Lancaster is in the hundred of Lonsdale, in the part south of the Sands, and on the south bank of the river Loyne, or Lune, not far from its mouth, 240 miles from London, through Leicester, Derby, Stockport, Manchester, and Preston. It is supposed, from the Roman antiquities discovered, and from the termination of the name, caster, to have been a Roman station. Camden will have it to be the Longovicus of the Notitia, and others the Ad Alaunam of Richard of Cirencester. It is supposed to have been dismantled by the Picts after the departure of the Romans, but restored by the Anglo-Saxons of Northumbria, under whom it first gave name to the shire. The castle was enlarged, and the town, which had previously received a charter from King John, was favoured with additional privileges in the reign of Edward III, who conferred the duchy of Lancaster on his son John of Ghent or Gaunt, in whose favour the county was made a palatine county. The town suffered severely in the War of the Roses, and was again the scene of contest in the civil war of Charles I.
The parish of Lancaster reaches into Amounderness hundred, and comprehends an area of 66,100 acres, or above 103 square miles, with a population of 23,817. The municipal borough of Lancaster comprehends 1,240 acres, and had in 1831 a population of 12,613. Considerable additions were made by the Boundary Act for the purposes of parliamentary representation. The town stands on the slope of an eminence rising from the river. The summit of the eminence is crowned by the towers of the castle, a spacious edifice, comprehending a large court-yard, some smaller yards, and several differently-shaped towers : it is now fitted up at a vast expense as a county gaol and court-house. The large square keep is very ancient and prodigiously strong : the gateway, defended by two semi-octangular projecting towers, is referred to the time of Edward III. The shire-hall and county-courts are modern. The streets of the town are for the most part narrow ; the houses are built of freestone, which is quarried in the neighbourhood, and covered with slate. The church is on the same eminence with the castle : it is very spacious, and contains some few specimens of screen-work ; the tower is of modern erection. In the churchyard is the shaft of a Danish cross with Runic characters. There are two chapels-of-ease and several dissenting places of worship. There are assembly-rooms, a theatre, and public baths. A handsome stone bridge over the Lune, at the north-eastern extremity of the town, connects it with the suburb of Skerton. There are several almshouses, and in the neighbourhood of the town is the county lunatic asylum.
The port of Lancaster formerly had a considerable share of the West India trade, which is now in a great degree transferred to Liverpool ; but it still possesses a. portion of the American, Russian, and a large and increasing coasting trade. The number of vessels which entered the port, which includes Preston, in 1832 was 580 (33 of them from foreign parts), having an aggregate tonnage of 38,207. The cotton manufacture has been within the last few years introduced into the town and neighbourhood.
The assizes for the northern division of the county are held at Lancaster. The council of the borough consist, under the Municipal Reform Act, of a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors : the town was divided by the same act into three wards. The living is a vicarage, in the archdeaconry of Richmond, diocese of Chester, of the clear annual value of £1,709, with a glebe-house. The perpetual curacies of St. Anne and St. John (the two chapels-of-ease) are respectively of the clear annual value of £115 and £203.
There were in the borough, in 1833, one infant school with 100 children ; a grammar school, partly supported by the corporation, with 61 children ; a Lancasterian school, with 198 children ; a Quakers school, partly endowed, with 30 children ; and eight other day-schools, with 216 children ; two national and one other day and Sunday schools, with 603 children on a week day and 30 more on Sunday ; and four Sunday-schools, with 1,175 children. From two boarding-schools and one Roman Catholic day and Sunday school no returns were made.
The remainder of the parish is divided into eleven townships and five chapelries. The chapelries are all in the gift of the vicar of Lancaster. There are several schools, some of them endowed, in these townships.