s activity tours, Halloween tours, murder mysteries, and much more. The cafe in the courtyard is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm.
Open daily for guided tours from 10 am until 3 pm (1st Nov to 1st April – Court sittings permitting). Guided tours leave from the cafe in the courtyard which is accessed through the main gates. Closed Christmas/New Year. Visitors to Lancaster Castle are advised to check opening times by telephoning 0152464998.
The guided tours cost £8 adults, £6.50 concessions, £20 family ticket (the Explorer ticket – valid for 12 months is excellent value and includes entry to 11 other museums in Lancashire.)
Please note that dogs are not permitted in Lancaster Castle, with the exception of assistance dogs.