The masonry remains of the curtain wall, several towers (all ruined), an eighteenth century courthouse (now a public house) and a Victorian folly. The castle itself is only occasionally opened to the public but there is a public footpath around the exterior of the curtain wall accessible at all times.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Halton Castle and Car Park
Notes: The site is found on Castle Road off Main Street. An adjacent car park is for patrons of the public house which occupies the former courthouse. Alternative parking can be found at the Runcorn Shopping Centre which is 0.5 miles from the castle.
Halton Castle Layout. The castle’s original layout - consisting of inner and outer baileys, can still be appreciated but all internal buildings from the original fortification have gone.
Cells. The lock-ups were built concurrent with the Courthouse in 1737 as short term detention facilities.
Folly. The most castle like remains are actually a Victorian folly.
Halton Castle was built around 1070 as a means of controlling an important crossing over the Mersey estuary. Initially a timber construction, it came under the ownership of the de Lacy family who rebuilt it as a substantial stone fortification. Besieged twice during the Civil War, legal cases continued to be heard at the castle until the early twentieth century.
HISTORY OF HALTON CASTLE
Overlooking the estuary of the River Mersey, Halton Castle dominated a strategic location through the medieval period. The upper estuary presented a significant geographical barrier but a fording point at nearby Runcorn allowed crossing at low tide and placed the castle on a key line of communication. The river once formed a natural border between the Kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria ultimately becoming a flashpoint in the war between the Saxons and Vikings. In an attempt to secure the borders of Mercia, Aethelflaed built a fortified burh in the vicinity in AD 915. The site of this is unknown but is presumed to have been on a promontory of land that was demolished in 1862 to improve access for shipping.
Halton Castle itself was built circa-1070 by either Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester or his tenant, Nigel of Contentin, probably in the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. The castle occupied a high promontory that offered a naturally strong defensive position. The only vulnerable approach, on the north-west side, was protected by a deep ditch cut from the rock. The intent behind the castle was invariably to secure control of the important crossing over the estuary (which from circa-1178 was served by a ferry) and to exploit the valuable riverine resources which included an abundant supply of Salmon.
Nigel died in 1080 and the castle passed to his son, William fitzNigel. In 1134 it went to his son, also called William fitzWilliam, but he died childless so Halton then passed through marriage to Eustace fitzJohn. Upon his death in 1157, it was inherited by his son Richard FitzEustace. He married Albreda de Lacy forging a connection with this most powerful and influential family. When Albreda died she bequeathed the castle to her grandson, Roger de Lacy.
Although Halton Castle would have been a relatively minor residence for the de Lacy family, their wealth saw numerous upgrades made to the castle. It was rebuilt in stone in the late twelfth/early thirteenth centuries with the bailey being enclosed by a substantial stone curtain wall. Towers, a square one on the west side and a later round one to the north, were added in the subsequent years. A substantial Great Hall was built within the castle's grounds perhaps enhancing a structure that had stood since the fortification was first erected. Foundations of a circular structure may be indicative of a shell keep.
In 1294 Halton Castle came into the ownership of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster through his marriage with Alice de Lacy. Although he rebelled against Edward II in 1322, the result of which was his execution at Pontefract and the confiscation of his estates, his brother (Henry Grosmont) was able to reclaim them from Edward III. In 1351 he was elevated to Duke of Lancaster starting an association between Halton Castle and the Duchy which still endures. Subsequently passing to John of Gaunt and then to his son, Henry Bolingbroke, the castle became the property of the monarch (as part of the Duchy of Lancaster) when he overthrew Richard II in 1399 and became Henry IV. The increased status of the family saw various upgrades at Halton Castle including a substantial gatehouse which dominated the structure. During this period Runcorn, with its superb access to the Irish Sea, started to develop as a significant port. This was opposed by the people of Chester who successfully petitioned Edward IV to grant them a monopoly for imports from Ireland. However, Runcorn was able to export as in 1482 an Edward Walsh was granted Royal permission to transport goods from the port to Ireland.
Despite its strategic location, throughout the life of Halton Castle its main function was as an administrative centre including hosting legal courts and a prison. The first recorded trial at Halton dates from 1274 and there are numerous accounts of prisoners held there - most notably the site was used as a prison for soldiers captured at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) and Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth I. The last legal court to be held in the castle was in 1908.
During the English Civil War, Halton Castle was initially garrisoned by Royalist forces as the castle's proximity to the Irish Sea, allowing access to the significant numbers of potential reinforcements from Ireland, made it strategically important. For this same reason it was besieged by a Parliamentary force under Sir William Brereton in 1643. They captured the castle but a Royalist army, under Colonel Fenwick, moved to retake Halton at which point the Parliamentary forces withdrew. The Parliamentarians attacked again in 1644 by which time the Royalist war effort was stretched and the garrison withdrew. Halton Castle remained in Parliament's hands until the end of the war and thereafter the defences were partially demolished to prevent further military use although the Gatehouse was left intact to enable continuity of the legal/administrative duties. This structure was demolished in 1738 and a purpose built courthouse was constructed in its place along with a cell block in the castle's interior. A folly was added to the site in the early nineteenth century and the old courthouse is now part of a hotel/public house.