BEESTON CASTLE, CW6 9TX
Postcode: Chapel Lane, CW6 9TX
Lat/Long: 53.1281N 2.6919W
Notes: Well sign-posted the castle has a dedicated car park (pay and display - not English Heritage managed) directly in front of the entrance.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The remains of a medieval castle. The outer ward defensive wall exists but has been heavily quarried and doesn’t stand to full height. The Inner Ward Gatehouse remains impressive, as does the dry moat cut into the rock, but little remains inside the Inner Ward. Spectacular views and a lovely woodland setting compensate.
1. Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester and the builder of Beeston Castle also constructed Bolingbroke and Chartley Castles.
2. Following Prince Edward's victory at the Battle of Evesham (1265), he proceeded to Beeston Castle. Although many of Edward's enemies were cruelly murdered on the battlefield, a few were taken prisoner and these were held briefly at Beeston.
3. Allegedly Richard II, before sailing to Ireland, deposited a large amount of treasure at Beeston Castle.
4. Following his surrender of the castle to the Royalist commander Lord Byron in November 1643 the leader of the Parliamentary forces, Captain Thomas Steele, secured the right for himself and his men to rejoin there own forces at Nantwich. Unfortunately his superiors were unimpressed with his lacklustre efforts to hold Beeston Castle and he was court martialled and subsequently shot.
Known as the 'Castle on the Rock', Beeston Castle was built around the surviving earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort by Randulf Earl of Chester to impress rivals in the English court. Always inferior to Chester, it nevertheless saw a protracted siege in the latter days of the Civil War and was then slighted on the orders of Parliament.
HISTORY OF BEESTON CASTLE
Occupied, at least periodically, during the Neolithic period (3500 to 2000 BC), the first known defences at the site of Beeston Castle were built in the Bronze Age (2000 to 650 BC) when an earth bank was created at the bottom of the crag to restrict access. This evolved over the subsequent centuries into a substantial hillfort by the end of the Iron Age (450 BC to AD 43) with parapets strengthened with stone rubble and topped by a timber palisade. Although the defences were probably never as elaborate as nearby Old Oswestry, it is possible that Beeston was one of the largest hillforts in Cheshire. It certainly seemed to be an important metal working site as the crag had significant mineral deposits whilst evidence of smelting has been discovered by archaeology. The site seemingly abandoned around the time of the Roman Invasion (AD 43) although the circumstances behind this are unknown; it is possible the populace was forcible relocated as at Maiden Castle in Dorset.
Beeston Castle itself was built circa-1220 by Ranulf, Earl of Chester. Built quite late compared to other fortresses along the Border Marches, it is likely it was constructed as a result of events in England rather than concerns over Welsh attack. In the latter days of King John's reign, various Barons had rebelled and were supporting a French invasion, under Prince Louis. Ranulf had remained loyal to John throughout and after the rebellion lost steam following the death of John in 1216 and the defeat of the French at the Battle of Lincoln (1217), he was richly rewarded. But by the 1220s, following his absence on crusade, his rewards were under threat from political manoeuvres at court. Hubert de Burgh, King's Justiciar, was efficient and diligent in his duty to recover land and the construction of Beeston Castle was a warning by Ranulf not to interfere with his property. It worked for Beeston was inherited by his heir, John le Scot, on his death; however on the death of John, who died without heir, the castle was taken into Royal ownership by Henry III. He did little to the castle, it was always secondary to nearby Chester Castle, but granted it to his son Prince Edward (later Edward I) in 1253. But even he used the castle little with his major Welsh expeditions departing from Montgomery and Chester rather than Beeston.
The castle was sold into private ownership, to a Sir Hugh Beeston, in 1603. The state of the castle at this time is unknown but was probably, save maybe for a few buildings in the outer ward, ruinous. Certainly by the Civil War in 1642 the castle was in a poor condition but with Chester under Royalist control and Nantwich under Parliament, the location of Beeston in between the two was strategically important. Parliament got there first and garrisoned the castle making makeshift repairs to the walls. But in November 1643 the Royalist presence in the area had been augmented and Beeston Castle was surrendered. But with the defeat of Lord Byron at the Battle of Nantwich (1644), Royalist supremacy in Cheshire was challenged and, as Parliamentary forces cleared the way to Chester, they besieged Beeston Castle. The siege was sporadic due to Royalist counter attacks and it wasn't until 15 November 1645 that the castle was surrendered. The castle was then slighted on the orders of Parliament.