click to return to 
Lancaster Home & Contents

The City of Lancaster
in the County of
-- Lancashire --

click to return to Lancashire Home


A parish comprising the borough, port, and market town of Lancaster, having separate jurisdiction, the chapelries of Caton, Gressingham, Overton, Poulton, and Over Wyersdale, and the townships of Aldcliffe, Ashton with Stodday, Bare, Bulk, Heaton with Oxcliffe, Middleton, Quernmoor, Scotforth, Skerton, Thurnham, and Torrisholme, in the hundred of LONSDALE, south of the sands, and the chapelries of Bleasdale, and Stalmine with Stanall, and the townships of Fulwood, Myerscough, and Preesall with Hackersall, in the hundred of AMOUNDERNESS, county palatine of LANCASTER, and containing 19,372 in habitants, of which number, 10,144 are in the borough of Lancaster, 240 miles (N.N.W.) from London.

The place is supposed to have been the Ad Alaunam of the Romans; and the discovery of coins, urns, fragments of earthenware, calcined bones, votive altars, sepulchral lamps, and other Roman antiquities, confirms the probability of its having been occupied as a station by that people.

After the departure of the Romans from Britain, it was destroyed by an incursion of the Picts and Scots, and continued in a state of desolation till the time of the Saxons, by whom it was restored, and, from its situation as a fortress near the river Lune, called Lun ceastre, from which its present name is deduced.

In the seventh century, according to the same author, it had risen to such importance as to be made the capital of the county, an honour which it still retains but it suffered so much injury during the Danish incursions, that in the Norman survey it is noticed only as a vill, or berewic, included in the manor of Halton.

At the time of the Conquest it was given by William I. to Roger de Poictou, who is supposed to have enlarged and adapted for his baronial residence, the ancient castle, of which the western tower is erroneously said to have been built by Adrian, in 124, and that facing the town, by the father of Constantine the Great, in 305: the beautiful gate-way tower was erected by John, Earl of Morton and Lancaster, who, after his accession to the throne, gave audience to the French ambassadors, and received the homage of Alexander, King of Scotland (whom he had subdued), in this castle.

John of Gaunt, the fourth son of Edward III., having succeeded to the title of his father-in-law, Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Lancaster, erected that tower in the castle which has obtained the name of John of Gauntís chair. On the accession of this prince to the dukedom, in 1376, the county was constituted a palatinate.

Separate courts for this independent jurisdiction are still opened at Lancaster, but they adjourn to Preston, and business is chiefly transacted there and in the duchy court at Westminster.

In 1322 and 1389, the town was burnt and plundered by the Scots; and in the wars of the houses of York and Lancaster it was nearly depopulated, in consequence of the resolute adherence of the inhabitants to the cause of the Lancastrians. During the parliamentary war it suffered severely, and, in 1698, an accidental fire destroyed a considerable portion of the town, which also, in the rebellion of 1745, participated in the agitations that disturbed the peace of the kingdom.

The town is pleasantly situated on the acclivities of an eminence crowned with the stately towers of the castle, and on the southern bank of the river Lune, over which a handsome stone bridge of five elliptical arches has been erected, at an expense of £12,000, connecting the town with the township of Skerton, about half a mile to the east of an ancient bridge now in ruins, which had been built over the narrower part of the river, near St. Georgeís quay.

With the exception of a few which are spacious, the streets are generally narrow; but considerable improvement in the general appearance of the town has been made, under the provisions of an act of parliament obtained, in 1784, for erecting the bridge; and more is still in progress, under an act obtained in 1824, for houses, built of freestone found in the neighbourhood, and covered with slate are in general of handsome appearance; in various parts of the town are some noble mansions, and in the environs, which abound with varied and interesting scenery, are several elegant villas.

The theatre is occasionally opened; and assemblies are held in a suite of rooms well adapted to the purpose: the public baths are conveniently arranged, and provided with every requisite accommodation: a book society, called the Amicable, which was instituted in 1769, has accumulated a library of four thousand volumes; and a mechanicsí library was opened in 1824. A society for promoting the fine arts, by the purchase of paintings by the most eminent living artists, was established in 1820, and is well supported.

The port is subject to much inconvenience from the difficulty of the navigation of the Lune, arising from the accumulation of sand in its channel, and an elevation in its bed, called Scaleford, probably the remains of a Roman ford across the river, which renders it inaccessible to vessels of large burden; in consequence of which, a dock was constructed, in 1787, at Glasson, nearly five miles down the river, capable of sheltering twenty-five merchantmen, which discharge their cargoes by lighters at St. Georgeís quay, on which a custom-house, a neat edifice with an Ionic portico, was erected in 1764.

The foreign trade is chiefly with America and the West Indies; the exports are mahogany furniture of every description, sadlery, shoes, woollen, linen, and cotton goods, soap, candles, and provisions; the imports are sugar, coffee, rum, cotton, mahogany and dye woods.

