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Lancaster Castle
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Lancaster Castle, Castle Parade, Lancaster, LA1 1YJ
Tours & Gift Shop Tel: 01524 64998

Catering & Café
Corporate Packages & Away Days
Please call 01524 848 525


Judicial history
Penal colony deportees
Strategic position
Opening times and tours
Download a plan of the castle

Be prepared, this is no ruin. Lancaster Castle has never stopped working and is the repository of such a history and so many well-known stories that it's really a must for visitors to the area, or anyone wanting to learn about Lancashire and English history. The guides are helpful and friendly and really know their stuff too. 

It's free to enter the castle courtyard through the great John O'Gaunt gate and it's wonderful to just be able to come and go in there now. It offers a packed programme of events throughout the year with festivals, tours, theatre, historical re-enactments, music, children's activities, a giftshop and the NICE Cafe (stands for the Northern Institute of Creative Eating).

Some of the castle is still off-limits to tourists - because right up until March 2011 it was also a 'Category C' Prison housing over 200 prisoners. The Castle belongs to the Queen and was rented from her for this purpose on a long lease, now ended. And sometimes the County Court is sitting and that area is off-limits then. 

A substantial proportion of the Queen's income is raised from her holdings in the Duchy of Lancaster, as, since the Wars of the Roses, the crown holds the Duchy of Lancaster, so she is the Duke. According to the Duchy, at the end of March 2017, the Duchy of Lancaster had £519m of net assets under its control, delivering net income to the Queen of £19.2m. 

Now that the prison has closed the castle is looking forward to a new and happier life with plans for a boutique hotel and museum of 'justice' - so soon you may be able to stay 'at Her Majesty's pleasure' in the very castle where the Lancashire Witches and numerous saints and martyrs were held. Your accommodation is likely to be considerably better!

Judicial History

For generations Lancashire, including the little pre-industrial towns of Manchester and Liverpool, turned to the great City of Lancaster and its Castle for justice. Things have changed a bit since then. 

You can see where the County Court still regularly sits in the historic Shire Hall courtroom hung with the coats of arms of the County sheriffs that go back almost a thousand years. Famous (and infamous) cases, from the so-called Lancashire Witches to the 'Birmingham Six' mistrial, were held here and you can see the trapdoor where steps lead down (hence the expression 'to get sent down') from the defendants' dock to the cells.

Deeper in the Castle you can also see the ancient dungeons and instruments of interrogation, slavery and execution, each of which have their wierd, sad, fascinating human stories. Frankly, it's scary stuff, being shut up (an optional and mercifully brief treat) where martyrs like St Edmund Arrowsmith and also the famous Lancashire Witches spent months in the rank dark. Apparently there were more death sentences handed down here than at any other court in the country - even London. 

Hangings took place at the castle from 1800 - 1910, in public until 1865. (Before that they took place off the back of a cart at Highfield, near what is now Williamson Park). You can find out more about capital punishment at Lancaster Castle here.
There is a full list of names, dates and offences of those sentenced to hang at the castle on the castle website

Penal Colony Deportees

About 3000 people were deported from here to penal colonies in Australia. Some details of convicts transported to Australia and elsewhere are held by Lancashire County Council. If you would like to know more about these, please contact

Strategic Position

Looming over the city from the mound once dedicated to early spiritual pursuits Lancaster Castle and the adjacent Lancaster Priory provide a constant subliminal reminder of establishment muscle. Overlooking the Lune estuary, it's a great strategic position and the first fort was built there in AD79 under the command of the Roman general Agricola. Toward the end of the 11th century the first castle proper was erected there, (as well as a Benedictine Monastery on the ancient sacred site where Lancaster Priory now stands) by the Norman baron, Roger of Poitou, who was charged with holding the territory against the Scots. Since then there have been lots of additions.
More history here.

Opening times and tours

Lancaster Castle is open 7 days a week (except over the Christmas/ New Year period) from 9.30am to 5.00pm, with guided tours running regularly throughout the day. 

The gift shop closes at 4.30pm.  

Guided tours at 30-minute intervals (Court sittings permitting) from 10.30am to 4pm. Tour duration 45 mins. Themed evening tours available for group bookings. Tours available for pre-booked school groups.  There are also some excellent Hallowe'en tours. Eek! It's the real deal! Tours operate from A-Wing, one of the former prison blocs where visitors can explore the Prison Life exhibition and browse the gift shop. The shop and ticket desk are signposted from the castle gatehouse.

See Lancaster Castle website for more history, events and detailed info


Disabled Access

Parts of Lancaster Castle are almost 1000 years old. You need to be steady footed and reasonably fit on those narrow, steep, twisty, stone staircases.
While it is free to enter the castle courtyard, the gateway entrance is steeply cobbled and rutted and there is no disabled access yet. Although there is a special chair for hanging people who can't walk. 

Find out about the summer evening Guided Walks around the castle and area - from Witches and Martyrs to Ghosts and Murderers. Forget the X-Files... check out our EVENTS section!