Chester originated as the Roman legionary fortress of Deva. Stone defenses first rose around AD 100 and for the next three centuries it housed the Twentieth Legion. When the Roman occupation came to an end the site appears to have been deterred, but the Danes took refuge one winter behind the old walls and withstood a Saxon attempt to dislodge them. This prompted Ethelred, Earl of Mercia, to establish a burgh here on the Wessex pattern in 907. It put up a rare resistance to William the Conqueror but fell in 1070. The present city wall is largely of the thirteenth century, a period when most English towns rebuilt their defenses.
Underlying the medieval defenses are the remains of the legionary fortress. This had the usual rectangular plan of Roman forts, with rounded corners and a gate on each side. The city wall follows the Roman alignment on the north and east. Near Newgate can be seen the foundation of the Roman angle tower where the two walls parted company.
King Charles’ Tower, at the north-east corner, is the best of the mural towers. From here Charles I watched the Battle of Rowton Heath. However, an even more impressive tower is the cylindrical Water Tower, added in 1322-26 at the end of an embattled spur wall which projects from the north-west corner of the circuit.
Chester Castle occupies a knoll overlooking the river at the south end of the walled city. Before the defenses were extended it stood outside their circuit. William the Conqueror founded the castle after the city had fallen, but he soon made Hugh d’Avranches Earl of Chester and granted the castle to him. The tower’s upper floor contains a vaulted chapel in Norman Traditional style, adorned with the remains of newly-discovered frescoes. A length of inner curtain also survives.
Christchurch was in the beginning called Twineham and Richard de Redvers, Earl of Devon, in all probability founded its castle in the region of 1100. The town is noted for its priory church, a gem of Norman architecture, but close by stands the Norman House, which is as well of great interest. This ruined building contained the hall and solar of the castle, both apartments standing higher than an un-vaulted under-croft.
The original doorway, once upon a time reached by an outside staircase, marks the junction flanked by the two rooms, which were only divided by a wooden dividing wall. A number of two light windows enriched with chevron ornament lighted the hall. Two of them pierce the wall in front of a stream, for example, the outside wall of the castle. In the face of the fact that positioned at first floor level they are too near to the ground and too large for real defense.
Flanked by these two windows is a tall, circular chimney – one of the very oldest in existence in England. The architecture of the hall looks a lot like that of the 1600s, making it the work of Richard de Redvers, the grandson of the founder, or his son Baldwin. The only other remnant of the castle is the motte, bearing two featureless walls of a square tower. It may possibly have been a Norman keep, despite the fact that the canted corners suggest at least a remodeling in the later Middle Ages at what time the castle belonged to the Montagu earls of Salisbury. In 1645, the derelict castle became the very last way out of some Round-head armed forces, who managed to hold out here at what time the Royalists attacked the town. Afterwards, the coastal defenses were destroyed by order of Parliament.