LANCASTER, LANCASHIRE, a market town and municipal borough, river port, and the county town of Lancashire, England, in the Lancaster parliamentary division, 230 m. N.W. by N. from London by the London & North-Western railway (Castle Station) ; served also by a branch of the Midland railway (Green Ayre station). Pop. (1891) 33,256, (1901) 40,329- It lies at the head of the estuary of the river Lune, mainly on its south bank, 7 m. from the sea. The site slopes sharply up to an eminence crowned by the castle and the church of St Mary. Fine views over the rich valley and Morecambe Bay to the west are commanded from the summit. St Mary's church was originally attached by Roger de Poictou to his Benedictine priory founded at the close of the 11th century. It contains some fine Early English work in the nave arcade, but is of Perpendicular workmanship in general appearance, while the tower dates from 1759. There are some beautiful Decorated oak stalls in the chancel, brought probably from Cockersand or Furness Abbey.
The castle occupies the site of a Roman castrum. The Saxon foundations of a yet older structure remain, and the tower at the south-west corner is supposed to have been erected during the reign of Hadrian. The Dungeon Tower, also supposed to be of Roman origin, was taken down in 1818. The greater part of the old portion of the present structure was built by Roger de Poictou, who utilized some of the Roman towers and the old walls. In 1322 much damage was done to the castle by Robert Bruce, whose attack it successfully resisted, but it was restored and strengthened by John of Gaunt, who added the greater part of the Gateway Tower as well as a turret on the keep or Lungess Tower, which on that account has been named " John o' Gaunt's Chair." During the Civil War the castle was captured by Cromwell. Shortly after this it was put to publjc use, and now, largely modernized, contains the assize courts and gaol. Its appearance, with massive buildings surrounding a quadrangle, is picturesque and dignified. Without the walls is a pleasant terrace walk. Other buildings include several handsome modern churches and chapels (notably the Roman Catholic church) ; the Storey Institute with art gallery, technical and art schools, museum and library, presented to the borough by Sir Thomas Storey in 1887; Palatine Hall, Ripley hospital (an endowed school for the children of residents, in Lancaster and the neighbourhood), the asylum, the Royal Lancaster infirmary and an observatory in the Williamson Park. A new town hall, presented by Lord Ashton in 1909, is a handsome classical building from designs of E. W. Mountford. The Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park, commemorating members of the Ashton family, is a lofty domed structure. The grammar school occupies modern buildings, but its foundation dates from the close of the 15th century, and in its former Jacobean house near the church William Whewell and Sir Richard Owen were educated. A horseshoe inserted in the pavement at Horseshoe Corner in the town, and renewed from time to time, is said to mark the place where a shoe was cast by John of Gaunt's horse.
The chief industries are cotton-spinning, cabinet-making, oil cloth-making, railway wagon-building and engineering. Glasson Dock, 5 m. down the Lune, with a graving dock, is accessible to vessels of 600 tons. The Kendal and Lancaster canal reaches the town by an aqueduct over the Lune, which is also crossed by a handsome bridge dated 1788. The town has further connexion by canal with Preston. The corporation consists of a mayor, 8 aldermen and 24 councillors. Area, 3506 acres.
History. Lancaster (Lone-caster or Lunecastrum) was an important Roman station, and traces of the Roman fortification wall remain. The Danes left few memorials of their occupation, and the Runic Cross found here, once supposed to be Danish, is now conclusively proved to be Anglo-Saxon. At the Conquest, the place, reduced in size and with its Roman castrum almost in ruins, became a possession of Roger de Poictou, who founded or enlarged the present castle on the old site. The town and castle had a somewhat chequered ownership till in 1266 they were granted by Henry III. to his son Edmund, first earl of Lancaster, and continued to be a part of the duchy of Lancaster till the present time. A town gathered around the castle, and in 1193 John, earl of Mertoun, afterwards king, granted it a charter, and another in 1199 after his accession. Under these charters the burgesses claimed the right of electing a mayor, of holding a yearly fair at Michaelmas and a weekly market on Saturday. Henry III. in 1226 confirmed the charter of 1199; in 1291 the style of the corporation is first mentioned as Ballivus et communilas burgi, and Edward III.'s confirmation and extension (1362) is issued to the mayor, bailiffs and commonalty. Edward III.'s charter was confirmed by Richard II. (1389), Henry IV. (1400), Henry V. (1421), Henry VII. (1488) and Elizabeth (1563). James I. (1604) and Charles II. (1665 and 1685) ratified, with certain additions, all previous charters, and again in 1819 a similar confirmation was issued. John of Gaunt . in 1362 obtained a charter for the exclusive right of holding the sessions of pleas for the county in Lancaster itself, and up to 1873 the duchy appointed a chief justice and a puisne justice for the court of common pleas at Lancaster. In 1322 the Scots burnt the town, the castle alone escaping; the town was rebuilt but removed from its original position on the hill to the slope and foot. Again in 1389, after the battle of Otterburn, it was destroyed by the same enemy. At the outbreak of the Great Rebellion the burgesses sided with the king, and the town and castle were captured in February 1643 by the Parliamentarians. In March 1643 Lord Derby assaulted and took the town with great slaughter, but the castle remained in the hands of the Parliamentarians. In May and June of the same year the castle was again besieged in vain, and in 1648 the Royalists under Sir Thomas Tyldesley once more fruitlessly besieged it. During the rebellion of 1715 the northern rebels occupied Lancaster for two days and several of them were later executed here. During the 1745 rebellion Prince Charles Edward's army passed through the town in its southward march and again in its retreat, but the inhabitants stood firm for the Hanoverians.
Two chartered markets are held weekly on Wednesday and Saturday and three annual fairs in April, July and October. A merchant gild existed here, which was ratified by Edward III.'s charter (1362), and in 1688 six trade companies were incorporated. The chief manufactures used to be sailcloth, cabinet furniture, candles and cordage. The borough returned two members to parliament from 1295 to 1331 and again from some time in Henry VIII. 's reign before 1529 till 1867, when it was merged in the Lancaster division of north Lancashire. A church existed here, probably on the site of the parish church of St Mary's, in Anglo-Saxon times, but the present church dates from the early 15th century. An act of parliament was passed in 1792 to make the canal from Kendal through Lancaster and Preston, which is carried over the Lune about a mile above Lancaster by a splendid aqueduct.
See Fleury, Time-Honoured Lancaster (1891); E. Baines, History of Lancashire (1888).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)