Beeston Castle was built by Ranulf, Earl of Chester, in 1220AD, following his return from the Crusades. It is situated on a rocky outcrop that rises 500ft above the Cheshire plain, on the site of an Iron Age settlement - the outer bailey wall being built along the line of the earlier defensive earthworks.
Ranulf died in 1232AD, before work on the castle could be completed. When his heir died in 1237AD, Henry III took Beeston Castle into royal hands, recognising its strategic importance in his war against the Welsh. From then on, Henry utilised Beeston as a supply point and garrison for his army.
The crown maintained the castle for the duration of the Welsh wars. Henry enlarged the fortifications, and used the site to house enemy prisoners. During this time, no effort was made to equip Beeston as a conventional castle. Whilst its defences were complete, no permanent stone dwellings had been constructed, and it is likely that the occupants were living in timber dwellings. Beeston was very much a border garrison rather than a noble lord's residence.
In 1254AD, Henry gifted Beeston (along with the title Earl of Chester)to his son, Edward. After coming to the throne in 1272AD, Edward maintained and improved the castle, and continued his father's war against the Welsh.
Throughout the 14th Century, successive monarchs continued to keep Beeston in a good state of repair. By this time, Wales was largely subdued, and Beeston's strategic importance was in decline. Welsh rebellion in the 15th Century probably served to keep the castle in Royal hands, but by the 16th Century, it was of little use to the crown. In 1602AD, the castle was sold to to Sir Hugh Beeston.
During the English civil war, Chester was occupied by Royalist forces and utilised as a base for landing Irish troops. In 1643AD, The Parliamentarians took the opportunity to occupy Beeston as a site of strategic importance, garrisoning troops there and repairing the neglected fortifications. In December of that year, a small Royalist force infiltrated the castle and took its governor unawares. He surrendered the fortress, and was later shot for this failure.
The following year, Beeston was placed under siege. This was to last a year, until starvation eventually forced the Royalists to surrender. In 1643AD, the castle walls were slighted, and Beeston fell into decay and ruin.
Today, it's easy to see how Beeston Castle would have represented an awesome obstacle to a besieging army. Perched atop a rocky outcrop at the top of a steep climb, surrounded by cliffs, and defended by imposing walls, it's unsurprising that it was never taken by brute force. The area enclosed by the walls of the outer bailey may give some indication of the size of army that was once housed here. Although the walls are in poor repair, it's easy to trace their course and gain an impression of the castle's layout.
The gatehouse providing entrance to the inner bailey offers the most dramatic view at Beeston, perched on the edge of a cliff, and approached by a modern bridge. With its drawbridge raised, it would have looked unassailable. Within the inner walls, the skeletons of a handful of buildings remain. From here, the views out over the Cheshire countryside are spectacular, and it is said that on a clear day, eight counties are visible to the naked eye.
The wooded hills surrounding the castle are a tourist attraction in their own right, offering a pleasant area for walking. Indeed, this was already the case during the 19th Century, when a new gatehouse was erected at the entrance to the site.
Despite the fact that the ruins are in some ways unremarkable, their striking location and the beauty of the setting make a visit to Beeston well worth the effort.