Beeston Castle is a stunning castle in Cheshire, England. It is situated on a large, and almost daunting, crag of sandstone that is said to offer enchanting views over at least 8 different counties. It is often known as the ‘Castle on the Rock’, and was built around previous earthworks of an old, Iron Age hillfort. Tales of buried treasure often ring out, though this has never been proven. However, it is rumoured that Henry IV found it and recovered it for himself.
Beeston Castle’s history
This lovely castle is one of the most dramatic ruins ever featured in the English landscape. While it was never a site that held a huge amount of historical importance, the old and persistent legends of gold buried in the area kept its story alive. Nowadays, it receives all of the loving attention it deserves and is open to the public. However, a lot has happened between now and then.
So, let’s take a look into the enchanting and long-lived history of Beeston Castle.
The early history
Evidence shows some sort of human activity on the site in the form of flint tools that date back to the Neolithic period. There is also a small amount of evidence pointing to the Early Bronze Age due to burial mounds and funerary material. This material also suggests that it had specific ritual significance.
Further archaeological excavation also shows that the hilltop was fortified around 1000 BC which was later in the Bronze Age. Also found at the site were excavated objects such as moulds and crucibles for smelting which indicated that Beeston was previously a very important metalworking centre. During the early part of the Iron Age, the bank was enlarged, and an external ditch was added to create an enclosure, also known as a hillfort.
Building Beeston Castle
It was during the baronial civil war of King John’s reign, that Ranulf, Earl of Chester, was a large supporter of the royal cause. In exchange for his loyalty, he received titles, castles, and large plots of land throughout England. When Henry III succeeded the throne in 1218, Ranulf, in turn, left England to take part in the fifth crusade. In 1220, he then returned to see Huber de Burgh, the king’s justiciar, or viceroy, confiscating all of the land from other men who had taken the chance to enrich themselves previously.
Ranulf had the urge to guarantee his political position, so he went forth and, sometime in the 1220s, began to work on Beeston Castle. Ranulf very strongly desired to show his potential strength and things such as the rock-cut ditch, the inner and outer gatehouses, much of the curtain wall in the inner ward and at least one tower on the outer curtain wall are said to be his doing. It is no lie that he put plenty of effort into this masterpiece.
Home to royalty
In the year 1232, Ranulf died and Beeston Castle, as well as the Earldom of Chester, passed onto his nephew, John le Scot. When John died in 1237, Henry III seized the earl’s estates which included Beeston. It is likely, due to many factors, that Beeston likely never received a full suite of domestic buildings and instead, the services were concentrated in the gatehouse and curtain-wall towers.
When 1254 came around, Henry III went forth and granted Beeston, as well as the Earldom of Chester, to his son, Edward I. This then meant that Cheshire became part of the royal lands. Beeston Castle was overshadowed in importance by the castle at Chester all throughout the Middle Ages. This is because the other castle was used as a base for English military expeditions. Evidence suggests that at this time, it may have operated as a secure place to hold hostages.
Rebuilding Beeston Castle
When the early 14th century rolled around, the castle saw a period of rebuilding. A total of £109 was spent between September 1303 and September 1304 to rebuild. A large majority of the work took place in the inner ward where towers were subsequently raised and crenellated. It is thought that most of the money went towards the building of a new bridge with a great stone wall before the bridge as support in the year 1312.
It was reported in the year 1333, that the castle was ‘well and surely sited on a rocky eminence, and very well enclosed’. It was also said that no repairs were necessary. John Leland worried that the castle was ruinous in 1540 and he recorded this in writing. In 1602, the manor of Peckforton, which included Beeston Castle, was sold to a local man by the name of Hugh Beeston.
The Civil War
After the outbreak of the Civil War in the year 1642, the location of Beeston Castle made it very favourable in the centre of Cheshire. Both the supporters of King Charles and Parliament found it extremely valuable. In February of 1643, a Parliamentary garrison of around 300 men was installed in the castle, though the defences were in a very poor state and gaps in the curtain wall had to be filled with earth.
In December of 1643, the Royalist Captain Thomas Sandford along with eight men entered the castle and took control of the inner ward. After this, more Royalists surrounded the gate and the castle was, in turn, surrendered. The reduced Parliamentary garrison left the next day. The Parliamentary siege of Chester in November 1644 made it necessary to remove the potential threat of Beeston’s Royalist garrison. A blockade was then enforced by raising siegeworks in front of the outer ward.
