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Beeston Castle; medieval enclosure castle and site of late prehistoric hillfort

A Scheduled Monument in Beeston, Cheshire West and Chester

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Latitude: 53.128 / 53°7'40"N

Longitude: -2.6919 / 2°41'30"W

OS Eastings: 353799.795788

OS Northings: 359203.484917

OS Grid: SJ537592

Mapcode National: GBR 7L.6SQY

Mapcode Global: WH88Q.MMCW

Entry Name: Beeston Castle; medieval enclosure castle and site of late prehistoric hillfort

Scheduled Date: 13 January 1915

Last Amended: 11 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007900

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23641

County: Cheshire West and Chester

Civil Parish: Beeston

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cheshire

Church of England Parish: Bunbury St Boniface

Church of England Diocese: Chester


The monument is Beeston Castle, strategically situated on Beeston Crag
overlooking the Cheshire Plain and a number of ancient routeways.
Construction of the castle commenced in 1226 for Ranulph, Earl of Chester, and
the monument includes both upstanding and buried remains of Ranulph's castle
and later medieval and post-medieval modifications; together with buried
remains indicating prehistoric and Roman activity on Beeston Crag.
The castle remains include a sandstone-built outer gatehouse and outer
enclosure wall which have one rectangular and nine D-shaped towers attached to
them. The enclosure wall follows the strongest, most easily defended, line of
the hill-slope around the crag. Outside the wall, to left and right of the
gatehouse, are lengths of outer ditch originally up to 3m deep and
5m wide; these provided the additional defence required at the main
entrance. The original line of the old road into the castle remains faintly
discernible in places and approaches from the north east. Enclosed within the
outer defences is a large outer bailey containing a well, extensive quarries,
and a relatively flat area where armies in transit could be accommodated in a
temporary encampment. Surrounding two sides of the crag's summit is a rock-cut
inner ditch up to 10.5m wide by 9m deep originally spanned by a timber
bridge supported on a central pillar of rock, and latterly by a stone ramp.
This ramp, part of which still exists along with remains of the original rock
pillar, led to the gatehouse of the inner bailey where there is a central
passage between two D-shaped towers. The gatehouse has a single ground floor
chamber in each tower and a single chamber on the upper floor extending across
the central passage. The wall of the inner bailey exhibits the remains of a
further three D-shaped towers overlooking the ditch on the southern and
eastern sides. Elsewhere the wall runs along the edge of a sheer precipice. On
the western side the wall has been destroyed at a point known as Pulpit Rock,
where the rock juts out above a sheer drop. Within the inner bailey is a well
124m deep, one of the deepest castle wells in the country.
The castle was unfinished at Ranulph's death in 1232, and still incomplete at
the death of his successor, John, in 1237. Most of the defences had been
completed but there were no permanent living quarters other than chambers
within the gatehouses and some of the towers. After John's death the castle
passed to Henry III and was used as a base to assemble troops and supplies for
his campaigns in Wales. The castle remained simply a fortified enclosure with
a small permanent garrison accommodated in timber buildings in the outer
bailey. In 1254 Henry gave Beeston to his son Edward, later Edward I. After
Edward's conquest of Wales documentary sources indicate Beeston was
strengthened in 1303-4 by the repair of three towers and the construction of a
stone ramp for access into the inner bailey. During the 14th century the
castle was kept in good repair but later fell into decline, and by the
16th century the Crown had no further use for it. It was acquired by Sir Hugh
Beeston and occupied by some members of his family. In February 1643 the
castle was seized on orders of Sir William Brereton, commander of
Parliamentarian forces in Cheshire. Breaches in the wall were repaired with
mud-walling, the well in the outer ward was cleaned, a few rooms erected' and
the castle garrisoned. A square tower adjacent to the outer gatehouse is
thought to date to this activity. On December 13th 1643 Royalist troops
captured the castle by scaling the precipitous cliffs on the north side.
Between November 1644 and November 1645 Brereton's troops laid siege to the
castle, during which time they dug a trench round the foot of the hill and
built a fortified position or 'mount', capable of holding a hundred men,
opposite the outer gatehouse. On November 15th 1645 the Royalist garrison
surrendered. At the end of the Civil War orders were given for the castle
defences to be destroyed. Between 1703-22 a George Walley was living in the
outer gatehouse. Ownership then passed to Sir Thomas Mostyn. The hill was let
for grazing and quarrying, and the outer gatehouse was demolished to give
better access to the quarries. In 1840 the Beeston Estate was purchased by
Lord Tollemache and although stone continued to be quarried the remains of the
castle began to be appreciated as a picturesque ruin. Some repairs were
carried out in 1846 and the present gatehouse, or Lodge, was built as an
entrance. The castle was taken into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works
in 1959. The walls, towers, and gatehouses of the inner and outer bailey are
Listed Buildings Grade I; the Lodge is a Listed Building Grade II.
Limited excavation at the outer gateway between 1978-81 revealed prehistoric
rampart defences built of stone and timber with at least three ditch cuts and
a counterscarp bank. These features are thought to indicate the presence of a
late prehistoric hillfort built on the crag around the ninth century BC. The
outer gatehouse and outer wall of Ranulph's castle were constructed on the
prehistoric rampart and consequently obliterate much of the earlier defences.
In 1978 a Late Bronze Age socketed axe head was found in the outer bailey.
Excavation of a small area within the outer bailey in 1980-1 produced six more
bronze implements; one dated to the ninth or eighth centuries BC. Other finds
included clay moulds and crucibles used in bronze working, prehistoric
pottery, flint tools, fragments of very course pottery salt holders, and
structural evidence of at least three phases of postholes representing a
sequence of building phases dating between c.660 and 330 BC. Limited
excavation on the Lower Green outside the outer walls produced post-medieval,
medieval and Romano-British pottery from the upper levels. Below these was a
cobbled surface interpreted as either an agricultural or domestic yard, or a
road surface.
The Lodge, its associated buildings, and the 19th century estate wall
around the base of Beeston Crag are excluded from the scheduling; also
excluded are all English Heritage fixtures and fittings including signs, bases
for benches and seats, and the modern bridge giving access into the inner
bailey but the ground beneath all these features is also included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of
stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers
bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but
this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide
accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there
are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either
waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure
castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they
developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive
experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The
majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were
built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier
medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were
new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or
leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure
castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration
in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration
along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward
I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples
retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

