Decorated initial T

his famous little north-of-England town, where the Royal Archæological Institute holds its annual meeting next week, is a place of high antiquity; but we are not obliged to believe that it was founded, under the name of Caer Weridd, or the Green City, by Gurguint Redbeard (the British conqueror of Denmark!), in the year A. M. 4834, or at any other date. The Rev. Robert Simpson, who has written the only history of Lancaster, allows that “some readers may smile at this story.” We have therefore quoted it, because a smile is pleasant. The site, on the edge of a great forest and on the bank of the river Lune, or Lone, a name derived from Lug-avon, meaning “a stream of water,” is very likely to have been chosen for a town of the Setantii, or Sistuntii, the Celtic inhabitants of North Lancashire Another people, the Volantii, dwelt in Westmorland and on the northern shore of Morecambe Bay. The Brigantes of Yorkshire, a stronger nation, came over the hills from the eastern country and subdued both the Volantii and the Sistuntii. Then came the Romans, in the reign of the Emperor Claudian, and soon conquered the Brigantes, except those who sullenly retired northward to join the Picts of Caledonia, to keep out whose incursions both the earthen wall of Hadrian and the stone wall of Severus were built across the island, from the Tyne to the Solway Frith. It is conjectured, from a passage in Tacitus, that Agricola, in A.D. 79, marched from North Wales and Chester along the Lancashire coast, and around the heads of its estuaries, those of the Mersey, the Ribble, the Lune, and Morecambe Bay, establishing in his way the Roman military stations of Mancunium or Manchester; Coccium or Ribodunum, which is Ribchester; Longovicus or Lancaster; and another at Overborough. Colno, also, which is evidently Colonia, like Cologne, must be a Roman town. Those half-naked British savages then learned the arts and luxuries of Roman civilisation. Their rude huts of woodland structure gave place to houses of brick or stone; they ceased to paint their bodies with blue dye; they put on woollen clothes, instead of the skins of beasts; and they began to till the earth for corn, instead of feeding merely upon the flesh and milk of their cattle. It is supposed that Hadrian, before he left Britain, in A.D. 122, erected a tower at the south-east corner of Lancaster Castle. Another tower is said to have been added, in the third century, by Constantius Chlorus. This was one of the last places abandoned by the Romans when they gave up their dominion in Britain, in the middle of the fifth century. The river Lune, up to the Lune-Castra, or Roman fort, was navigable for their sloops and galleys, so that it enabled them to bring reinforcements, by sea, from Gaul or South Britain to the frontier stations of the north, on this side of the island. Many interesting relics of their occupation of Lancaster have been found.

The Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which lasted nearly four hundred years, thoiugh sometimes divided into Bernioia, comprising all the country from Newcastle to Edinburgh, and Doira, including the rest of the north of England, does not seem to have left so many traces of its power at Lancaster as in the chief towns of the eastern region, especially on the Tyne and Tees. This place suffered much from the wars carriod on with the Danes, and was reduced to utter insignificance by the time of the Norman Conquest. It was then bestowed, with all Lunesdule and Amounderness, Craven, Clithoroe, and Blackburn, upon a great Baron, Roger of Poitou, who is the true founder of the castle and town of Lancaster, as known to our national history. Dr. Whitaker remarks that this potent vassal of the Conqueror must have found obvious inducements to fix his residence at such a place. “Surrounded by a fertile country, on the banks of a river, and—what was always a principal object in choosing the sites of great castles—commanding a widely-extended view of his own new domains, he must have been struck by a green and shapely knoll, begirt even then by the conspicuous remains of Roman fortifications, with the relics of a Saxon church, which would afford ample materials for his projected work. Out of these, unquestionably, and on the very crown of the hill, his massive tower was first raised, in a style of solidity which emulates that of Roman masonry. To this, with its ballium and gateway, was added, not long afterwards, a second church, for the site of which respect to ancient and local sanctity would point out the first. The protection of a fortress almost always produced a town; the inhabitants of which, originally called burgesses from their situation only, gradually acquired extensive privileges, and a municipal jurisdiction, from the indulgence of their lords. It was undoubtedly from the previous existence of a strong and roomy castle, though far from being conveniently situated for the purposo, that, when the county of Lancaster was afterwards combined ont of certain portions of the county of York, northward from the Ribbie, and the whole of the tomtory between the Ribbie and Mersey, which had belonged to no county, southward, Lancestor became the capital of the now district, and still enjoys that distinction. And if the inhabitants of that pleasant, but not very populous or opulent borough, are ever disposed to murmur that they have never flourished like their southern neighbours, let them look up to the magnificent towers with which their borough is ducally crowned, and be thankful to the founders of the castle, that the place is anything more than a hamlet of fishermen and shepherds.


"Leaves from a Sketchbook: Lancaster." Illustrated London News 53 (1868): 72-74. Hathi Trust online version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. Web. 25 May 2021.

Last modified 26 May 2021