The Judges’ Lodgings take their name from the courts of Lancaster Castle. The current castle and priory were founded by Roger de Poitou in 1086 (the same man responsible for the founding of Ashton Hall).
The Castle hosted the Assize Courts and was responsible for many trials. These courts became infamous for handing out more death sentences than any other Court in England outside of London. The Assize Courts only happened twice a year, prisoners would be stuck in tiny cells for months, sharing with others, but between 1776 and 1975 the judges would stay in the building now known as the Judges’ Lodgings.
It is said that the Judges Lodgings are the oldest town house in Lancaster and is a Grade 1 listed building. It is currently a museum and has a fantastic collection of gorgeous Gillow furniture as well as a Museum of Childhood which has toys and games dating back to the 1700s.
It wasn’t always the Assize Judges who stayed in the building, though. Perhaps the most famous lodger was none other than the feared witch-hunter Thomas Covell who played a key roll in the Pendle Witch affair.
Thomas Covell stayed in the Judges’ Lodgings between 1590 and 1638. He had many responsibilities; Keeper of the Lancaster Castle, Country Magistrate and Coroner. It was his role as Keeper of Lancaster Castle that meant he was responsible for the interrogation, imprisonment and execution of anyone sentenced to death during his time. The Assize Courts did not reserve the death sentence just for murderers. Forgers were also commonly sentenced to death. Little wonder that they became known as The Hanging Judges of Lancaster.
In 1612 the Pendle Witches were arrested and it was Thomas Covell who held them until their trial began. The judges at the trial were Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley. The prosecutor was a local magistrate called Roger Nowell and it was Nowell who had collected a number of the statements and confessions from the accused witches.
Thomas Covell was not well liked. Records indicate that one of his contemporaries described him as “a beastly man”.
In Pure Spirit
The Judges’ Lodges are open to the public. Have you been inside? Would you recommend it?
What about ghost or psychic phenomena? There’s so much associated with the Pendle Witches that it is surprised there are so few tales of haunting and ghosts?