10 famous (and not so famous) castles in Cheshire

Beeston Castle

An aerial view of Beeston Castle - Credit: Kurt Thomas, DKS

Stephen Roberts takes a tour of the county's regal landmarks and remembers those long gone

Cheshire has many interesting fortifications including ones glaring across the border at the Welsh and others maintaining a watchful eye on one another from neighbouring hills. Included are a couple of faux castles, castles replaced by houses where there's an opportunity for a good day out and locations where there is the opportunity to see what remains of the original. 

Beeston Castle in Beeston, Cheshire from the out-of-copyright book, English Illustrated Magazine

Beeston Castle from the out-of-copyright book English Illustrated Magazine, published in 1886 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Beeston (English Heritage)

Around halfway between Chester and Crewe, Beeston stands atop a 500-foot sandstone crag only approachable from the south. Castle builders always had defensibility in mind and here they supplied one of England’s most spectacularly sited. The keep-less castle was erected by Ranulf de Blundeville, 6th Earl of Chester, in 1220, a pair of connected drum towers protecting its gatehouse. After the demise of the Blundevilles, Henry III seized the castle only to have it wrenched away by rebel leader Simon de Montfort during the second Barons’ War. Richard II deposited his treasure here shortly before being deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. The castle saw action during the English Civil War when it was captured by Royalists, regained by Parliament, then slighted (destroyed) in 1646. Extensive repairs began from the late-1950s and there’s a 40-acre woodland park to enjoy. english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/beeston-castle-and-woodland-park

Ancient city walls of Chester in England

Ancient city walls of Chester - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Chester (English Heritage)

Once an important walled city replete with castle, we only have that fine circuit of walls and Agricola’s Tower today. In an excellent example of reuse, this Roman site was strengthened by the Saxons and Normans who threw up their favoured motte and bailey in 1070, the large buttressed tower added in the 12th century. Henry III annexed Chester to the crown as well as Beeston (also losing it to de Montfort) and under Edward I it became a military HQ for his Welsh conquest. From the time of the famed Black Prince, the eldest son of the sovereign has been Earl of Chester. The castle doubled up as a prison, one famous resident being the convicted sorceress Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, in 1442. Between 1788 and 1813 the outer bailey was rebuilt in neoclassical style, housing the county hall, courts and regimental museum. english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chester-castle-agricola-tower-and-castle-walls

Cholmondeley Castle 

A bird's eye view of Cholmondeley Castle - Credit: Kurt Thomas, DKS Drones

Cholmondeley (Privately owned)

We have a couple of ‘cheats’ or faux castles in among my featured fortresses but they are too good to omit. As far as castles are concerned they don’t have to be old to be worth visiting. Cholmondeley was built over 1801-04 for George Cholmondeley, 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley, the architect being Sir Robert Smirke who also threw up the main block and façade of the British Museum. The new castle was built on the site of a previous timber-framed hall, the location a seat of the Cholmondeleys since the 12th century. During WW2 the house and grounds were used by the military including for a hospital, while today, the 70 acres of park and gardens open during the summer season. There’s a play area and café. (https://cholmondeleycastle.com)

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Peckforton Castle with Beeston Castle beyond - Credit: Kurt Thomas, DKS Drones

Peckforton (Hotel and events venue)

I mentioned castles maintaining a watchful eye on one another, well, Peckforton and Beeston fit that bill, although Peckforton was a relative Johnny Come Lately for a castle as it’s a Victorian creation – a reproduction castle – of 1844-50. Built for John Tollemarche, 1st Baron Tollemarche, a wealthy Cheshire landowner and MP, it was constructed in the guise of a Gothic-styled medieval fortress and is today Grade I Listed. The castle has had a number of uses thereafter: a hostel for physically handicapped children during WW2, a rather grand ‘location house’ for film and TV and latterly, after being sold in 1988, a luxury 48-room hotel and events venue catering for weddings and conferences. peckfortoncastle.co.uk

Halton Castle as it appeared in 1727

Halton Castle as it appeared in 1727. Engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck - Credit: Peter I. Vardy/ Commons/ Wikipedia

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Halton (Duchy of Lancaster)

Another castle atop a high hill, Halton, near Frodsham, was once a fortress of importance. Built in Henry II’s reign (the king who had the spat with Becket), it had nine large towers dotted around the curtain wall, two of which defended a stubborn gateway. The de Lacys lived here for many years, while John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, used it as a hunting lodge. During the English Civil War Halton was garrisoned by Cheshire Royalist Lord Rivers, but was captured for Parliament by Handforth-born Lord Brereton who was MP for Cheshire. The castle was then demolished, which was the usual punishment meted out by Parliament for castles held against it. Its remaining walls, which are still 20-30 foot high in places, overlook Halton village, while its courthouse (1737) is the Grade II* Listed Castle Hotel. thecastlehalton.co.uk

