Prisons, Punishment and Witches at Lancaster Castle

With beginnings in Roman times, Lancaster Castle is a fascinating place to visit. It’s not your ordinary castle tour.

It’s moving, thought provoking, disturbing and very interesting.

The castle has been the scene of notable trials, over 200 executions for everything from murder to stealing cattle and has housed prisoners of various categories until as recently as 2011.

In 1612 one of the most famous cases was heard at Lancaster Castle. Ten people were convicted of witchcraft and went to the gallows on the moors above the town. For more information on the most famous witch trials in England – The Pendle Witches

Until 1866, the Debtors Prison housed between 300 and 400 debtors at any one time. Now being transformed back to it’s original state from the prison laundry.


These are some very eery cells, where you can be locked in total darkness as part of your tour experience.

I passed on this bit of the tour!


This room I found the most disturbing. Small, circular in shape,  with a tall ceiling, it was originally used to house the ‘criminally insane’. Many of the inmates would today be more kindly identified as having a mental illness.


There were also lots of awful tools and instruments of punishment on display. The original wood chairs, in this picture, were used to tie inmates down. There are finger nail marks and teeth marks in the wood!

After 1800 the executions at Lancaster Castle took place at “Hanging Corner”, in an angle between the tower and the wall. On the ground floor of the tower is the “Drop Room” which contains relics of the many executions, including the last hanging rope ever used and the hangman’s bell. The sound of that bell reaches right inside you.




Lancaster Castle is still used as a Crown Court

The smaller court room (not shown), which is also still a working court today, still has the original hand ‘holdfast’ and branding iron in the dock.


The A-Wing where you can view cells used up until 2011 – very claustrophobic.


Our tour guide was extremely well informed about the history and I learnt so much. The castle is very atmospheric with such a vast history in every corner. I had no idea it was still an active court and had been a prison until 2011. This place really captures the history of crime, punishment and culture through the ages. You could feel the suffering that has taken place within the walls.

For more information visit Lancaster Castle

Have you ever visited any similar places? I would be really interested to know of anywhere similar that has such a long history.






13 thoughts on “Prisons, Punishment and Witches at Lancaster Castle

  1. Wow, very interesting to learn that it was still an active prison as recently as 2011! I find that I tend to segment history from the present, as if there’s some vast chasm between the past and the present. I guess thinking of history as being removed from our humanity makes the fossils of suffering seen in places like this prison more tolerable. But finding out how recently it’s been used (though certainly not for hangings and the like!) makes that historical suffering seem so much closer and more real. This place is definitely going on my “to visit” list for my next UK trip. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was weird visiting the A-wing prison. I’ve never visited a prison. I found it really oppressive and claustrophobic. I suppose that’s the point. Yes, I too separate history from more recent times but at the Lancaster Castle they strangely sit side by side. If you did ever visit – check you will have access to the courts during the tour. We went during school term time so there was only adults on our tour. Much more informative getting the ‘adult version’ of history. Also check the website. There’s a link in my post.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much for the helpful advice! I’ll be sure to do that. And I’ve never visited a prison either — to be honest the thought both terrifies and fascinates me. Once in grade school we visited the city jail, which I suppose is not the same as a prison, but it scared the daylights out of me!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve only visited the grounds. I think it would have been interesting to do the tour but we didn’t have time. The Pendle Sculpture trail in Aitken Wood ( I think we mentioned it before) tells the story of the Pendle Witches in a less claustrophobic atmosphere. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Shazza. Yes – I’ve looked at the trail on line. I am planning to visit in the new year – if it ever stops raining! Our dog has been unwell so he isn’t allowed on walks at the moment. He suddenly collapsed and couldn’t walk. He’s on a strict rest regime now. Old age sadly. Hoping we can resume walks in a couple of weeks. The trail looks really interesting. Thanks again for the tip.


  3. Looks like a pretty creepy place. Having never traveled to the Old World I haven’t done any tours of places that have as long a history as Lancaster. I did wander an abandoned mental institution one time as a teen, that was an interesting place. Even with its shorter, more modern history, you could still feel the suffering. I would tell you where it was but it has since been torn down and when I was there I was technically trespassing (I prefer the term “Urban Exploring”) so I wouldn’t want to implicate myself.

    Liked by 2 people

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