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Lancaster Castle refurbishment contractor appointed

The next phase of the refurbishment of Lancaster Castle has been detailed, with a contractor being appointed to carry out the task of opening up more of the former prison for public visitors.

Salford-based MC Construction will be taking on the second part of the project, having worked on the first phase of renovation with work on repairs to walls, windows and roofs. 

In the second phase, it will be making the building accessible from the former prison yard, with the King’s Evidence Tower, Well Tower, Male Felons Tower and former prison hospital all to be opened to the public once the work is complete.

Costing £2.9 million, the second phase received planning permission from Lancaster City Council in August. 

There may be considerable waterproofing work to be done as old walls are ripped out and the interior reconfigured, with features set to include a relocated visitors’ centre, hospitality suite, a shop and a ticket office. 

It will all be a far cry from the historic building's pre-2011 use as a prison, which featured bars and gates everywhere and lots of dark and gloomy cells. As seems traditional with every castle, there are apparently plenty of ghosts around, with the unlucky residents of one cell said to have been faced with regular spectral encounters with a coach and horses. Other cells held the Pendle witches. This will, of course, increase visitor numbers every October.

The work being carried out now is at the behest of the Duchy of Lancaster, which resumed ownership of the castle in 2011 after the inmates were moved somewhere more modern - and presumably less prone to the paranormal. 

Commenting on the work now being undertaken, head of project management for the Duchy, Graeme Chalk said: "Our primary focus is on continuing to ensure that the castle buildings are weather-proof and watertight.

"We are also committed to revealing and restoring as much of the castle as possible and bringing these historic buildings back into use wherever possible.

"This next phase of development will do just that, creating a large new public open space, uncovering a series of arched colonnades along the front of the Victorian debtors’ workshops and establishing a state-of-the-art teaching and conference facility on site."

Lancaster is one of a number of former prisons around Britain that have been turned over to other use, while the government has been building new ones to provide a 21st century approach to punishment and rehabilitation. This has included well-known jails like Reading and also Shepton Mallet. Indeed the latter, which closed in 2013 after a colourful history that included housing the Kray twins, will now be home to 96 new apartments. Some of these will be new builds, but others will utilise old cells that once hosted notorious felons.

Many other castles have also been the subject of refurbishment projects in recent months. In Scotland, Taymouth Castle in Perthshire is to have a whole wing refurbished so that it can be developed as a spa hotel. Situated in the heart of the Highlands and the honeymoon destination of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, its renovation has been commissioned by Perth and Kinross Council.

Another refurbishment may soon be that of Caverswall Castle in Staffordshire, where planning permission exists to turn the moated fortress into a health and wellbeing centre. It went on the market for £5 million during the summer.


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