Doddington (Privately owned)

Below Crewe and a few miles off the M6 lies the Doddington Estate where the centrepiece is Doddington Hall, built between 1777 and 1798 for the Reverend Sir Thomas Broughton, Baronet, direct descendant of the Sir Thomas Delves who in 1642 had joined other Cheshire gents in delivering a remonstrance to King Charles I, which saw him arrested. Later, during the English Civil War, Doddington was garrisoned for Parliament. Sir Thomas was tenth in succession from Sir John Delves who built the original fortified mansion, with ‘licence to crenellate’ in 1364. A tower from this house is adorned with statues of the Black Prince and four knights, including Delves, who fought at Poitiers. During WW2 Doddington was requisitioned as the European HQ of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Doddington Hall is open on selected days. thedoddingtonestate.co.uk

Grazing deer at the south front of Dunham Massey

Grazing deer at the south front of Dunham Massey - Credit: ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey, nationaltrust.org.uk

Dunham Massey (National Trust)

Hamo de Masei built a castle here, which passed through various owners including Sir George Booth, 1st Baronet (1566-1652) of an ancient family that settled at Dunham Massey. The Booths united with another ancient family, the Greys, in 1736. The emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie (1892-1975) visited Dunham Massey for four days in 1936. Forty years later, in 1976, the estate was left to the National Trust by the 10th Earl, Lord Stamford. At the time it was the largest bequest in Trust history. The old castle is no longer extant save for its moat, now an ornamental lake in the grounds of today’s Georgian house, however, the latter can be explored along with more than 300 acres of parkland. There’s a number of eateries and a shop. nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey

Frodsham Castle, c.1720

Frodsham Castle, c.1720, with a view across to Halton Castle on the hill opposite. An Engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, from the History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, 1882 by G Ormerod - Credit: Commons/Wikimedia 

Frodsham (Cheshire West & Chester Council)

The ruins of Frodsham Castle stand on Overton Hill, south of Runcorn, and look across at Halton. The original castle, dating to c.1070, was destroyed in a blaze in 1654 on the same night its owner Sir John Savage died. A similar pattern evolved as at Doddington and Dunham Massey, with a new house, Park Place, emerging in the 18th century (c.1750), built for lawyer Robert Ashley. The cellars of the new house incorporated some of the old castle’s dungeons. Grade II Listed Park House, or Castle Park House as it's also known, is used for a variety of functions along with its park. The former coach house has been developed into an arts centre with café.

Malpas (Visible from church)

Near St Oswald’s Church are the remains of a 40-yard diameter motte and outer ditch, what’s left of one of those border strongholds, built by the Earl of Chester, who may have been Gerbod the Fleming, the 1st Earl, who was given the Earldom by William the Conqueror, although his successor, the 2nd Earl, Hugh d’Avranches (c.1047-1101), dubbed ‘le Gros’ (the Fat) seems favoured. Malpas has been described as one of a line of Norman castles protecting Cheshire’s western border from Welsh incursion, which specifically guarded the Roman road from Chester that was still in use. The church is quite likely occupying the site of the castle’s former bailey, or courtyard. The castle may have lapsed as early as the 12th century.

Pulford (Visible from church)

Originally the site of a Saxon stronghold guarding the Wrexham-Chester road and a river crossing, the Pulford Brook, which forms the border between England and Wales, Pulford Castle was built by the Pulfords in the early 12th century. During the rising of Owain Glyndŵr (1403) the then owner, Sir Thomas Grosvenor, sallied out with an army of Cheshire men to defend the Marches from the Welsh. The castle remains are visible immediately south of St Mary’s Church. As with Malpas, there’s a motte, with an encircling earthwork. The castle was probably occupied until the 14th century.

And more, some lost in the mists of time

Aldford – Harp-shaped castle on Blobb Hill, three miles south of Chester, which defended the Dee

Bradleigh Old Hall – 15th-century manor house with moat and fortified gatehouse

Dodleston – Moated castle where Sir William Brereton was headquartered during the Siege of Chester

Kingsley – A motte survives that is 75 feet in diameter and just over nine foot in height

Macclesfield – The Earls of Chester had a castle here on Castle Field

Nantwich – A castle that lay in ruins by 1485, the end of the Wars of the Roses

Newhall Tower – A likely 13th-century castle that was ruinous by the late-16th

Northwich – First referred to in the 1190s, there is no trace of the castle today

Oldcastle – First documented in 1288, the castle was also ruinous by 1485

Shipbrook – A castle, built on Castle Hill, was still standing at the end of the 17th century

Shocklach – An important link in a line of castles from Aldford to Malpas

Shotwick – One of Cheshire’s principal strongholds in the mid-13th century

Stockport – The Earls of Chester had a castle here that was held against Henry II

Warrington – No trace of the castle remains, the site now occupied by a park

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