Hazy records make it difficult to document the early days of the castle, but it is supposed that Roger de Poitou, the Norman lord in control of the Honour of Lancaster, was responsible. Roger de Poitou fled England in 1102 after participating in a failed rebellion against the new king, Henry I. As a result, the king confiscated the Honour of Lancaster, which included the castle. Since the 12th century, the monarch appointed a sheriff to maintain the peace in Lancashire, a role usually filled by the duke and based at the castle. In the late 12th and early 13th century, many timber castles founded during the Norman Conquest were rebuilt in stone. Lancaster was one such castle. The holdings of the Duchy of Lancaster extended beyond the county, and Lancaster was not especially important. However, when Henry Duke of Lancaster ascended the throne as King Henry IV in 1399, he almost immediately began adding the monumental gatehouse. A further devastation of the town, as inflicted in 1389, would have been an embarrassment for the new king; his expensive programme of building at the castle helped protect against this. After the Scottish invasion of 1389, Lancaster saw no further military action until the English Civil War. A survey in 1578 led to repairs to the keep costing £235. With the threat of a Spanish invasion, the castle was strengthened in 1585. After Elizabeth I was excommunicated in 1570, she retaliated by declaring Roman Catholic priests guilty of high treason. Any discovered in Lancashire were taken to Lancaster Castle for trial. The notorious Pendle witches trial took place at Lancaster Castle in 1612. At the outbreak of the Civil War Lancaster was lightly garrisoned. A small Parliamentarian force captured the castle in February 1643, established a garrison and set about building earthworks around the approaches to the town. In response, the Royalists dispatched an army to retake Lancaster. The outer defences fell in March; a siege of the castle lasted just two days as Parliamentarian reinforcements were heading to Lancaster from Preston. The Royalists unsuccessfully tried to recapture Lancaster in April and again in June; the town and castle remained under Parliament's control until the end of the war.
In 1554, martyr, George Marsh was held at the castle before standing trial at Chester Cathedral. Some Quakers, including in 1660 George Fox, were held at the castle for being politically dangerous. County gaols, such as this one, were intended to hold prisoners for short periods immediately before trial. The castle also served as a debtors' prison. In the 18th century it became more common for county gaols to hold longer-term prisoners; as a result they began to suffer from overcrowding. Prison reformer John Howard (1726–1790) visited Lancaster in 1776 and noted the conditions in the prison. His efforts to instigate reform led to prisoners in gaols throughout the country being separated by gender and category of their crime. Improvements were also made to sanitation; in the 18th century more people died from gaol fever than by hanging Those sentenced to death at the castle were usually taken to Lancaster Moor, near where the Ashton Memorial now stands, to be hanged. After the Georgian remodelling of the castle, it was decided it would be more convenient to perform executions nearer the castle. The spot chosen became known as Hanging Corner. Lancaster has a reputation as the court that sentenced more people to death than any other in England. This is partly because, until 1835, Lancaster Castle was the only Assize Court in the entire county and covered rapidly growing industrial centres including Manchester and Liverpool. Between 1782 and 1865, around 265 people were hanged at Lancaster; the executions were frequently attended by thousands of people crowded into the churchyard.
Next to the castle is the Judges Lodgings, a fine building built in 1625. The building houses an extensive collection of Gillows furniture, which is partly displayed in the context of a museum of the firm and partly in rooms furnished in period style. Robert Gillow (1704-1772) started making furniture around 1727, predating Thomas Chippendale by twenty years. He made furniture for the upper middle classes and landed gentry. Robert was succeeded by his sons: Richard managed the Lancaster production, and Robert set up a London operation. As a provincial he was unique in having a London showroom. It was a family business until 1813, when the Gillow family sold the firm to three partners, Redmayne, Whiteside, and Ferguson, who retained the name Gillow & Co. Gillows furniture is referred to by Jane Austen, Thackeray and the first Lord Lytton, and in one of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas. It also houses the Museum of Childhood. The displays include a nursery with spectacular 3 seater rocking horse and a reconstructed classroom. The center of the collection is the Brian Elder collection of dolls purchased for the museum in 1976. It includes examples of peg dolls, pressed felt dolls by Lenci, poured wax dolls, bisque porcelain dolls and composition dolls by Armand Marseille, Simon & Halbig and S.F.B.J.. In the display cabinets are doll's houses, Lego, Meccano and some Hornby railway trains. Wheelchair access is severely limited. The reception area, shop and cafe are accessible, as is the courtyard, and there is an interactive kiosk situated in the shop for anyone unable to take part in a tour. This includes a virtual tour with 360 degree views of the rooms themselves. The Judges Lodgings has limited access. There are disabled toilets at both sites. Staff at the Judges Lodgings will answer questions and there are large print guides. Assistance dogs are welcome, and they can provide water if required
Location : Castle Park, Lancaster, Lancashire LA1 1YJ
Transport: Lancaster (National Rail) 250 yards. Bus routes 3A, 4A, 7, S24 and X4 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Castle - Daily 09:30 to 17:00
Judges Lodgings - Easter through October: Mon. to Fri. 10:00 to 16:00; Weekends 12:00 to 16:00
Castle Tickets: Adults £8.00 Concessions £6.50 Children / Carer Free
Lodgings Tickets: Adults £3.00 Concessions £2.00 Children / Carer Free
Tel: Castle - 01524 64998 Lodgings 01524 32808