Lancaster caries on also a very considerable coasting trade: twenty-eight British ships entered inwards from foreign ports, and twelve cleared outwards, in 1826; and the number of vessels belonging to the port, in 1828, was fifty-one, averaging a burden of one hundred and thirteen tons: there is a considerable salmon fishery on the river Lune, which also abounds with trout.

The principal manufactures are mahogany furniture and upholstery, for exportation, cordage, sail-cloth, and cotton goods, for which last there are three factories in the town, in two of which two hundred power-looms are employed: cotton and worsted yarn are also spun to a considerable extent: there are two yards for boat-building; and formerly vessels of considerable burden were built here.

The Lancaster canal, constructed in pursuance of an act of parliament passed in 1792, opens a communication with the mining district, and supplies the neighbourhood with coal and other necessaries; but the want of a more extended line of internal navigation operates unfavourably to the increase of the trade, and the scarcity of fuel to the extension of the manufactures, of the town.

About a mile to the north-east, the canal is carried over the river Lune, by an aqueduct of stone, consisting of five semicircular arches, each seventy feet in the span, erected, at an expense of £48,000, under the direction of Mr. Rennie.

The market days are Wednesday and Saturday: the fairs, which are chiefly for cattle, cloth, cheese, and pedlary, and which continue for three days each, are, May 1st, July 5th, and October 10th, which last is the principal cheese fair in the county.

Lancaster was first incorporated by charter, in the 4th year of the reign of Richard I., of John, Earl of Morton, afterwards King John, who granted and confirmed to the burgesses all the liberties he had before granted to those of Bristol, and Edward III. Confirmed and extended those privileges, allowing the mayor and bailiffs the privilege of having the pleas and sessions held here, to the exclusion of every other place in the county.

The government, under the charter of George III., granted in 1819, is vested in a mayor, recorder, two bailiffs, seven aldermen, twelve capital burgesses, and twelve common council-men, assisted by a town clerk, two serjeants at mace, and subordinate officers. The mayor, who acts as coroner for the borough, and the bailiff of the brethren, are elected annually on the Thursday after October 18th, by the aldermen and capital burgesses, from their own bodies, and the bailiff of the commons, by the free burgesses, from the common council-men.

The freedom is obtained by birth, or servitude, all the sons of freemen being entitled to it on payment of a small fee to the mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty. Among the privileges may be reckoned an interest in the tract of ground called Lancaster Marsh, consisting of two hundred and ten acres, enclosed in 1795, the rents of which are divided amongst eighty of the oldest freemen, or their widows.

The mayor is a justice of the peace for the county, and he and the aldermen are justices of the peace within the borough, holding quarterly courts of session for all offences not capital; also a court of pleas every week, for the recovery of debts to any amount. A court for the hundred of Lonsdale is also held here, on the first Wednesday in every month, for the recovery of debts under 40s.

The town-hall is a neat building, erected, in 1781, at an expense of £1300, and containing a court-room and apartments for the transaction of the public business of the corporation: it is embellished with full-length portraits of the Rt. Hon. William Pitt, and Admiral Lord Nelson, painted by Mr. Lonsdale, a native of the town, and presented by him to the corporation. The borough prison is a small edifice for the temporary confinement of prisoners, who are subsequently sent to Lancaster castle.

The borough first exercised the elective franchise in the 23rd of Edward I., and continued to make returns till the 1st of Edward II.; it afterwards intermitted till the reign of Edward VI., since which time it has regularly returned two members to parliament: the right of election is vested in the freemen generally, of whom there are about three thousand: the mayor and bailiffs are the returning officers. The court of pleas for the county palatine is held twice in the year, before the judges of the northern circuit, and the assizes and general quarter sessions for the county are also held in this town, where also, as being the county town, the election of knights of the shire takes place.

The remains of the ancient castle are used as the county gaol, and additional buildings have been erected, upon a very extensive scale, at an expense exceeding £140,000. The entrance, through a gateway of beautiful design, over which is a statue of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, is flanked by octagonal towers and leads into a spacious court-yard enclosed with embattled walls and strengthened with towers; opposite to the entrance is the ancient square keep, a building of prodigious strength to the north of which are the shire-hall and courts, with the room for the grand jury, and other apartments: the hall is of a semicircular form, and elegantly and commodiously arranged for the business of the assizes: the nisi prius court, in which are full-length portraits of Colonel Stanley and Mr. Blackburn, presented by the late Sir Robert Peel, Bart., exhibits some architectural beauty; and in the crown court is an equestrian portrait of King George III., painted by Northcote, and presented to the county by James Ackers, Esq., while high sheriff.

The common gaol comprises seventeen divisions for the classification of prisoners, seventy-three work-rooms, thirty-two day-rooms, and twelve airing-yards; there are two tread-mills employed in pumping water and turning power looms; a considerable portion of their earnings is paid to the prisoners on their discharge.

The castle hill and terrace afford a fine promenade, commanding extensive views of the surrounding scenery, which is most richly diversified.

The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Richmond, and diocese of Chester, rated in the kingís books at £41, and in the patronage of Oliver Marton, Esq.

