The building now known as the Judges’ Lodgings was first constructed as a private town house by Thomas Covell. Trained as a lawyer, Covell was also the mayor of Lancaster six times. History remembers him foremost as the Keeper of Lancaster Castle, the man who presided over the prison when the ‘Pendle Witches’ were locked up there in 1612. Amidst the swirling allegations, they were accused of plotting to kill him in order to escape.

Judges Lodgings Lancaster

The house was built in 1625. This required the demolition of an old hall that had previously stood on the site. Originally the house was an ‘L’ shaped building, with a single storey. When Covell died in 1639, followed by his wife Dorothy the next year, the building was passed to their granddaughter Elizabeth Brockholes. She would own it for the next 10 years.

The Coles and The Butlers

By 1662, the house had come into the possession of magistrate Thomas Cole. A Deputy Lieutenant of the county, he used it as his town house, with his country residence being Beaumont Cote at Nether Kellet. During his occupancy two new wings were added and the front façade remodelled to make it appear symmetrical around a central doorway, giving it the appearance we see today. The present sash style windows were a 1700s addition, a very fashionable Georgian feature of so many contemporary buildings.

The Coles married into the Butler family, with the last of the line to live there being Thomas Butler Cole who inherited the house in 1811. When he came of age, five years later, his main residence was Kirkland Hall at Garstang, and he still owned Beaumont Cote as well. Perhaps this surfeit of houses may have been the reason he sold his Lancaster town house in 1826.

The Coming of the Judges

The Assize Court had been held at Lancaster Castle since 1166 (see our page on the castle and its courts here). They formed part of what was known as the Northern Circuit, where the judges would travel between the towns of York, Durham, Newcastle, Carlisle, Appleby and Lancaster. The courts were convened twice a year in Lancaster. During their stay in the town, the judges needed a regular residence with reliable staff. It appears that around 1816 they had been renting the building we now know as the Judges’ Lodgings, and it had already become known by that name. In 1817 and 1819, the building was being offered for sale at auction, with a description of it as a “spacious, freehold mansion, called the Judges’ Lodgings”. A Mrs Rawsthorne was a tenant residing there and acting in a care-taking capacity for the house. However, during this time the building was becoming increasingly neglected and deemed no longer a good enough standard to accommodate the judges.

In 1822, at the Court of Annual General Session at Preston, it was stated “…that it is expedient to provide better lodgings and accommodation for the judges of Assize at Lancaster than they present have”. The Lancaster Gazette reported that the house was “greatly out or repair and in decay…(and did not) afford proper and suitable accommodation.”

The county magistrates made an application to Parliament for a special act to enable them to buy a house for the judges, and this was passed in 1824. The Judges’ Lodgings was duly bought two years later, subsequently repaired and had a new wing added. New service rooms, kitchen, and housekeeper’s rooms were constructed. It would remain as a Judges’ residence for the next 150 years (until 1975).

Throughout the year, the house was run on a skeleton staff with a housekeeper and caretaker usually in residence, and perhaps a family member or two residing with them. When the judges stayed, additional staff were hired in from the town. Records show that as many as four kitchen maids, three housemaids and an under-butler could be brought in. The judges were always accompanied by their personal valet (who doubled as a butler), clerk, marshal and cook. If married, their wife would bring a lady’s maid.

This view of the back of the Judges Lodgings shows the various wings that were built on during the history of the building

The judges would preside over trials deemed too serious for a local magistrate. These would be cases of murder, forgery and highway robbery, as well as civil cases of divorce. As the 17th century progressed, Lancaster could no longer deal alone with the amount of trials required, and accordingly two new courts were set up in addition to the one at Lancaster. Liverpool’s new court opened in 1835 (see our page on it here) and Manchester in 1846.

The judges arriving in Lancaster to sit in the Assize Court would be a major event in the calendar. Their appearance often marked the beginning of ‘The Season’, where the wealthy would move from their country houses to town houses, assembling to socialise and dance. On the day the judges appeared, crowds would watch the judges process in a carriage, heralded by trumpeters and accompanied by javelin men, and processing from the Judges Lodgings up to Lancaster Castle. The dignitaries in attendance included the high sheriff, mayor, council members and the governor of the gaol.

