Sunday, 18 July 2010

Lancaster Castle

Today we took a trip to Lancaster Castle. The boys, being boys, always like the idea of going to a castle and the weather, being English and mostly wet, was more conducive to indoor activities. So we climbed in the car and headed up the M6 to have a look at this historic old building.The castle is still used as a category C prison and above is a picture of the prison entrance - on the tour you only get to see about a sixth of the prison. Its the oldest continually used prison in Europe and has a very long history, even back to Roman times (a piece of a Roman alter is on display in Hadrians Tower). The Pendle Witches were held here as was Rudolf Hess during the war and the trial of the Birmingham six was held the Shire Hall - a magnificent room which was formerly a civil court with heraldry adorning its walls. As a piece of trivia, the still active crown court is the only one in the country that is entered through a gift shop!
Above is a picture of the entrance to the gift shop and the start of the tour. It costs £14.00 for a family of four and lasts just over an hour. The guides are very informative and certainly know their stuff. As the castle houses a working Crown Court photography is not allowed for security reasons. This is also a good reason to go at weekend as your visit will then allow access to the court room where you can get a look at the original branding iron housed within the dock. The tour is definitely good value and incredibly interesting.

One of the creepiest moments was a trip into the Old Cells which were built facing inward and therefore there is no external source of light. You are given the opportunity on the tour to experience being locked in one of these tiny rooms. I ventured in with around ten other hardy souls and listened as the door was bolted and the light turned off - it was pitch black! So dark that you really were not able to see your hand in front of your face. It was a fun to experience knowing that I would be out of there in a minute or two but my mind did wander to the poor souls who were left to rot here for such heinous crimes as bankruptcy.

A look at the prisoner database on the castle's website reveals that a James Naylor was convicted of stealing two cows in Manchester in 1818, a crime for which he was sentenced to death! Luckily for him he was reprieved and it is likely therefore that he was transported to either America, the West Indies or Australia. In the same year a Thomas Dawson was convicted of horse theft although we are not told what his sentence was.

Around ten years ago the castle was being decorated and the painters apparently left their ladders unlocked. This gave two prisoners the opportunity to escape, one of whom was desperate to see his newborn daughter. They used the ladders to scale up onto the roof and then straddled them from the edge of one of the forty foot walls (above - the highest of any prison in the UK) as the alarms started ringing around them. The first prisoner made it across but the second wasn't so lucky and he fell the length of the wall. He did survive and the other prisoner was picked up a couple of days later at his mother's house. Both received and extra 18 months onto their sentence.

There's a magnificent church opposite the castle, which I sadly didn't get the name of but there's a picture below.

So there you go. I haven't even scratched the surface, so if you find yourself with a few hours to spare go and have a look. We drove, but it's only a couple of minutes away from the train station right in the centre of Lancaster!


Akelamalu said...

What a great day out!

I'm sure that Naylor and Dawson on the database aren't related to us. ;)

Dan's Fi-ver said...

It was a great day out...well worth the drive!

Dad seems to have confirmed the non-relative status, but I did wonder why Naylors couldn't travel from Yorkshire to Manchester for their thievery!

mrsnesbitt said...

Ahhh Lancaster! We visit here every year on route to Heysham! Interesting road system! lol! (Yes we got lost the first time - would not have been so bad - but 20 other motorbikes followed us!)