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Updated 03/18/2020


Chester Castle

Chester Castle is in the city of Chester, Cheshire, England. It is sited at the southwest extremity of the area bounded by the city walls.

The castle was built in 1070 by Hugh d'Avranches, the second Earl of Chester. It is possible that it was built on the site of an earlier Saxon fortification but this has not been confirmed. The original structure would have been a motte-and-bailey castle with a wooden tower. In the 12th century the wooden tower was replaced by a square stone tower, the Flag Tower. During the same century the stone gateway to the inner bailey was built. This is now known as the Agricola Tower and on its first floor is the chapel of St Mary de Castro. The chapel contains items of Norman architecture. In the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III, the walls of an outer bailey were built, the gateway in the Agricola Tower was blocked up and residential accommodation, including a Great Hall, was built along the south wall of the inner bailey. Later in the century, during the reign of Edward I, a new gateway to the outer bailey was built. This was flanked by two half-drum towers and had a drawbridge over a moat 26 feet deep. Further additions to the castle at this time included individual chambers for the King and Queen, a new chapel and stables.

Prominent people held as prisoners in the crypt of the Agricola Tower were Richard II and Eleanor Cobham, wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and Andrew de Moray, hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. During the Wars of the Roses, Yorkist John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu was captured and imprisoned at the castle by Lancastrians following the Battle of Blore Heath, near the town of Market Drayton, Shropshire, in 1459. He was released from captivity following the Yorkist victory at Northampton in 1460. Outside the outer bailey gate was an area known as the Gloverstone where criminals waiting for execution were handed over to the city authorities. The Great Hall was rebuilt in the late 1570s.

During the Civil War Chester was held by the Royalists. The castle was assaulted by Parliamentary forces in July 1643, and in January and April 1645. Together with the rest of the city, it was besieged between September 1645 and February 1646. Following the civil war the castle was used as a prison, a court and a tax office. In 1687 James II attended Mass in the chapel of St Mary de Castro. In 1696 Chester mint was established and was managed by Edmund Halley in a building adjacent to the Half Moon tower. During the 1745 Jacobite rising a gun emplacement was built on the wall overlooking the river.

By the later part of the 18th century much of the fabric of the castle had deteriorated and John Howard, the prison reformer, was particularly critical of the conditions in the prison. Thomas Harrison was commissioned to design a new prison. This was completed in 1792 and praised as one of the best constructed prisons in the country. Harrison then went on to rebuild the medieval Shire Hall in neoclassical style. He also built two new wings, one to act as barracks, the other as an armory, and designed a massive new entrance to the castle site, styled the Propylaeum. The buildings, which were all in neoclassical style, were built between 1788 and 1822.

In February 1867, Irish Fenian Michael Davitt led a group of IRB men from Haslingden on an abortive raid for arms on the castle.

The Army moved in to take hold of the castle and in 1873 a system of recruiting areas based on counties was instituted under the Cardwell Reforms and the castle became the depot for the two battalions of the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment of Foot. Under the Childers Reforms, the 22nd regiment evolved to become the Cheshire Regiment with its depot in the castle in 1881.

In 1925, after being used for 200 years as a warehouse and ammunition store, the crypt and chapel in the Agricola Tower were re-consecrated by the Bishop of Chester for the use of the Cheshire Regiment. In 1939 the chapel was refurnished. The castle remained the depot of the Cheshire Regiment until 1939, when the regiment moved out to Dale Barracks.