The History of Beeston Castle
Standing 107 meters above the Cheshire Plain, Beeston Castle was once a royal castle. While it sits in ruins today, the property, open to the public, offers dramatic views and boasts a rich history that dates all the way back to Ranulf de Blondeville, the 6th Earl of Chester.
Beeston Castle’s Ancient Past
The castle may be in ruins today, but archaeologists have found evidence of human activity on the site that dates all the way back to the Neolithic period (between 3500 and 2000 BC). Evidence of burial mounds and funerary material from the Bronze Age have also been discovered in lower areas of the crag. The evidence suggests that the area may have been a significant site for rituals.
Other excavated objects, including crucibles and moulds used for smelting suggest that the castle site was once a hub for metalworking. During the Iron Age, the castle grounds are believed to have been used as a hillfort. A cache of slingshot was excavated near the outer gatehouse, which suggests that area was once used as an entrance. Evidence of a structure that dates back to the late Iron Age has also been discovered.
Beeston Castle is Built by Ranulf, Earl of Chester
Ranulf, Earl of Chester, was an avid supporter of King John during the baronial civil war. As a reward for his loyalty, Ranulf was given titles, land and castles all over England.
When Henry III succeeded to the throne in 1218, Ranulf set off to take part in the fifth crusade. Upon returning, he found Hubert de Burgh, the king’s justiciar, confiscating lands from other men. At that point, the Earl knew he had to solidify his political position. And so, work on Beeston Castle began somewhere around 1220. Although in ruin today, some of the remains of the castle surely date back to this time period, including the outer and inner gatehouses, at least one of the towers, the inner ward’s curtain wall and the outer curtain wall.
Beeston was built as an impregnable stronghold and was the Earl’s symbol of power. Documents from the medieval era describe the castle as Castellum de Rupe, or the Castle on the Rock. Beeston is one of three castles built by Ranulf, the others including Chartley in Staffordshire and Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire. Both castles shared similar architectural features.
The Castle’s Construction
Unlike many other castles from the same time period, Beeston’s keep was not its last line of defense. The design and positioning of the castle made the baileys the stronghold.
The castle’s defences consisted of a rectangular castle, perched at the summit of the hill, and an outer bailey on the lower slopes with a massive gatehouse. The gatehouse itself was protected by a 5m wide and 3m deep ditch.
Two water wells were dug into the rock, one of which was 113m deep. The well, still standing today, is one of the deepest in all of England.
Beeston Becomes a Royal Castle
Ranulf’s successor John died with no heir, which allowed King Henry III to take over the Earldom of Cheshire. During his wars with Wales, Henry III enlarged the castle. At the time, he used the castle as a place to house Welsh captives. No halls or chambers were added to the castle at this point.
Henry III gave Beeston to his son Prince Edward in 1254 along with the title of Earl of Chester. From this point on, the title would be conferred onto the heir to the English throne. During Edward’s reign, the castle was well-maintained, but in the 16th century, the English Crown no longer considered the castle to be useful. Sir Hugh Beeston purchased the castle in 1602.
During the English Civil War, the castle was seized by Parliamentary forces. In 1643, Irish royal army Captain Thomas Sanford and eight of his soldiers crept into Beeston Castle late at night, startling Captain Thomas Steele, governor of the castle. Steele surrendered on a promise that he would walk out of the castle with honours. He was tried and then shot for failure to defend the castle. In 1646, the castle was partially demolished in an attempt to prevent any further use of it as a stronghold.
A lodge house was built on the property in the 19th century and was then expanded in the 20th century. The two-story lodge features a central archway with circular towers on each side. The structure has been designated a Grade II listed building.
Today, the castle is owned by English Heritage. While the castle is in ruins today, pieces of the tower and walls remain, which paint a clear picture of what the castle once looked like. Its strategic location high atop the rocks offers visitors one of the most dramatic views of any castle in England. The view stretches across eight countries from the Welsh mountains to the west to the Pennines to the east.