IN F CUSO
BELOW Two skeletons, respectively from the 15th and c.16th-17th centuries, were recently and unexpectedly uncovered at
Halton Castle. Very few castle burials are known nationally in similar contexts,
so how do they fit in with Halton’s turbulent history?
The bodies in the bailey The bodies in the bailey
Uncovering enigmatic graves at Halton Castle
The discovery of two graves during excavations at Halton Castle came as a complete surprise. Who were the individuals interred here, and why might they have been laid to rest within the castle walls? Tom Fildes and Carla Burrell explore some possibilities.
Of the three medieval stone castles still surviving in Cheshire, Halton is the northernmost. Its ruins crown a promontory just south-east of Runcorn’s riverfront, and have commanding views over surrounding counties. This strategic position was well chosen; excavations in the 1980s and in 2015 have revealed something of its turbulent history, from its rise and fall during the Middle Ages, and action in the Civil War, to its later use as a courthouse and then, during the Second World War, an observation point.
This is a story repeated in a number of English castles, but a discovery made in the closing days of the most recent excavations introduced an unusual twist to this otherwise familiar tale. Just a few metres from the northern curtain wall, archaeologists found two well-preserved human skeletons. Lying less than 2m apart in graves aligned east–west, their presence was as mysterious as it was unexpected. Who were these people, and why were they given the unusual privilege of a castle burial?
Recapturing the castle These latest finds came during an excavation financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Halton Borough Council, which saw some 400 local volunteers – led by Norton Priory Museum Trust and the University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology – excavate two large trenches in the lower bailey, peeling back thick, heavily mixed layers of modern and Victorian backfill. Beneath lay exciting, and much earlier, finds: a hefty chunk of surviving medieval wall running south from the outer defences, as well as a series of impressive rock-cut post-holes carved into the natural bedrock, and small finds including quantities of animal bone, coins spanning the castle’s history, and over 1,700 pottery fragments. It was in the northernmost of the two trenches that the skeletons were discovered. Why were these bodies buried within the castle? Some clue might be garnered from the site’s violent past. It is generally believed that the castle began life as a Norman motte and