It has been suggested in Roby’s Traditions of Lancashire, that the Motte and Bailey Clitheroe Castle may date back to before 1086, being built by Roger de Poictou (also known as Roger Pictavensis). Roger was a supporter of King William I and was granted 398 Saxon Manors following the Norman invasion of 1066. This effectively gave him the majority of Lancashire and a reference in the Domeday Book mentioning a “castellatu Rogerii pictaviensis”, may or may not refer to Clitheroe Castle. However, Roger’s lands did not include Clitheroe, which was gifted to the de Lacy family, along with Blackburn, Whalley and Little Mitton. Therefore, Clitheroe Castle may actually have been built around 1186 by Robert de Lacy, the founder of Pontefract Priory, which has been suggested in legend.
Following the English Civil War, as with many castles, Clitheroe was severly damaged to prevent it being used against the Protector and the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. One of the holes in the wall created during this time has been associated with a Devil legend, who is said to have thrown a boulder from Pendle Hill causing the damage.
‘A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6’ (1911) gives the following description of Citheroe Castle. ‘The castle was the seat of the honor, and was governed by a constable. It was used as a prison and the porter had certain fees assigned to him.
The building stands on the summit of an isolated limestone hill at the south end of the town, but only the keep and a small portion of the rounded curtain wall, which skirts the edge of the rock on the north side inclosing an area of about 80 ft. by 90 ft., now remain. After the Civil War the castle seems to have been abandoned but not dismantled, and Buck’s drawing of 1727 shows that at that time there was a gate-house tower at the south end of the lower ward having a semicircular arched doorway, and a lofty embattled wall running round the brink of the hill, turning first at the back of the present steward’s house, and secondly behind the present court-house to the keep. All this outer walling, with the exception of the fragment mentioned, which is 6 ft. in thickness and stands about 30 ft. away from the keep, appears to have been demolished about the middle of the 18th century, probably when the steward’s house was erected. The castle was never of any very great size, the extent of the hilltop not being sufficiently large to admit of a spacious structure. There is no trace now of the chapel of St. Michael de Castro, which stood in the castle yard, nor is it indicated in Buck’s drawing. Repairs and alterations were made in the castle in the 14th century, the chief being carried out in 1324, when the great gate was repaired and a new room was added to the house. There were further repairs in 1480.
The keep is now in ruins, and is square on plan with flat pilasters at each corner, which give the appearance of square angle towers. The building, which is probably substantially the original Norman keep with later restorations, is externally 35 ft. 9 in. square, the pilasters or corner towers measuring 9 ft. 3 in. on the face each way, with a projection of 9 in. The length of the main wall on each side between the towers is therefore 17 ft. 3 in. externally. Internally the keep is 17 ft. square on the ground floor, with walls 8 ft. 9 in. thick setting back 12 in. at the present height of 8 ft. The walling is of limestone rubble with ashlar quoins and dressings, and has been a good deal repaired in recent times at the north and east corners, where large buttresses have been built against the lower part of the towers. The west corner tower contains a vice, starting from the first or principal floor, and rises to a height of 46 ft. from the ground, being some feet higher than any other part of the walls, the top of which is broken all round.
The ground floor was lit on three sides by a loophole in the middle of the wall set in a round-headed recess 5 ft. wide, the north-west wall being blank. Two of these loopholes have been converted into open breaches, the jambs and heads of which are now broken, and the third, on the south-west side, has been walled up and the recess covered with a flat lintel. The entrance seems to have been from the floor above by a trap-door.
The holes for the first floor joists remain in the north-east and south-west walls, but the floor itself, as well as that above, has gone. The room was 19 ft. square and 23 ft. high, and was lighted on the southwest and north-east by small square-headed loops in round-headed recesses 4 ft. 6 in. wide. The principal entrance to the keep was on this floor on the northwest side towards the town, close to the west angle, and reached by an external staircase built against the wall, all trace of which has gone, but there was another door in the opposite wall which may have led on to the ramparts of the adjacent curtain, here only 11 ft. from the keep. This doorway, which is 8 ft. high by 2 ft. 10 in. wide, still remains and preserves its original semicircular head. In the south west wall at each side of the loop is a door, that near the west corner, which is 6 ft. by 2 ft. 6 in. and square-headed, leading through a small lobby 4 ft. 8 in. by 3 ft. 2 in. in the thickness of the wall to the staircase. The other doorway, which is 8 ft. high by 2 ft. 11 in. and round-headed, leads by a right-angled passage into a plain mural chamber 7 ft. by 5 ft., which seems to have had a loop at its south-east end, the wall being now broken, like those below, by a wide breach. Both the passage and chamber have barrel vaults.
The second or upper floor rests on a set-off of 2 ft., and is therefore 23 ft. square, but shows no signs of any wall opening. At the west angle the masonry is thickened to give space for the staircase, from which, no doubt, access to the floor was originally gained. The staircase, however, seems to have been repaired and the door done away with, probably after the castle was dismantled. The height of the top floor is now about 11 ft., and was probably not originally very much higher. The parapet perhaps added another 5 ft. or 6 ft. to the building, which probably had a turret at the west angle over the staircase, if not at all four corners. The upper part of the building is now overgrown internally with trees and other vegetation, forming a picturesque ruin open to the sky.
There are no fireplace openings or garderobes in any part of the keep, the character of which is very plain throughout, without plinth, string or ornament of any kind.
The lower ward has been altered and built over, and its extent is difficult to determine. It seems to have had an extreme breadth of 150 ft., and descended about 280 ft. down the slope of the hill.’