We took the 30-mile trip to Beeson Castle, somewhere I have been planning to visit for a long time. It is one of the most impressive and dramatic positionings of any castle in the land, but certainly any within Cheshire.
It sits upon a rocky outcrop high above the Cheshire plain commanding 360-degree views up to 30 miles (I could easily make out Jodrell Bank, 17 miles as the crow flies) and also on the horizon you could almost see as far back to Stoke on Trent with Alsager’s bank being just about visible. My imagination just runs wild in places like this. Gazing over the miles and miles of landscape breathing the fresh winter air in, I got a real sense of the thousands of years of people gazing into the horizon from this very vantage point and wondered what some of them may have been contemplating.
The castle was built in the 1220s by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester on his return from the Crusades. Ranulf died in 1232 and Beeston, together with the Earldom of Chester, was granted to Ranulf’s nephew, John le Scot. On John’s death in 1237 Henry III seized the earl’s estates, including Beeston where it became part of the Royal estate.
Treasure trove and Moon door
There is a large covered well within the inner ward which is the supposed hiding place of Richard II’s treasure including his personal fortune of “100,000 marks in gold coin and 100,000 marks in other precious objects”. It is estimated that that this would be worth over £200 million in today’s money.
One legend claims that Richard stored his treasure at Beeston before leaving from Chester on an expedition to Ireland in 1399, the year of his death, and that he hid his fortune in the castle’s deep well which apparently contains a number of passages.
It is said that when Richard returned from Ireland he was taken prisoner and thrown into the gaol of Flint Castle by the forces of Henry Bolinbroke, the Duke of Lancaster, later Henry IV. The garrison at Beeston surrendered and Bolinbroke made off with the treasure (as one story goes). The Dieulacres Chronicle, written by a monk of Dieulacres in Leek, Staffordshire before 1413 also records that Henry seized treasure and other valuables that had been buried. Such speculation underlie attempts to explore the well within the Inner ward (at 113m deep one of the deepest in England). There have been at least two organised explorations down the well, in 1842 and 1935. But, as yet, no treasure has been found.
During archaeological explorations throughout the decades there have been nine large circular iron age round houses discovered within the outer ward as well as a plethora of findings from these times. There is a feeling that this has been a special place as well as a place of industry, sanctuary and spirituality for a very long time indeed or as I like to think within these walls there is literally layers of history on top of history. There is an excellent reconstruction of a Bronze Age roundhouse with a smoking fire and volunteers on hand to explain the daily lives of the inhabitants.
Following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Beeston’s location in the centre of Cheshire made it valuable to both the supporters of King Charles I (r.1625–49) and Parliament. Despite several centuries of neglect the castle had a key role to play in the war before finally succumbing to Parliamentarian forces. With the defeat of the king at nearby Rowton Heath in 1645 there was little point in the Royalists continuing to hold out and Beeston surrendered on 15 November that year. By this stage the garrison had apparently been forced to eat cats (yowl!). Following the surrender, the siegeworks were dismantled and Beeston was ordered to be slighted (made indefensible) , a fate which befell a great many number of other castles after the war.
The castle is now managed by English Heritage having become a famous tourist destination over the previous two centuries as part of the nearby Peckforton Castle’s landscape. We did take the 5-minute drive over to Peckforton, which would make a wonderful and enchanting venue for any occasion for celebration but that is where the historical enchantment ends when compared with its elderly neighbour as it only dates from the mid-1840s.
Date of visit – 5th January 2020