Devon

Lydford Castle, Devon

Lydford Castle is one of two castles that have lorded over Lydford. The remaining castle (roof missing so do dress sensibly if it is raining) is run by English Heritage. The second castle is sadly a bit battered above ground but eagle eyed visitors will spot impressive foundations and a defensive ditch – perfect for climbing and clambering in and out. The castles sit on each side of St Petroc’s Church.

With a rightly royal history the castle was authorised to be built by King John to house offenders against both the forest and stannary laws.

The older of the two castles was built very soon after the Norman conquest of 1066 on an intelligently defensible site high above Lydford gorge. Here the land falls steeply away from it on two sides towards the river, making it super difficult to overwhelm the castle. Though only the remnants are left, its superb position and stunning views over Dartmoor and the surrounding countryside make it well worth a visit.

The newer and remaining castle, with walls over 3m thick for keeping naughty prisoners tight like tigers, dates back to 1195 AD. The tower where prisoners were kept is the oldest part of the building whilst the keep is ‘newer’ built in the 13th Century.

With a rightly royal history the castle was authorised to be built by King John to house offenders against both the forest and stannary laws. Such was the importance of the tin industry in Devon and Cornwall that a special legal and taxation system had evolved to govern it, and the stannaries, or tin districts of Devon, were administered from Lydford. In 1239 Henry III granted Lydford to his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, as part of a princely endowment.

On the death of Earl Richard’s son, Edmund, in 1300 the estate reverted to the Crown and since 1337 Dartmoor and Lydford Castle have formed part of the possessions of the Duchy of Cornwall.

During the Middle Ages, Lydford Castle was used as a prison and as a Court of Law, being the administration office for the Royal Forest of Dartmoor, and also the Stannary Court, which had jurisdiction over the procedures for tin mining in Devon and over the behaviour of the tin miners.

It didn’t pay to disobey, that’s for sure! The penalty upon any miner found guilty of adulterating tin for fraudulent purposes was that three spoonfuls of molten tin should be poured down into his throat.

During the English Civil War (1642-1651), Lydford Castle was used by the Royalists as a dungeon for Parliamentary supporters and soldiers (mostly Devonshire and Cornish folk who maintained their allegiances to King Charles I).

When visiting Lydford Castle in the 21st Century you needn’t fear being locked up (or indeed having to drink molten tin…) just come to admire the exciting and tumultuous past.

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