Life Below Stairs

Census records show that in 1841 Betty Bateson was the housekeeper at Judges Lodgings, and living with her was her 70 year old mother Ann and a servant, Ester King. Both Betty and Ester were unmarried. When Betty died in 1858, aged 59, of heart failure, an advert was placed for a new housekeeper “not exceeding 40 years of age”. Her replacement was Ellen Leighton, who brought her father and nephew to reside with her. Ellen died just five years later, aged 42. Once again an advert went into the local paper and in 1865 Richard Woof was in place as the caretaker, with his wife Ann acting as housekeeper.

Around 1887, Peter Tomlinson became the caretaker. He appears to have taken a few years off his stated age in order to get the job, bringing his wife Margaret to work as housekeeper. Peter had had an enormously varied career prior to taking up the post. He began his professional life as a carter and grocer, moved on to being a fishmonger and then a travelling draper. Business had clearly become difficult, because in 1861 he was in Lancaster Castle court for being an insolvent debtor. Subsequently, he became a weaver and then enrolled in the police force. He stayed with them for 22 years, and when he retired with a small pension he became a caretaker at Judges Lodgings.

Visiting Today

Visiting the Judges Lodgings today offers the visitor insight into different eras described above, from the time of Thomas Covell’s original ownership, through to the Butler and Cole era, and finally to the time when the judges were regular residents. There is also a large amount of Gillow furniture and a museum of childhood.

The large Entrance Hall is one of oldest rooms, featuring an original stone fire surround and diagonally laid stone floor. Just off from it, the Parlour is set up to show how it would have appeared in the 1720s when Edmund Cole, mayor and High Sheriff, renovated the house. The oak panelling he installed is similar to that at Hoghton Tower, with panels divided by tall fluted pilasters. The best furniture and ornaments would be displayed in this room as this is where guests would be entertained. The parlour cupboard has a niche with a fashionable shell-shaped top, and would display the family’s silver or porcelain against a grey-green background. Of particular interest is the Gillow chamber barrel organ, used by John Langshaw, the organist at Lancaster priory, for almost 20 years until his death in 1791.

On the stairs and in the Senior Judges Bedroom hang a number of paintings of the Hulton family, a family long associated with law and order in Lancashire during the 1700s and 1800s. Of particular interest are the portraits of the women, who display fashionable styles and clothing, often painted as a wedding gift before their marriage. Ann and Beatrice show dress from 1745, the time of the Second Jacobean uprising, while Georgina, married in 1839, sports a young Queen Victoria haircut.

Above the entrance doorway are the  Armorial Bearings of the Chairman, Alderman and Councillors of Lancashire County Council. Below are three daisy motifs, which are also reproduced on an 1600s fireplace surround in an upper room.

From the the time of the Judges, a number of rooms display how the house would have appeared. On the ground floor is the Clerks’ Sitting Room, which dates from the 1900s, and was also used as a Juvenile Court for child criminals. The former kitchen and servants’ hall has been set up to show how it would appear as a Victorian kitchen. It features a hastener cupboard from the 1800s, where prepared meals could be kept warm by the tin-lined doors as it stood in front of the fire. The Dutch oven allowed meat to be turned via a wind-up mechanism, which enabled it to be cooked evenly in front of the fire. The room also has three Gillow Windsor chairs.

The Senior Judge’s Bedroom features a 1794 Gillow commode (purpose built for the Senior Judge), an 1812 Gillow dressing table, and an 1872 Gillow wardrobe. The Judges’ Dining Room has a huge mahogany table surrounded by 1790 Gillow chairs. Here the judges would be served large meals, and would often be accompanied by local magistrates, with whom they would discuss the finer point of law. An original bell pull to summon servants is situated by the fireplace. The Billiard Room features a large 1833 Gillow billiard table. This originally had an oak bed that was later converted to a slate one. Billiards were a very fashionable game in late Georgian and Victorian times, and many houses would have had a dedicated room.