The church, dedicated to St. Mary, and to which the privilege of sanctuary was anciently attached, was originally erected by Roger de Poictou, who founded a Benedictine priory here, as a cell to the abbey of St. Martin de Seez in Normandy, which, on the suppression of Alien priories, was by Henry V. annexed to the abbey of Sion in Middlesex: the present edifice is in the later style of English architecture, and contains some fine specimens of skreen-work and carvings in oak, which are thought to have been brought from Cockersand abbey, on its dissolution. The registry for this division of the archdeaconry is kept in this church, in which also the Commissaryís court was formerly held.

Among the monuments is one by Roubilliac to the memory of William Stratford, L.L.D.; and in the churchyard is the shaft of a Danish cross, embellished with sculpture, and bearing an inscription in Runic characters.

St. Johnís chapel was built by subscription, in 1755: the living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £400 private benefaction, £400 royal bounty, and £800 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Vicar of Lancaster.

St. Annís chapel was erected, in 1796, at the sole expense of the Rev. Robert Houseman: the patronage of the living, a perpetual curacy endowed with £800 royal bounty, will revert to the vicar in the course of fifty years after the date of its erection.

There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, and Presbyterians, and a Roman Catholic chapel.

The free grammar school is of uncertain origin: it existed prior to 1615, at which time Rundall Carter of London, bequeathed £10 per annum as a salary for an usher; and it appears to have been generally supported by the corporation, by whom it was most probably founded, and who have the nomination of the head master: there are about sixty scholars attending it, who pay a certain quarterage, and of whom a few receive classical instruction: the salaries of the masters are paid by the corporation.

The Blue-coat charity school, established by subscription in 1770, has been incorporated with the National school for boys, for which a spacious stone building was erected, in 1817, by subscription, at an expense of £1100, and which in that year was endowed by Mr. Matthew Pyper, one of the Society of Friends, with £2000 Navy five per cent. annuities: there are in this school three hundred and forty boys, of whom a certain number is clothed.

A National school for girls with a house for the mistress, was built, in 1820, by subscription: there are one hundred and twenty girls in the school, who are instructed in reading, writing, and household work, to qualify them for domestic service.

A charity school, established in 1772, in which sixty girls are taught to read, write, knit, sew, and spin, is supported partly by subscription, and partly by the earnings of the children, a fourth part of which is given to them.

A school, in which are eighty children, was established in 1820, and is supported by the Roman Catholics of the town; and there are Sunday schools in connexion with the established church and the several dissenting congregations.

Gardynerís almshouses, founded in 1485, consisting of four tenements adjoining the vicarage-house, are appropriated to four aged men, between whom the sum of £6/11/8d, in quarterly payments, is divided by the corporation. Pennyís almhouses, consisting of twelve tenements, with a chapel forming three sides of a quadrangle, the area of which is laid out in gardens for the almspeople, was founded, by a bequest from William Penny, Esq., in 1715, and endowed with lands producing about £340 per annum, for twelve aged men or women, who are appointed by the corporation, and receive each £3/6/8d per quarter, a suit of clothes, and other allowances: from the same fund a chaplain receives a small stipend, for reading prayers to the almspeople, and some apprentice fees are given with poor children.

Eight almshouses were founded, in 1781, by Mrs. Anne Gillison, who endowed them with land and money producing about £40 per annum, for eight unmarried women, to each of whom £4 and a gown are given annually.

There are numerous charitable bequests for distribution, among which the most considerable is that of William Heysham, M.P., who, in 1725 bequeathed an estate producing £256 per annum, in trust to the corporation, for the benefit of eight poor men resident within the borough; and there are several for the relief of prisoners for debt confined in Lancaster castle.

The county lunatic asylum, on Lancaster moor, was established in 1816, and is conducted under the superintendence of a committee of visiting magistrates, of whom the Rt. Hon. Lord Stanley is president: the establishment comprise a physician, surgeon, superintendent, matron, house-steward, treasurer, and chaplain. The premises comprise a spacious quadrangular building of stone, with a handsome portico of the Doric order, and, with the gardens and grounds, occupy five acres of land: the buildings contain hot and cold baths, with every accommodation requisite for the patients, and under the long covered galleries afford opportunities of exercise in bad weather; and the grounds furnish every kind of amusement that may contribute to the health and recreation of the patients: there are about one hundred and forty males, and about one hundred and twenty females, in this asylum, who are individually treated with a due regard to their several degrees and species of malady; and a chapel has been erected, in which many of those whose state of mind renders them susceptible of its influence, derive the consolation of religion.

A dispensary for supplying the sick poor with medicine was instituted in 1781; and connected with it is a house of recovery for persons labouring under contagious diseases.

The reigning sovereign enjoys the title of Duke of Lancaster.

From: A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis,Vol.III,London,1831,Pages 20-22.

Entered here 4 September 2004 by Lynn Ransom Burton.

Lancaster Home & Contents ©Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerks

Lancashire Home