Lancaster Castle – A Tour, A Wild Haired Guide and some History.
We spent last weekend in Morecambe bay. You could say it’s a little downtrodden compared to our recent trip to Geneva, but our daughter was insisting we travelled ‘away’ for the weekend.
I could talk about Morecambe and how delightful the place is, but lets focus on something more interesting in the form of an 11th century castle.
This was the highlight of the trip and only being 40 miles away or so, I do wonder why I have never visited before. The gatehouse is very impressive and has not changed in over 400 years. If you check this wikipedia picture you can see this, compared to my photograph.
We had to return the next day as we were too late for the tour. You can enter for free but not inside the castle. So we duly returned and the tour guide asked me if I was a senior, cheeky bugger!
While I’m not going to reveal my age to you, its double digits before I get to pensioner status. A great start! ‘No, I’m bloody not’, was my instinctual retort. He didn’t seem impressed; maybe it was a little early and he hadn’t had his coffee.
So I paid the tour fee, and a few minutes later we walked into the courtyard where the same guide talked about the witches tower, hangings, heads being chopped off and other such lovely topics.
It was insanely hot that day, and I was wearing just a t-shirt and finding it increasingly uncomfortable being stood motionless in the same spot.
Our guide however, with his wild curly long grey hair, shirt, tie, jumper and jacket was not even breaking a sweat! What was this guy on? He could talk, Ill give him that!
I must confess I’m not a fan of guided tours, I prefer to make my own way around old ruins, castles and the like but here you have no choice.
From the roasting hot courtyard, we were led inside the castle which on the contrast was rather chilly. My daughter casually whispered air conditioning; I don’t think so!
The castle was used as a prison by Her Majesty until 2011, and there’s two actively used courts inside the castle, one being a crown court. We made our way from one court filled with coats of arms, to the second that contained a dock and a trapdoor. This is where the convicted appear when the court is in session.
Our guide explained that holding the right hand up as a show of ‘telling the truth’, is a legacy of the past where prisoners would be branded and thus show the jury their past crimes.
He also explained that the before around 1835, guilty prisoners would be executed publicly and that the very court we stood in was used by the Witchfinder Generals in the early 1600’s to denounce the witches. There was no mention of public burnings. Witches were held before their trial in the Witches Tower. You can see the brickwork is the original stonework compared to the surrounding ones (central below).
We were not allowed to take photographs in the court areas, but the next area contained some instruments of torture and items to hold the lunatics in place. Firstly the device to the left was attached to restrain them, and then they were strapped to the chair (right) and simply left there.
These items we were assured, were all genuine and had been used in the past. There were many manacles attached to the upper walls, that would have been attached to the prisoners bound for Australia for their crimes.
The ships that sailed these prisoners only disembarked from Southampton so they were marched on foot to the south coast complete with manacles. It took them several weeks to arrive.
Some other items of torture can be seen below. Scold's Bridle was for blabbermouths and forced the mouth closed and the tongue still. The person could not eat or drink either, very unpleasant!
The Birch was still used in England up until recent times.
The last room before exiting the castle contained the jail cells. The wild haired guide invited us all in a cell, explaining he would close the door for a few seconds so we could experience the cold reality of the past.
It was almost completely dark for those few seconds, and the kids in the group got a little upset even for this short period. The holes at the top of these cells were used by the guards to converse with the unfortunate prisoners. They were always closed otherwise.
The tour took around an hour and was entertaining at times, but I got a little bored in the first courtroom. Overall it was worth seeing and I would recommend it if you are in the area.
All photographs were taken by myself.
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