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History of the Castle

Following the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last independent Prince of Wales in 1282, Edward I gave John de Warenne, the 7th Earl of Surrey, the lordships of Bromfield and Yale. To secure his newly gained lands, John built Holt Castle, also known as Lion’s Castle, to control a nearby strategic ford across the River Dee.

Holt Castle, from the south-east, prior to 2006 consolidation work

Holt Castle, from the south-east, following the 2006 consolidation work

Holt Castle, from the south-east, 2015

In 1296 de Warenne, as leader of the English army in Scotland, defeated the Scottish forces at the Battle of Dunbar. Edward I deposed the Scottish King John Balliol and made de Warenne Regent of Scotland. It was a job that only brought him trouble. William Wallace led a revolt and defeated de Warenne and the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge on September 11th 1296. De Warenne was forced to flee the field of battle and make his excuses to Edward I “Longshanks”.

Reconstruction drawing (1990s) of Holt Castle, 14th-15th century from the North

During the middle of the 14th century the castle came into the ownership of Richard Fitzalan, the 10th Earl of Arundel; in whose family it remained until the mid 15th century when the 12th Earl died without issue. Richard III granted the castle to Sir William Stanley in 1484, who held it until his execution by Henry VII in 1495, when it again reverted to the Crown.

Illustration of Holt Castle, c.1620, Norden's Survey © British Library, BL Harl., Ms. 3696, folio 5

Reconstruction drawing (2015) of Holt Castle, c. 1325

A long siege during the Civil War heralded the decline of the castle and many of its stones were later removed by Thomas Grosvenor to build the original Eaton Hall near Chester.

17th century Stained glass window in Farndon Church showing Civil War soldiers' uniforms, weapons and equipment. Farndon is on the Cheshire side of the River Dee facing Holt.

The site is worth a visit, not least for its picturesque location next to the River Dee and new seating makes it a perfect spot for walkers wishing to rest their legs. Nearby is the attractive mediaeval bridge that spans the English-Welsh border and St Chad’s church dating to 1395.

The Castle

The castle when completed in about 1308 was one of strongest ever constructed. It consisted of inner and outer wards, each with their own defences and gates. The inner ward was pentagonal in shape with a high round tower at each of the corners.

Plan of Holt Castle, c. 1620, Norden’s Survey © British Library, BL Harl., Ms. 3696, folio 5

Between the towers were five ranges of rooms over three storeys and included halls, kitchens, stables and bed chambers. To the north, across the massive rock cut ditch, an outer square entrance tower linked the inner and outer wards via two draw bridges, whilst the south east tower also included a water gate giving access from the River Dee.

The outer ward appears to have been semi circular in plan also included various buildings including the Lordship’s courthouse.

Holt Castle through the ages