The medieval ruins of Beeston Castle stand on a rocky summit 500ft above the Cheshire plain, offering stunning views from the Pennines in the east to the mountains of Wales in the west.
Archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of a Bronze Age community living on the Beeston crag about 800BC, and other excavations have discovered a later Iron Age hill fort. The hill fort was probably abandoned by the beginning of the Roman period.
In 1225, Ranulf, the sixth Earl of Chester, began work on a new castle on Beeston Crag. Ranulf's principal castle in Cheshire was at Chester, where he had his residence, his law courts and his treasury. He probably built the new castle at Beeston as a symbol of his power and importance and also so that he could take advantage of new castle building techniques that he had seen and heard described during his time fighting in the Fifth Crusade.
Ranulf designed the castle as two parts. On top of the crag he cut a great ditch through the rock to create the inner bailey, a relatively small enclosure which, with its walls, towers and gatehouse, and with precipitous cliffs on three sides, was the most secure part of the castle.
On the lower slopes he created the outer bailey whose walls and towers followed the contours of the ground and which had another massive gatehouse, fronted by a ditch, at its entrance.
Ranulf's design differed from most other castles that were dominated by a huge tower or 'keep' that acted as the main stronghold of the castle. Beeston had no keep, instead small towers projected from the walls which allowed defenders to fire across the faces of the walls. Another innovation was the provision of powerful gatehouses at each entrance designed to protect the most vulnerable parts of the castle.
The castle was not complete at the time of Ranulf's death in 1232, or even by the death of his successor, John, the seventh earl, in 1237. When Earl John died without a male heir, King Henry III took Beeston and the earldom of Chester into his own hands.
King Henry mainly used Beeston as a base to assemble troops and supplies for his campaigns against the Welsh, and as a place to keep prisoners and hostages. In 1254 Henry gave Beeston, together with all the other castles and lands of the County of Chester to his eldest son Prince Edward. Edward was also given the title Earl of Chester which, from that time, has always been granted to the eldest son of the sovereign of England.
Edward was crowned king of England in 1272 and in two campaigns completed the conquest of Wales. With North Wales pacified, the Cheshire castles lost some of their importance, but Beeston was kept in good repair throughout the fourteenth century. However from this time on the castle fell into a gradual decline and by the sixteenth century was of no further use to the crown. It was acquired by a local landowner, Sir Hugh Beeston of Beeston Hall, who allowed some of the poorer members of his family to live in part of the castle and use the land for farming.
The castle was brought back into military use during the civil war when Parliamentarians seized the castle in February 1643 and made some repairs to the fortifications. In December 1643 a small party of Royalists took the castle. A Royalist garrison remained in the castle until November 1645 when, after a long siege, they were forced to surrender.
At the end of the Civil War orders were given for Beeston's defences to be destroyed. Subsequent quarrying at the site further reduced the castle's stoneworks, leaving just the few ruins that we can see today
- 11 miles southeast of Chester, on minor roads off A49 or A41, signposted near village of Beeston
- Beeston Castle, Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9TX
- English Heritage. Open to the public. Admission fee
- For further information visit www.english-heritage.org.uk
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