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Lydford Castle was built in AD 1195, as a purpose built prison for detaining royal prisoners, and took the form of a square stone tower or keep. It is also believed to have been used as the administration office for the Royal Forest of Dartmoor and as a Court of Law. In the 13th century, the castle was gaining importance as a Stannary Gaol, imprisoning people for offences related to tin-mining in the area. A second phase of construction began on the site at this time. This involved demolishing the upper part of the tower and adding two more storeys. The lower section of the castle was surrounded by earth to form a motte. On the north west side a narrow, rectangular bailey was added. The castle continued in use as a prison for several centuries. During the English Civil War, Lydford Castle was used by the Royalists as a prison or dungeon (in the lowest floor of the building) for Parliamentary supporters and soldiers. However it is recorded as in a state of disrepair in 1650 and major repairs were carried out in 1716 and 1733. In 1932, it was transferred from the Duchy of Cornwall to the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. The floors and lead roof of the castle have been destroyed. Restoration work was carried out to the rest of the monument in the 1950s. The tower is 14.5 metres square with 2.1 metre thick walls surrounded by an earthen motte measuring 45 metres by 35 metres. The tower has deeply splayed round-headed windows. The motte was once surrounded by a 4.5 metre deep ditch. The bailey covers an area 60 metre by 40 metre. The site was excavated in the late 1950s and 1960s. Located nearby, to the south of the castle, is an earlier Norman earthwork castle and to the north are the Saxon town defences (see associated records). The site is in the care of English Heritage.

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