|Lancaster Castle courtyard. Photo © Copyright Ian Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence|
With its 900-year history as an enclave of crime and punishment, Lancaster Castle’s interior has for centuries generally been considered a place for the incarceration of those on the wrong side of the law.
But the formal closure of the HM Prison in March 2011 signalled a new dawn for the castle’s future role in Lancaster life, which will – for the first time in its history - include opening the gates daily to allow people inside.
The first symbolic sign that the interior of the Grade I Listed Building is to reconnect with the public of the city whose skyline it dominates will be when the gates are opened by the Constable of Lancaster Castle, Gordon Johnson, at 10.00am on Saturday 25th May.
Once inside, visitors can get a glimpse of the castle’s magnificent interior from its large internal courtyard.
Visitors will also be able to call into the new ‘Nice @ the Castle’ cafe (run by the proprietors of the nearby Nice Bar and Restaurant) as well as popping in to a new gift shop.
The popular tours run by Lancashire County Council’s museums service at Lancaster Castle will, from 25th May, start and finish at the cafe and will include the Castle Courtyard as well as parts of the former HM prison.
The gates will remain open from 10.00am to 5.00pm each day and throughout the year there will be a series of new events which will include live music and seasonal fairs.
Lancaster Castle occupies a city-centre hilltop location on the site of three successive Roman forts. It consists of an extensive group of historic structures, including the 12th century Keep, the 14th century Witches' Tower, the 15th century Gatehouse, and the Female Penitentiary, which dates from the early years of the 19th century. It is a Grade I Listed Building, with the area to the north of it designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is currently still used as a Crown Court and was an HM Prison until March 2011.
In the 16th Century it housed one of England’s most famous trials involving The Pendle Witches, which saw 10 people found guilty of “making a covenant with an evil spirit, using a corpse for magic, hurting life or limb, procuring love, or injuring cattle by means of charms". They were sentenced to death and hanged on the moor above Lancaster.
The Duchy of Lancaster is custodian of over 18,000 hectares of land and properties across England and Wales which are long-term capital assets kept in perpetuity for the reigning Monarch. HM The Queen is the Duke of Lancaster.
English Heritage has described the Castle as being "not only the North-West's most important historic and archaeological monument but also of international importance".
• Duchy of Lancaster - Lancaster Castle web site: www.lancastercastle.com