Lydford CastleDartmoor
English Heritage
Devon EX20 4BH
Standing on the promontory overlooking Lydford Gorge, atop a grassy mound in the centre of Lydford, is a ruined medieval tower. This imposing relic is the infamous Lydford Castle – a place of summary justice.
The first castle on the site was wooden and built immediately after the Norman Conquest in 1066. All that is left is the massive earthworks and defensive ditch surrounding the second stone castle. It is easy to see why this site was chosen. The ground slopes steeply down to the river below and it commands stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Castle dates from 12th century
In 1195 a stone castle was built on top of the original wooden one. The 12th century tower looks as if it is built on an earth mound but in fact the ground floor was built and the earth piled up around the outside of it. This can easily be seen after entering the tower and it is possible to carefully climb down inside the buried tower. The massive walls are more than 9.8 feet (3 metres) thick.
Grim Reputation
In the early 1300s all mining came under the jurisdiction of the Stannary (Tin) Court. The laws relating to the mining, as enforced by the Stannary Court at Lydford Castle, were very strict and severe. For example, 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.
Lydford was also the administrative centre for the Royal Forest of Dartmoor and the Courts had a grim reputation for hanging defendants in the morning and passing judgement in the afternoon – it became known as ‘Lydford Law’. In the 17th century a local poet wrote:
“I oft hear of Lydford Law,
How in the morn they hang and draw,
And sit in judgement after”
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Political prisoners starved to death
The prison was also used to dispose of political prisoners. They would be cast into the dungeon and ‘forgotten’ i.e. starved to death. During the Civil War, The castle was a Royalist prison where all military prisoners captured by Sir Richard Grenville were sent and executed for High Treason.
Lydford Castle started to fall into disrepair although some maintenance was done in the 18th century; however its prison function finished in the 19th century when a new prison at Princetown was built (Dartmoor Prison). With such a grisly history, it is no wonder that the castle is reputed to be haunted - see article on Lydford Ghosts in this website.
Caution Required When Visiting the Castle
The present entrance to the inside of the Castle is via a pointed arch in the side of the Keep, away from the road. Considerable care and caution should be taken since there are deep drops and steep stone and iron staircases within the walls of the castle. Interpretive guides are on site.
Audio Guide
An audio guide can be downloaded from the English Heritage website: Audio Tour of Lydford Castle
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Agoda here:
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Contact & Further Information
Getting There
The castle is between St Petroc's Church and The Castle Inn in the centre of Lydford Village. Follow the directions for getting to Lydford on the English Heritage/ Lydford Castle/ Getting There
There is a car park opposite the Inn.
Google Map - Lydford Castle