Beeston Castle, Tarporley, Cheshire
by Miriam Bibby & Elizabeth Craig-Johnson
The ruined remains of a 13th century castle. Standing on a rocky crag high above the Cheshire Plain, Beeston Castle was built in the 1220s by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, on his return from the Crusades. The outstanding natural defences of the site show signs of human occupation dating back to Neolithic times. The earliest defensive structures in the form of earthworks on the crag were constructed either in the later Bronze Age or early Iron Age, and therefore date to the first millennium BCE. During the later Iron Age, defences were strengthened and facilities for storage were installed, suggesting the need to hold the hillfort against attackers, though there is little evidence for Roman influence at the site.
Ranulf de Blondeville (also rendered de Blundeville) was an experienced soldier and a loyal supporter of King John during the Barons’ War. For this he was granted lands and titles throughout the land. On returning from Crusade, Ranulf needed to reinforce his authority as his favour with the king began to decline. Using his knowledge of Crusader architecture as well as continuing aspects of the later Iron Age plan, Ranulf created several strong castles including Beeston. His design used strong round towers, curtain wall, and a double gateway rather than the traditional keep. It was a thoroughly practical military design, with little opportunity for any internal development in the rocky and uneven inner bailey. The large outer bailey, however, was big enough to house a large retinue.
Above: Engraving showing Beeston Castle from the south, 1727.
Ranulf died before the castle was complete, and it was soon taken over by Henry III who granted it to his son, Edward I. A major programme of refurbishment and rebuilding took place in the 14th century, but by the 16th century Beeston Castle fell into disuse and decay. However, Beeston Castle’s strategic importance and defensive location was too important to be ignored. Occupied by Parliamentarian forces in 1643, a small force of Royalists nonetheless managed to enter and provide access for other supporters. After being bombarded in 1644 to 1645, the besieged Royalists finally capitulated after the Battle of Rowton Heath. It was partially demolished in 1646, in accordance with Oliver Cromwell’s destruction order, to prevent its further use as a stronghold. Treasure belonging to Richard II is rumoured to be hidden in the castle grounds. In the 19th century, Beeston Castle underwent further restoration and became a popular venue for visitors.