Despite partial 17th century destruction designed to prevent the
castle's refortification, Beeston Castle survives reasonably well and remains
an excellent example of a spectacularly sited medieval enclosure castle. It
provides a significant insight into the constantly changing design and
defensive strategies used in medieval castles. It was the first castle to base
its defence entirely on powerful fully developed gatehouses and projecting
wall towers. The gatehouses at Beeston are forerunners of the formidable
gatehouses of Edward I's great castles in North Wales. Additionally limited
excavation both within and outside the outer bailey has confirmed the
existence of a considerable prehistoric presence on Beeston Crag defended by a
complex system of ramparts, ditches and a counterscarp bank. Limited
excavation on the Lower Green has also located medieval and Romano-British
pottery; and further evidence of prehistoric, Romano-British, medieval and
post-medieval activity on Beeston Crag will exist.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
English Heritage, , Beeston Castle, (1987), 12-17
English Heritage, , Beeston Castle, (1987), 18-21
English Heritage, , Beeston Castle, (1987), 22
English Heritage, , Beeston Castle, (1987), 14-15
Dore, R N, 'Trans Lancs and Chesh Antiq Soc' in Beeston Castle in the Great Civil War, 1643-46., , Vol. 75-6, (1965), 112
Hough, P R, 'CAB' in Excavation Reports And Sites Observed, (1982), 22-30
Hough, P R, 'CAB' in Excavation Reports And Sites Observed, (1982), 22-30
Ridgway, M H, Cathcart King, D J, 'JCAS' in Beeston Castle, Cheshire, , Vol. 46, (1959), 19-20
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
English Heritage, Beeston Castle, Cheshire. Excav by Keen,L. & Hough,P. 1968-85, (1993)
English Heritage, Beeston Crag, Cheshire. Excav by Keen,L. & Hough,P. 1968-85, (1993)
In Cheshire SMR Ref. No. 1732/1, Recent Discoveries of Prehistoric Material at Beeston Castle,
In Cheshire SMR Ref. No. 1732/1, Recent Discoveries of Prehistoric Material at Beeston Castle,
Leach,P.E., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Enclosure Castles, (1989)
SMR No. 1732/1, Cheshire SMR, Beeston Castle,
SMR No. 1732/1, Cheshire SMR, Beeston Castle, (1987)

Source: Historic England

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