Chester Castle & the Cheshire Regiment

Chester Castle was once a great stone fortress and the seat of power in the North-West of England.

Following his success at the battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror established a string of motte-and-bailey castles to protect his territories. The original castle at Chester was built of timber by William's nephew, Hugh d'Avranches (also known as Hugh Lupus), the first Norman Earl of Chester. The timber tower was built atop an earth mound.Chester Castle as a motte-and-bailey castle established by Willian the Conqueror

In the 12th-13th centuries the castle was rebuilt in stone and extended by successive Earls of Chester, who were some of the most powerful nobles in the country, with towers and gate-houses. When the seventh Earl of Chester died without issue it became the property of the Crown and was afterwards used by Henry IV and Edward I as a base for their campaigns against the Welsh. It was also used as the meeting place for the Irish Parliament during time of unrest in Ireland.

In Norman times Chester Castle was the seat of power of the Earls of Chester. The first earl, Hugh Lupus (Hugh 'the Wolf') held his parliament here. The last Norman earl dies in 1237. Since 1301 the earldom has been held by successive Princes of Wales, heirs to the throne, in recognition of Chester's political and military importance.

Chester castle was built in a prominent position controlling the River Dee, the port of Chester and the road to Wales across the Old Dee Bridge.

18th century watercolour of Chester Castle by Moses Griffith

The above 18th century watercolour by Moses Griffith shows the Castle before much of it was demolished after 1788. Today the most significant surviving structures are the 12 century gate tower called the Agricola Tower, and the Flag Tower, the original stone tower on the motte.

By the Middle Ages Chester Castle had become an administrative rather than a military centre. With the advent of the Civil War, the Walls were repaired and a defensive ditch was dug but the Royalists were forced to surrender in 1646. In 1686-7 a new armoury was built and a mint was established in 1696-8.

As a Palatine County on the northern Welsh marches, Cheshire was ruled as a separate entity from England by the Earl of Chester from Chester Castle and had its own Court and Exchequer. Richard II had a personal bodyguard of Cheshire Archers, who were said to be 'intolerably arrogant, insolent ruffians who lived on far too intimate terms with the king'.

Agricola's Tower

The Agricola Tower, also known as the Chapel Tower, was part of the original gateway to the inner bailey.At the south-east corner of the central block is what little remains of the original stone castle. The so-called 'Agricola's Tower', more correctly called the Chapel Tower, marks the original gateway to the inner bailey of the castle. Nearby there is a fragment of curtain wall,the remains of the Flag Tower, and a guardroom where a series of information panels relate the castle's history

Chapel of St Mary De Castro

This tiny chapel lies off a steep spiral staircase inside Agricola's Tower. Built for the earls of Chester circa 1200, it is now the chapel of the 22nd Cheshire Regiment. The recently discovered frescoes depicting miracles of the Virgin are thought to date from the 13th century.

Chester Castle Today

The present day castle was rebuilt in 1788-1822 to the designs of Thomas Harrison, who was a leading exponent of the Greek Revival. It takes the form of one central block and two separate wings, which border three sides of the massive parade ground. County Hall occupies part of the former County Gaol, which was closed in 1884. The statue of Queen Victoria was unveiled in 1903.

The Castle as the Depot of the Cheshire Regiment from 1881

In the 18th century there was a plan to refortify the castle as a star fort, but it was never implemented. Instead the classical architect Thomas Harrison was chosen to demolish the medieval castle and build the fine Greek revival square that is there today. The Cheshire Regiment moved into the buildings in 1881 and remained there until 1940 when a depot was established at the Dale Barracks on the edge of Chester.

Chester Castle Gate in 1915 during a recruiting drive by the Cheshire Regiment.

The above picture shows the Castle Gate during the First World War. The mass of posters are part of a volunteer recruitment drive in 1915. The soldier in the foreground is believed to be Sergeant-Major Edwards, a reservist of the Cheshire Regiment and also landlord of the nearby Saddle Inn.

In the 1950s the Cheshire Regimental Headquarters was moved back to the castle and remained there until the Cheshire Regiment was amalgamated in 2007, along with two other county regiments, into the Mercian Regiment. The Cheshire Regimental Museum was first opened in 1968 and remains at the Castle today. The Army formally returned the other buildings to the Crown in the late 1990s.

Plan of Chester Castle from 1881
    •A Original Barracks of 1810 including:-
  1. Accommodation
  2. Court
  3. Married Quarters
  4. Cookhouse
  5. Cell
  6. The Provost (duty men)
  • B Original Armoury - later Officers' Mess (1804)
  • C Napier House - Barrack Accommodation (1830)
  • D The Esplanade (Barrack Square)
  • E The Courts (1788)
  • F Guardroom
  • G Gun Sheds (Soldiers' Gym & Dining Room)
  • H Sergeants' Mess (Frobishers House) (1686) attached to Half Moon Tower (1220)
  • J Agricola Tower - Chapel 12th Century with 14th Century rebuild
  • K Flag Tower (1159) Armoury in 17th Century believed to be site of the original Norman keep (1076)
  • L St. Mary's on the hill
  • M Propylaea (gate) (1811)
  • The long association between the Castle Complex and the military is celebrated annually when Retreat is beaten on the Castle Square.

    Cheshire Military Museum

    The museum tells the history of four famous regiments connected with Cheshire; the 22nd Cheshire Regiment, the Cheshire Yeomanry, the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and the 3rd Carabiniers. Among the many exhibits is a reconstruction of the Cheshire Yeomanry in action against the Vichy French Spahis at Litani Bridge.

    Chester Castle. Looking north up to the motte from the direction of the old harbour.

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