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Halton Castle: a ruined shell keep castle on the site of an earlier motte and bailey

A Scheduled Monument in Castlefields, Halton

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Latitude: 53.3333 / 53°19'59"N

Longitude: -2.6956 / 2°41'44"W

OS Eastings: 353771.114689

OS Northings: 382048.34326

OS Grid: SJ537820

Mapcode National: GBR 9YMW.6T

Mapcode Global: WH87R.KGLY

Entry Name: Halton Castle: a ruined shell keep castle on the site of an earlier motte and bailey

Scheduled Date: 26 November 1963

Last Amended: 22 July 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015606

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27611

County: Halton

Electoral Ward/Division: Castlefields

Built-Up Area: Runcorn

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cheshire

Church of England Parish: Halton St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Chester


The monument includes the ruined castle remains at Halton together with an
area to the east of the castle which will retain buried deposits of midden
material and the remains of secular settlement located immediately outside the
The castle stands on a prominent hill of red sandstone and overlooks the
estuary of the River Mersey to the north and east and the low marshlands at
the foot of the hill on the western and eastern sides. It is in a strategic
position overlooking the Runcorn Gap. Halton is one of a series of castles
built on the sandstone ridges of Cheshire including to the south Beeston
The first castle on the site was a motte and bailey timber castle built by
Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, in c.1070. This was formed by cutting off the
highest part of the promontory on the north western side by a ditch 8m wide
and utilising the natural platform on the rest of the hilltop as a bailey.
The castle was occupied by Nigel, the first baron of Halton, who also founded
the priory at Norton.
In the subsequent three centuries the phases of building and rebuilding in
stone are obscured since all rebuilding took place after scraping the previous
phase off the bedrock and rebuilding on that foundation. Any surviving remains
from these demolitions will lie at the bottom of the slope outside the curtain
wall on the east, north and west sides. By c.1250 the curtain wall had been
built, together with a square tower on the west side, over the ditch (which
had been infilled), a round tower at the north end, and stone buildings in a
range along the north western side. During this period, from the 11th to the
13th centuries, the ownership passed to the Lacy family, the Lords of
Pontefract, who became Dukes of Lancaster in 1311. In the 15th century a
gatehouse was constructed and a survey of 1476 mentions a number of buildings
including a great chamber, a withdrawing room, a chapel, a hall and a number
of lesser domestic buildings on the site.
The castle was used as a prison for Roman Catholic recusants in 1579. It was
besieged and captured by Sir William Broton in 1643 and partly demolished on
Cromwells orders in 1644. The castle was depicted in a view by the Buck
brothers in 1727 as a ruin.
In 1738 the gatehouse was replaced by a new courthouse and prison and a series
of small lock-ups built in the castle interior to the north of this building.
Again the previous remains were cleared from the bedrock on the site and the
new building erected on the platform.
The site was investigated by excavation in 1986-7 and nine trenches were
uncovered mainly in the north and west of the site. The standing remains are
interpreted here in the light of these excavations. Nothing remains of the
early timber phase of the buildings and the ditch of the early motte site was
filled in in the 13th century. The curtain wall, which surrounded the castle
platform, only survives as foundations with some courses of stone remaining on
the north west side and the south side up to the west wall of the courthouse
building. The best preserved section is to the west of the square tower
remains on the north west wall. The rounded plan of the western end of the
site suggest a stone built shell keep.
The stone tower dates from the 13th century and measures 12m square at the
base with walls up to 2.75m thick. Next to this tower are the foundations of a
building which is interpreted as a kitchen range with a serving hatch in its
east wall. Little of the buildings survives above ground.
In the 18th century the walls of a folly were constructed to the east of the
courthouse where they still form a castlellated feature. In the interior of
the platform there is now a walled garden dating from the 19th century and the
cells of the 18th century lock-ups have been incorporated in the east side of
this enclosure. In addition, the eastern half of the enclosure was laid out as
a bowling green in the 19th century levelling the interior and obscuring the
remains of any earlier buildings.
The castle ruins are Listed Grade I.
Two concrete platforms for pavilions for the bowling green in the centre of
the site are excluded in the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A shell keep castle is a masonry enclosure, extending around the top of an
earlier motte or castle ringwork, and replacing the existing timber palisades;
there are a few cases where the wall is built lower down the slope or even at
the bottom. The enclosure is usually rounded or sub-rounded but other shapes
are also known. A shell keep is relatively small, normally between 15 and 25m
diameter, with few buildings, and perhaps one tower only, within its interior.
Shell keeps were built over a period of about 150 years, from not long after
the Norman Conquest until the mid-13th century; most were built in the 12th
century. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families and occur in both urban and rural situations.
Shell keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a marked
concentration in the Welsh Marches. The distribution also extends into Wales
and to a lesser extent into Scotland. They are rare nationally with only 71
recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two
examples being exactly alike. Along 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 education resource, both
with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval
society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are
considered to be nationally important.

The present castle dates from the 13th century but it is clear from
excavations that it supercedes a motte and bailey castle which occupied the
north western side of the site. This form of castle was introduced by the
Normans and consisted of a mound of earth capped by a timber fortification. A
ditch was cut into the bedrock on the east side and the attached bailey
occupied the rest of the crown of the hill.
The ruins of the castle at Halton survive well despite the later insertion of
a courthouse on the site of the gatehouse and the creation of a folly garden
within the ruins. It has within the western half of the interior the buried
remains of an extensive range of late medieval domestic buildings as well as
the remains of six lock-ups from the 18th century refurbishment of the site as
a courthouse and prison. Excavation during 1986-7 has revealed that much of
the site retains buried deposits of the earlier phases of occupation of the
castle. The castle is a prominent local landmark. When it is considered
together with the priory and later abbey at Norton and the remains of the
medieval village of Norton, it is clear that here are the vestiges of an
extensive surviving medieval landscape. Many of the features of this landscape
survive in an area of extensive 20th century development for the new towns of
Widnes and Runcorn.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
McNeil, R, Halton Castle a Visual Treasure, (1987)
McNeil, R, Halton Castle a Visual Treasure, (1987)
McNeil, R, Halton Castle a Visual Treasure, (1987), 27
McNeil, R, Halton Castle a Visual Treasure, (1987), 21
Ormerod, , History of Cheshire, (1882)
Ormerod, , History of Cheshire, (1882)

Source: Historic England

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