Before the Thirteenth Century Launceston was called Dunheved and even today many of the streets and buildings still bear this name.
An ancient fort had long stood on the ‘castle hill’ when the site was acquired by Robert Count de Mortain, Earl of Cornwall and younger brother of Henry III. The castle he built consisted of little more than a primitive wooden palisade and tower on the summit of the hill with protective earthworks encircling these. De Mortain died in 1090 and little is known about the castle until early in the Thirteenth Century when the wooden castle was replaced by one of stone with a shell keep, an elevated rampart walk on the inside protected by a parapet whish formed a fighting platform. Further improvements were made over the years and the castle became a formidable fortress. For centuries it was known as ‘Castle Terrible’ and used as a prison. Those imprisoned in the castle were subjected to the miseries of cramped quarters, dark, filth, disease, rats and biting chains. The castle remained in use as a prison until 1838.
During the Civil War the castle was occupied by Royalist and Parliamentarian forces in succession. The castle then faced a period of long decline and today the castle is a ruin but the shell keep and inner tower together with part of the rampart offer panoramic view on all sides. There is also a very impressive steep stairway up the motte, portions of the curtain wall and two gateways and the bailey.
Launceston Castle is well worth a visit.