Royalists destroyed them in the early summer of 1645 and the Parliamentarians responded by building a fort for around 100 men within musket shot of the gate.
After the surrender
Soon after, there was very little reason for the Royalists to continue holding Beeston, so they surrendered on November 15th, 1645. It is said that at this point, the garrison had been forced to eat cats to survive. After the surrender, the siegeworks were completely dismantled and Beeston Castle was made to be made indefensible. The castle then passed to Sir Thomas Mostyn.
In the 18th century, the site was quarried for rock and during this, the gatehouse was partly demolished to allow carts to fit in and out. However, this led to it being more adored and valued as a ruin. The great ruin even provided inspiration for Romantic artists and painters, including JMW Turner. In the year 1840, the Peckforton estate, which included Beeston Castle, was bought by John Tollemache who later on became 1st Lord Tollemache of Helmingham.
The ruins of Beeston Castle were an important part of the landscape and provided such a grand view that Tollemache let it remain to show his guests. He also made sure that significant repairs were undertaken to spruce it up. In the 19th century, the castle quickly became a tourist attraction that was facilitated by the opening of the Chester to Crewe railway
The present day
These days, the castle still stands proud atop a rocky crag that allows spectacular views for all those who visit. On a clear day, you can see from the Pennines to the Welsh mountain. With an impressively long history, a replica Bronze Age roundhouse, and hidden treasure, there is so much to see. You can even visit Beeston Castle and Woodland park so that everyone has something to enjoy.
You may enjoy reading about other English castles such as Leeds Castle.
Beeston Castle Timeline
- 1000 BC- The hilltop is fortified around
- 1220- Ranulf begins work on Beeston Castle
- 1232- Ranulf dies and passed the castle and Earldom of Chester onto his nephew John le Scot
- 1237- John died and Henry III seizes the estates
- 1254- Henry III grants Beeston, as well as the Earldom of Chester, to his son, Edward I
- 1303-1304- Rebuilding of the castle commences
- 1333- It is reported that the castle is ‘well and surely sited on a rocky eminence, and very well enclosed’
- 1540- John Leland worries that the castle is ruinous he records this in writing
- 1602- The manor of Peckforton, which includes the castle, is sold to a local man by the name of Hugh Beeston
- 1643- A Parliamentary garrison of around 300 men is installed in the castle
- 1645- Royalist’s surrender
- 18th century- The site is quarried for rock
- 1840- The Peckforton estate which includes Beeston Castle, is bought by John Tollemache who later on became 1st Lord Tollemache of Helmingham
- 19th century- The castle quickly becomes a tourist attraction
Facts about Beeston Castle
- The cliff that Beeston Castle sits atop is roughly 500-feet high
- The castle very much resembles the fortress at Sahyoun
- The castle’s defenses were strengthened and rebuilt many times
- Legend says that a vast treasure was hidden at Beeston by Richard I though it was thought to have been kept by Henry VI, others say it was never found
Featured in TV and Film
- The Spirit of Cheshire (1980)
- Robin Hood (1991)
- Best Walks with a View with Julia Bradbury (2016)
Books on Beeston Castle
- Beeston Castle, Cheshire (Archaeological Report / English Heritage) by Peter Ellis (1993)
- Beeston Castle (English Heritage Guidebooks) by Robert Liddiard (2007)
- Beeston Castle by Jody Cletus (2011)
Who owns Beeston Castle?
English Heritage cares for roughly 400 historic monuments, buildings, and places with Beeston Castle being one of them. Though it is now in ruins, English Heritage has done a great job of preserving what they can to keep it in a decent condition for visitors.
This lovely castle was developed as a tourist attraction back in the 19th century, and in the year 1945, the fête was made an annual event held every August. The castle is open to visit and Beeston Castle tickets can be found here. Adult tickets are £9.90 or free if you have a membership. You can also visit the small museum and visitor’s centre to gain more in-depth knowledge.
It has the best views of all castles in England, and you can even visit the Beeston Castle caves. Nearby, you can also visit the Ice Cream Farm and Chester Zoo. It is well worth the visit.