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


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 53793 59198

Reasons for Designation

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 important.

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.


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.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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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)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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