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The History of Lancaster Castle Pt2
Welcome to part 2 of the history of Lancaster Castle. In this final instalment we cover the Pendle Witch Trials, Take a brief glimpse into life at debtor’s prison, and discover what would happen to you as a child if you got caught committing an offence.
One of the most famous events at Lancaster castle was the Pendle Witch trials of 1612. During the reign of King James I, he passed laws which forbid any act of “making a covenant with an evil spirit, hurting life or limb, injuring live stock by means of charms or procuring love”. All of these acts were subject to the death penalty.
The trial was centred on two families in which five of their members were accused (Elizabeth Southern, Anne Whittle, Ann Redfern, Elizabeth Device and Alison and James Device). Another five from the same locality (Jane Bulcock and her son John, Alice Grey, Alice Nutter and Katherine Hewitt) also stood accused. While awaiting trial, 80 year old Elizabeth Southern passed away in her cell.
The trial began in August of the same year and was presided over by Judge Bromley and Judge Altham. Lord Gerard and Sir Richard Hoghton were in assistance.
The prisoners were deprived of any counsel and could not call witnesses. On top of the original ten another ten defendants, also accused of witchcraft (The Samlesbury witches, also from Pendle along with Isobel Robey from Windle, near St Helens and Margaret Pearson, the Padiham Witch) were to stand trial.
In total, 20 people stood accused and their ages ranged from 9 years old to 80 years. The evidence produced stemmed from idle gossip, false accusations and rumours.
At the conclusion of the three day event, Anne Whittle, Anne Redfern, Elizabeth Device, Alice Nutter, Alison and James Device, Katherine Hewitt, Jane and John Bulcock, as well as Isobel Robey were all found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on the moor above the Town. Margaret Pearson was sentenced to be pilloried on four successive market days at Padiham, Clitheroe, Whalley and Lancaster. Once this was carried out, Margaret was to spend a further year in prison as part of her punishment. The Samlesbury witches and Alice Grey were not found guilty and set free.
Public executions took place at Lancaster Castle right up until the 1800’s at a place called Gallows Hill. The prisoners would be taken from their cells in a cart and pass along Moor lane and Moor gate. They would pause briefly at a local public house where they could take their last drink with family and friends before proceeding to the gallows. People from all around the north west of England would congregate out in Lancaster’s streets to watch these public hangings. After 1800 the hangings were shifted from the moor to a place within the castles confines. It was to become known as "The Hanging Corner".
Of all the executions carried out, a total of 265 in all, 43 were for murder and other crimes which included burglary, forgery, robbery and cattle stealing. 131 of these hangings were carried out by the one person – Old Ned Barlow. The last person to be publicly hanged was Stephen Burke in 1865.
Between 1788 and 1868, if you found yourself lucky enough to escape the hangman’s noose, you may have found yourself being transported to a new penal colony called Australia. In total 200, 000 people found themselves ship bound to face the uncertainties of a hostile environment in NSW and Tasmania.
As a convict awaiting transportation you were entitled to the “Kings Allowance” of 2s and 6d a week. The government were charged anything from £8 to £12 per prisoner and the escorting jailers received a set fee per mile for each prisoner.
If you could not pay your debts and were found guilty you would have found yourself serving time in the castles debtors’ prison. The castle housed between 3 to 400 debtors at any one time who would be required to work within the prison.
Life as debtors was quite comfortable compared to the other inmates and you would receive in payment for your work 3 ozs of bread, 4ozs of oatmeal daily and 1oz of salt and 10 lbs of potatoes on a weekly basis.
If you were one of the lucky ones who had access to money from friends or family then your stay in prison was even more luxurious. You could choose your own type of accommodation from the 22 rooms set aside for just such people. The price ranged from 5s to 30s and included a fire, candles, cutlery and a servant who did the cooking and cleaning. The lifestyle did not stop there. You were able to buy beer and wine, purchase tobacco and newspapers, buy meat, groceries, fruit and vegetables from the debtor’s market which was held in the castle yard. You could carry on with your profession and have visitors from morning until night.
And you thought life was a hardship in prison!
Until 1902 when the Borstal system was introduced, if you were caught as a child committing an offence you could be expected to be fined or sentenced to five days hard labour. The resulting fine of 7s and 6d meant that for most families their children went to prison and completed five days of hard labour.
Lancaster has not been short of royal visitors during her 800 years. The first visitor of note was King John who held court and received the French Ambassadors and King Alexander of Scotland in 1206. From that point in time there was a steady stream of visitors.
In the 1400’s Henry IV held his court in the castle and it was also patronized by Edward IV. Both James I and Charles II visited during the 17th century. By the 1800’s, Lancaster was a very popular place to visit with nine Royal visits.
The first was in 1803 with Prince William Fredrick of Gloucester. Queen Adelaide visited in 1840 and Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Royal children spent time there in 1852.
The most recent royal visitor was Queen Elizabeth in 1999.
Today Lancaster Castle is a thriving tourist attraction, working prison and court room.
I hope you have enjoyed this two part series on the History of Lancaster Castle and when you find yourself in the area, pay her a visit.
About the author:
A Guide to Castles of Europe was born from childhood dreams and aspirations. It is my hope to educate and stimulate you into exploring these castles for yourselves.