Salford Archaeology (SA) was commissioned by Norton Priory Museum and Gardens to undertake a community archaeological excavation on the site of Halton Castle (centred at SJ 53756 820350). The site is both a Scheduled Monument and the standing remains are also a Grade I listed building. This work formed part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Halton Castle Project to further assess the archaeological potential for remains associated with the occupation of the outer bailey of the castle not identified within previous excavations conducted by Robina McNeil in 1985/6. The findings from the excavation will inform the future treatment of the Scheduled Area and enhance the presentation of the site to the wider public.
The work was carried out by local volunteers and school children under the supervision of SA staff. In total over 250 children, 90 adult volunteers and 150 visitors worked on the site or visited during the open day.
Halton Castle was thought to have been established in 1071 by Nigel, 1st Baron of Halton at the height of Norman power. Originally it was believed that the first castle was of timber motte and bailey construction, but to date no evidence of this has been found. Throughout the subsequent centuries the castle was rebuilt in stone in a piecemeal fashion with a consistent programme of maintenance and alterations. As part of this a large stone gatehouse was constructed in the 1450s along with the construction of towers and internal buildings. By the late 16th century the castle structures had fallen into disrepair, with the exception of the courthouse. The castle was besieged during the Civil War and eventually fell to the Parliamentarians in 1644 by which time it was in a ruinous state and ordered to be slighted.
Excavation areas were located to investigate the nature and extent of the remains associated with structures in the outer bailey of the castle. Trenches were opened to investigate anomalies seen on the preceding geophysical survey and further investigate features identified during the 1980s excavations.
The excavation of Trench 1 was intended to locate remains associated with a building observed on the Randall Holmes sketch plan which may have been a stable block. Although a number of pottery sherds were found throughout the trench dating from the medieval period onwards, no features were identified other than a large deposit of sandstone rubble which was found to lie in excess of 1.70m below the current ground level.
Trench 2 was also sited to investigate features identified on both the Randall Holmes sketch plan and the geophysical survey. This trench was able to uncover features and artefacts from the medieval period onwards, including part of a tower first identified during the 1980s. In addition, two burials were found within the trench dating to the 15th and 16th/17th century. The discovery of burials within a castle is very rare and will require further investigation to fully understand. Many of the features in this trench were cut directly into the bedrock and may indicate earlier occupation phases predating the construction of the castle.