Archive for witch trials

Lancaster legends, lunatic chairs and witches

Posted in HISTORY, Lancaster, PAST PLACES with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by echostains

Lancaster castle John O Gaunt gateway

In our relentless quest to travel further and further into the world, we often forget places which are relatively nearest to us.  Lancaster, for example is  only an hour or so drive away from us, yet until recently we had never been there.  Lancaster is the county town of Lancashire, famous for the Pendle Witch trials of 1612 where  9 women and two men were tried at Lancaster Assizes, 10 were found guilty and were hung.

Lancaster Museum

The town itself is a very busy place, the river Lune runs through it, colourful barges and delightful pubs and restaurants abound.  The Museum has a marvellous collection that ranges from early civilisation up to the present day.   I really like the way the collections are displayed and grouped, going back through time.  There are lots of artifacts that have been found in Lancaster.  The most fascinating one, I thought, was a body that had been found under a car park  (I think) in the centre.  The coffin was hollowed out of a tree and the body wrapped up in a cloth shroud.  But all that remained of the body was the fingernails and toenails!  Of course you weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, which was a shame because there were some wonderful artifacts.

Lancaster Prison

Lancaster castle is a big black imposing place – there’s nothing romantic about it  Having gone up to the entrance (John of Gaunt’s gateway) we were a bit disconcerted to find that this entrance was actually the doorway to a working prison and we were queueing up with relatives of the prisoners…..  Apparently this is a common mistake.

Having found the right entrance we were shown around by a the castle’s archivist Eric Wilkinson whose knowledge of the castle’s history and the informative and highly entertaining way he made the castles history come alive, made the hour-long tour go by only too quickly.   It was easy to forget that part of the castle is in fact a prison and that the Crown court still sees a lot of action, it’s  done so for over 200 years.  The walls in the court are covered in heraldic shields of all the counties of Lancashire and ornate carving provides an impressive backdrop to this historical room.

lunatic chair

I got to sit in a ‘Lunatic chair’.  It is a restraining chair that was used to confine ‘awkward’ prisoners.  the more they struggled, the more the leather straps self tightened.  Luckily for me, the chair was strapless when I sat in it 🙂

We were also incarcerated in a tiny dungeon, the door was locked and the light turned out.  To say it was creepy would be an understatement…..  of course yet again we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the prison (security risk).  


 But outside we took some of ‘Hanging Corner’.  This little place is where a lot of hangings took place.  Standing on the car park where the prisoners bodies were buried in quicklime, facing the church on a sunny day, a slight chill was felt. 

 Castle tour (lunatic chair and scolds bridle and inside pics of the castle here)

Castle John O Gaunt gateway here and prison sign here

About Lancaster here