The Judges Drawing Room showcases an early Gillow bookcase, dating from 1772. It was made for Mary Hutton Rawlinson, widow of Thomas, a Lancaster Quaker merchant who made his fortune from the West Indies slave trade. The bookcase was fashioned by two brothers, Thomas and John Dowbiggin, and shows their expertise in carving, marquetry and gilding. Also on display in the room is Thomas’s son Frances’s marquetry workbox, dating from 1808. Made for Elizabeth Gifford of Nerquis in Wales, it is constructed from very rare wood specimens. Wood from Australia, the Middle East, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, North and South America, the West Indies, Africa, the Mediterranean are all used in its manufacture, along with oak from the Lancaster Castle gateway. His own son Thomas became a Royal cabinet maker and upholsterer in London.


The Junior Judge’s Bedroom and Butler’s Pantry have been converted to the Gillow Gallery. Gillow of Lancaster (and later of London too) rose to prominence as the slave economy of Britain grew. The Gillow business was established by Robert Gillow in 1728 and became known as the firm that supplied quality furniture made from exotic woods to “half the aristocracy in England”. The success was intimately linked to the port of Lancaster, and to slavery. While the slave trade was officially abolished in Britain in 1807, it continued to be legal in the West Indies until 1833, and Gillow continued trading its products long after abolition.

An interesting featured piece is an armchair from HMS Orphir that can be swivelled in any direction and used by the Duke of York (the future King George V) in 1901 to review the fleet off Spithead. Gillow had a number of ship contracts. As Waring and Gillow, in 1934, they constructed the interior décor and furniture on the RMS Queen Mary of the Cunard White Star Line and the gallery shows detailed pictures of this. A further piece of interest is an 1850s armchair designed by AWN Pugin from the Speakers Residence in the House of Commons. Pugin designed much of the furniture in the New Palace of Westminster and patronised Gillow to be one of the main suppliers.

The gallery also gives an overview of the later history of the firm, from their production of aircraft wings, propellors, tents and camoflage nets during the Second World War, to a succession of mergers and takeovers which saw them known as Maple Waring and Gillow in the 1990s before being taken over by Allied Carpets.

The top floor of the Judges’ Lodgings once contained the servants’ quarters. Here was the Housekeeper’s Room, the Butler’s Bedroom, The Marshal’s Bedroom, Clerk’s Bedroom, laundry and sewing rooms. It has been converted to the Museum of Childhood, featuring a host of toys from the past century, where visitors can see their own childhood now becoming part of history.

The Judges’ Lodgings offers a unique insight into the Stuart, Georgian and Victorian period in Lancaster. The staff are friendly, approachable and keen to share their knowledge. It  remains an excellent destination for lovers of local history and appreciators of  Gillow furniture. In Lancashire we can never again take our museums for granted. In 2016, the Judges’ Lodgings was closed along with four other Lancashire museums owned by Lancashire County Council, following massive cuts to their budget by central government. After a hard fought campaign, it was reopened in 2019. This unique museum is such a valuable destination, and worthy of our support.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2022


Judges’ Lodgings is open from the end of March until November. Open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11am-4pm. There is a small admission charge of £3 for adults, and accompanied children go free. There is ample paid parking nearby in Lancaster city centre car parks.


Lancaster Castle: The Prison and Courts

Lancaster Castle: The Fortress

Lancaster’s Lost Roman Fort

Lancaster Roman Bath House

Lancaster’s Custom House: The Maritime Museum



Judges’ Lodgings Guide Book and Map. Free pamphlet produced by Lancashire Museums Service.

They Walked These Floor: A history of the forgotten keepers of the Judges’ Lodgings, Suzanne Bradshaw (2020), The Friends of the Judges’ Lodgings. This booklet is available from the museum shop.

On site interpretation boards

The website of the Friends of Judges’ Lodgings: