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The Queen goes to prison in Lancaster Castle

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 June 2015 | UPDATED: 23:26 23 October 2015

The Queen in A Wing of the disused gaol

The Queen in A Wing of the disused gaol

Darren Andrews

Her Majesty visited the Lancaster landmark at an important time in its history, says Lord Shuttleworth

The 15th century gatehouse known as the John OGaunt Tower The 15th century gatehouse known as the John OGaunt Tower

Lancaster Castle has always played an important part in the history of the red rose county. Now those walls, weathered by the centuries, are set to play an important role in its future prosperity.

The castle is part of the Duchy of Lancaster estate and the Queen’s recent visit came on the 750th anniversary of the year Henry III handed over his first ‘spoils of war’ to his son, Edmund Crouchback,

Edmund’s estate expanded rapidly, taking in large areas of Lancashire and even included the land on which London’s Savoy Hotel would eventually stand. One of the jewels in the Duchy’s crown has been Lancaster Castle, which dominates the city skyline.

Until recently, a large part of it was a prison but the cells are now empty and its future use is the subject of considerable discussion.

Lord Shuttleworth at the gatehouse Lord Shuttleworth at the gatehouse

Ironically, the Queen’s recent visit was the first time she’d managed to get past the gatehouse - despite owning the building. ‘The last time Her Majesty was here was in 1999,’ said Lord Shuttleworth, the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire and chairman of the Duchy council for nine years until he handed over the reins to Mark Hudson.

‘Back then she came to the gate and was met the Constable of the castle, Eric Jones, and was ceremoniously handed the keys. But it was a working prison so she couldn’t go inside.

‘This recent visit was the first time she has gone in and seen “A Wing” which looks straight out of an episode of Porridge. It was a significant moment.’

There will be more significant moments in the next couple of years as decisions are made concerning the castle’s use. This was the second prison visit made by the Queen – the first was to Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol last year.

‘The Queen sent me across to Crumlin Road to see the visitor attraction they have created. It was extremely busy with ticketed entry. It’s a fascinating place - and it’s still got the gallows. We don’t have that here but we still have the drop where executions took place.’

Whether the castle follows Crumlin Road down this route is still being considered. ‘This building is very important to the city,’ said Lord Shuttleworth. ‘As Lancaster turns itself more into a visitor destination, the role of the castle becomes crucial.’ As the man who accompanies members of the Royal family on visits to the county, Lord Shuttleworth knows the Queen better than most. But he did have a confession to make to her.

‘My ancestor, William Shuttleworth, was governor of the castle in 1642 after Parliamentarian troops captured it during the Civil War,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, he was caught napping and allowed the Royalists to recapture the castle. He was outside the gates, possibly in the pub, and as a result he was killed. I confessed my ancestors’ past allegiances and she was very forgiving!’

Royal approval

Lord Shuttleworth is credited with introducing the Queen to a new dining experience when she visited The Inn at Whitewell, which is part of the Duchy estate in Bowland. As she left she said: ‘If that’s a pub lunch, I look forward to the next one.’

As well as farms and building in Lancashire, the estate also owns the foreshore. This contributes £16million to the monarch, who pays tax on the income.

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