I was passing by Dartmoor today, so I thought I'd check out one of the smaller castles around here. I took some shots - I hope you find them interesting.
Lydford was one of four towns founded by Alfred the great in Devon to defend the kingdom of Wessex from Vikings. It has significant natural defences, bordering a gorge on one side and a deep ravine on the other. The Anglo-Saxons completed these defences with a series of 4 meter tall earthwork defences surrounding the town, making it very difficult to capture and impossible to raid.
It was created in 1195 for the single purpose of being a prison, which was very rare in medieval times. It was largely redesigned in 1256 by Richard Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III - Richard buried the original prison tower under a large earthen mound, and built an additional two stories on top of it. It is only these two levels that now appear above ground.
This is the view from the gatehouse, all the floors have decayed and been removed, but its clear that the lower level had a much more functional aspect where defensive archers could be stationed and the upper level with its 'luxurious' open windows looking out onto Dartmoor.
Looking back at the gatehouse, very small compared to most medieval fortifications, but on the other hand you'd still need an army to get in.
This is the view from the lower level. Richard filled this in with rubble after extending the tower above. You'll see why below:
This was the ground floor before the renovations. After extending above and burying the tower, the front entrance was walled up. On the right is a half sized door... that became the dungeon room. With this main room filled with rubble, the dungeon room was walled on all sides with earthen banks built up around it... there was no escape, and no light. Prisoners thrown down here (by trapdoor from above) were said to have been 'Given the pit'. One disgraced MP found himself down here, and later wrote of it being '...one of the most annoious, contagious and detestable places wythen this realme.' This dungeon room is about eight feet wide by twenty five, and was said to have held 'up to forty' prisoners at a time. Whereas the other prisoner rooms had windows and latrines built in, this room has none.
View from the pit, two floors would have been above the prisoners, blocking all light.
Looking out of the pit to where the rubble filled room would have been.
A nicer cell with a view!
A narrow staircase leads from the gatehouse to the third floor, with additional defensive windows overlooking the gatehouse.
The third floor. This would actually have been a courtroom (you didn't have far to go in those days from judge to executioner) with living rooms or court offices beyond the left wall. On the left you can still see the triangular indentation where the fireplace would have been built, and large windows in front and to the right would have been elaborately decorated and have had heavy tapestry coverings for inclement weather. Lydford remained a working court and prison until about 1800, but quickly fell into disrepair after the court was moved to Princetown. In 1833, a visitor remarked 'The stairs and floors of the castle cannot now be trodden without danger, as the greater parts of the boards are wanting. The judges chair however remains, and the royal arms above it are in perfect preservation'.
View of Dartmoor over one of the defensive earthen banks. The town itself is thought to be well over a thousand years old, and would once have been one of the biggest in Devon. Now it is a shadow of its former self.
Next to the castle is a Saxon church, quite old in itself.
Shot of the rear of the castle. I stopped to enjoy a bowl of firedance here, and was left pondering a English heritage sign next to me. Medieval justice was... well... medieval. There are stories and account of brutal punishments being handed out here on a regular basis, and most of it sounds inhuman. I wonder how much truth there is in the old poem written here:
- Quote :
- I oft have heard of Lydford law
How in the morn they hang and draw
And sit in judgement after.