When traveling through Cheshire, it’s hard to miss the giant hill that stands formidably near Tarporley. Here stands Beeston Castle. Although it is in ruins and a shadow of its former glory, it still offers an impressive sight and excellent views of the surrounding area, a well-placed castle that has seen some action since its creation.
The Value of this hill
Long before Ranulf III Sixth Earl of Chester decided to build a castle in the 1220s people have chosen this hill to set up safe dwellings. during excavations and work on the structures, archaeologists and members of English heritage have found evidence of the people who used to live there and the lives they had. In 2019 Volunteers for English Heritage constructed a roundhouse in what they believe to be the style of the day. Visitors to this hut can clearly see the steep-sided outlines of the ancient hillfort that would have offered protection to those in the Bronze and Iron ages. Flint arrowheads and bronze tools including axes and digging equipment have been found. The findings are displayed at the main entrance to the site with replicas on show in the hut. There are normally two volunteers on site to talk about the history behind the hut and the tools that they have discovered including some of the rituals they believe the ancient settlers would have engaged in.
This is an interesting design, while many castles prior to this one had been of the mott and bailey design styled by the Normans, or at least featured a keep, this one is simply an inner and outer wall, it uses the natural features of the hill which is used to compliment the design. There are also elements of the styles seen on the crusades, The earl of Chester was present on the 5th crusade and would have seen these D-shaped towers while fighting abroad. while one side of the hill is a gentle slope that is protected by the outer wall. The other is incredibly steep and would offer serious difficulty to those attempting to assault from this angle, there are also light fortifications that are perfectly adequate to defend this angle if an attack occurred.
The inner sections of the castle are very open plan but at the time would have contained wooden structures, before that in the old hillfort there would have been a small settlement where the houses stand in the display below. The inner walls have a well for water supply and also the source of the myth of the castle, more on that later. More so than most castles, control of the inner walls is control of the castle as was demonstrated during the civil war. In addition to the sheer drop that surrounds the inner walls, this castle offers excellent visibility of the surrounding areas. The only parts of the hill that offer a gentle gradient are enclosed within the walls, this dictated that the would-be attackers needed to use a certain route if siege equipment was to be employed, thus the gatehouse becomes the main obstacle and is appropriately as with all forts, the more intimidating prospect.
Beeston castle in the civil war.
During the 17th century, civil war raged through Britain during the 17th century. Cheshire, like much of the country, was divided in loyalties. Initially, the castle was occupied by the Parliamentarian forces who stationed a formidable garrison there. This would drop and by 1643 numbered little over 60 men under the command of Thomas Steele. By this time, John Lord Byron was in action around Chester and considered the threat offered from the castle. With an army to threaten the outer ward, Like many other castles, Beeston would have an instance where it falls to a small force. December of 1643 saw a group of eight under the command of Captain Thomas Sandford manage to infiltrate the inner ward and gain control of it. This would ultimately lead to the surrender of the garrison. For allowing the Castle to fall to the enemy, Steele would be executed by firing squad.
The royalist forces would not have to wait long for the response. By 1644 Chester was under siege and forces were also sent to Beeston castle with the aim of retaking it. A back-and-forth siege would follow involving the building of a fort directly opposite the main gates of Beeston, but with the parliamentarian victory over the king’s forces in Rowton heath, the surrender of the castle was soon to follow.
Post age of castles.
Another feature that is worth looking at is the mines, sadly they are no longer open to walk around and some care is needed when getting close to seeing due to falling rocks. These mines in the outer ward were used in the 19th century for sandstone, this was then crushed and used in the cleaning process of canal boat hulls on the nearby Cheshire canal. They are a short walk from the castle entrance and worth the effort to go and see.
The castle which has since fallen into ruin stands now as a tourist attraction for people visiting the area. It has been the venue for various shows in the time since it was last used in anger. It is also the site of a myth regarding some buried treasure left there by Richard the second. Richard was a guest at Beeston on his way to Ireland in 1399, there are those that say he left a sizeable amount of gold hidden away. Richard would never recover this money as fate would see him detained by Henry Bolingbroke instead. So if you have an eye for finding things then it has yet to be found.
Across from the castle at Beeston, you can also see the hill next door which houses Peckforton Castle, Built in the 19th century for the MP Sir John Tollemache.
As ever, thank you if you have got this far. Beeston castle is a great day out. The following week I visited Old Oswestry hill fort and the battlefield at Shrewsbury, ill write about them in due course. Thanks also to the volunteers at the hut as they were most informative and friendly.