This area with its earthen ramparts was well defended going back to Saxon times to ward off attacking Vikings. It was an important administrative centre for the local tin industry and, indeed, it had its own mint.
Soon after the surrender of Exeter to William the Conqueror in 1068, William built a small motte and bailey fort just a short distance to the south west from this site but for some reason it was soon abandoned.
In 1194 King John ordered a new stone tower to be built, a single tower, two storeys high and about 50 feet square. Its walls were 10 feet thick and deeply splayed with round headed windows. It was to house offenders against both the Dartmoor forest and Stannary laws.
Such was the importance of the region’s tin-mining industry.
During the 13th century the tower was drastically altered as we see today.
Lawbreakers continued to be imprisoned in this castle throughout the
medieval period and even up to the 18th century.
As one Devon poet, William Browne wrote in the 17th century:
“I oft have heard of Lydford Law how in the morn they hang and draw
And sit in judgement after.”
In 1650 it was described as ‘very much in decay’ with only the roof still intact and
by the 19th century it was in a ruinous state.
The castle is now administered by English Heritage and is open to the public.
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