Chester Castle made up part of the walls of the city with a spectacular view of river Dee. In the castle, you will have the opportunity to see the remains of the medieval castle and some of the buildings, which were built from 1788 to 1813. Thomas Harrison designed these buildings. Today, some of those buildings that were designed by Harrison are used as crown courts and even military museums. You will have the chance to visit the museum and see all the medieval remains that happen to be great tourist attraction in Chester.
History of Chester Castle
William the conqueror founded Chester Castle in the year 1070. In early times, Chester castle acted as the administrative centre of Chester. In the 12th century, it was rebuilt in stone and the outer bailey was added. Also during the same century, the inner bailey was added. This is known as the Agricola tower. On the first floor, the chapel of St Mary de Castro is located. The chapel contains very interesting and unique Norman architecture. In 1237, the last earl past away and Chester castle was taken over by the king. During the Barons’ war in the 1265, this castle was taken over by Simon de Montfort for about ten weeks. The supporters of Simon were against the supporters of Prince Edward who was the son of Henry the third.
During the era of Henry the third and Edward I, a lot of construction was undertaken, the outer bailey was built and also accommodation houses were built including the great hall, which was along the south wall of the inner bailey. A new gateway to the outer bailey was constructed during this time. Chester Castle also acted as military headquarter for Wales during the conquest.
The crypt of the Agricola towers acted as a prison to some historical figures, include Andrew de Moray, Duke of Gloucester, Richard II and many others. Lancastrians also captured people including Yorkist John Neville during the war of roses and put them in the castle. The gloverstone was located outside the outer bailey gate which was the area where criminals who were just about to be executed were given to the city authorities of Chester. In the 1570s, the great hall was rebuilt.
Chester Castle also acted as the headquarters of Governor John Lord Byron. This was during the civil war that started at 1642 and ended at 1646. During the time of the civil war, the castle was used as a prison, court and as a tax office. James II attended a service at the chapel of St. Mary de Castro in 1687. In the early 1800s, the castle was not as good looking as now. John Howard was particularly worried about the conditions of the prison. Thomas Harrison was given the duty to design the prison and after completion it was ranked as the most beautiful and well-constructed prison in the country. Harrison was then given the responsibility to rebuild other buildings including the medieval shire hall and two new wings in the castle. One of the wing acted as an armoury and the other one as a barracks. All this was done from 1788 to 1822.
The court’s foundation was laid over the old moat of the medieval castle which led to cracking and in 1920 major repairs were done. Inside the court, there were twelve strong columns that were there as support. The court was built in a semi-circle angle. The military now moved in and became the residents of the castle and in 1873, a system of recruiting areas based in various counties had begun.
This was done with respect to the Cardwell reforms. After very many years of being used as a warehouse and a place of storing weapons, change came in the year 1925. The chapel in the Agricola tower was now rededicated to be of use to the people by bishop of Chester. The chapel was furnished in 1939 once more. The church now even hosted an education centre, which is under the administration of Cheshire county council. There are painting on the walls that have been dated to around 1220 that were found in the chapel in the 1980s. Up to date the castle serves as a museum, court and county hall. The military moved out of the castle in 1999.
After the military moved out of the castle, it was cleared, cleaned and renovated before being opened to the public. The flag tower was built at the centre of the moat and had a wooden palisade that was on top of it. The palisade was then replaced with stone and was built in line with front of the flag tower. This was done so that the flag tower may be in line with the wall. Today, the remains of the flag tower are visible though one cannot see it when outside the castle since only the lower part of the flag tower is present today.
The Agricola tower remains in excellent condition after repairs and is actually the only tower that remains today as the other towers were demolished to create space for the new buildings of court in the end of the 18th century. Chester was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the three-army bases. The first defences were built near the river that was wide hence was also used as a major port. The first defences used by the Romans were a 15-foot high wall with buildings built using timber. The wall was later rebuilt using stone with 26 towers and 4 gates.
The present city walls to the east and north sides are mainly in roman style. These walls later went through some changes in the 13th century with the southern and western walls being demolished. The castle, that was then a Roman fort, had four gates being evenly distributed in the four sides. The gates on the north and east sides can be seen even today. The west and south gates had to be demolished and two new gates were built. These new gates, which were built by then, are now referred to as the Watergate and the ship gate. In 1938, new gate was constructed and concrete footbridge was built. The concrete footbridge was built in 1966 and was named St Martins gate. The upper cells still stand today and currently serve as holding cells for prisoners when waiting for court appearance, which is the Chester crown court.
Chester Castle and Agricola Tower is open for guided tours only.
The ‘Views from Chester Castle’ tour runs Fri – Sun from 20 July to 16 September, 10.30am – 4pm.
Address: Grosvenor Street , Chester, Cheshire, CH1 2DN
Getting around Chester
Parking in Chester can be difficult during peak seasonal periods, and the park and ride facilities are very handy during these periods (free busses every 10 minutes). If you are staying within Chester there are local busses, hop on hop off tourist busses, taxis in Chester can be booked or head off to one of many taxi ranks dotted around the city.