A first Castle built at Lydford was a ringwork. The Castle pictured above came later, and appears to be a small keep on top of a motte. This, however, is not quite a true picture, because it is actually a ground standing tower which has had earth piled up around it; a peculiar feature it shares with Farnham Castle in Surrey which went one step further and put a wall around the earth pile!
A "strong house" for prisoners was built around 1195, and as Lydford Castle was almost continually used as a gaol it is probably this building that is being referred to. Only the lower floor (buried in earth) was built at this period - the upper and visible storeys were added much later, by which time square keeps were completely antiquated.
Lydford was a notorious prison, and "Lydford Law" became a by-word for the roughest of justice. In 1510 it was described as 'one of the most heinous, contagious and detestable places in this realm...'
It is said that Judge Jeffries sat in Stannary here, but the Bloody Assizes stopped short of Lydford and this seems unlikely. However, his ghost is said to appear here in the form of a giant black pig...this is the west country and such tales die hard in these parts.
It is almost impossible to equate this tiny Castle - now owned by English Heritage - in the beautiful Lydford Valley with its notorious reputation; one of the bloodiest and most inhumane prisons in Europe.
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