I first met the man who would become my husband in 2008. I quickly let him know about my obsession with history and visiting sites of historic interest, so he knew what he was letting himself for. However, since 2008, he promised that he would take me to Speke Hall (he is from Liverpool and I am from Yorkshire) but it would be another eight years before I would actually get to visit and a year after our wedding.
Currently managed by the National Trust, Speke Hall is an amazing example of Tudor architecture at its best. One of only four existing timber-framed houses in the North of England, its beauty acts as a stark contrast against the surrounding industrial estates. Just stepping through the vestibule, gives the visitor immediate access to over 400 years of history.
There are simply loads of rooms to explore, most of which are set out with original, reproduced or appropriate furniture. I found the guides very easy to speak to, when my father-in-law let them get a word in that is, but if you’re the type of person who likes to look around yourself, there are cards and informations boards in most rooms.
We spent quite a lot of time in the courtyard as we waited patiently for my father-in-law to convince the guide that he had seen a ghost in one of the rooms on a previous visit. Make sure to look for the ‘eavesdrop’, which is a small hole in the eaves that allowed a person to spy on any arriving visitors. Considering one of the families who owned Speke – the Norrises – were Catholic, this would have proven particularly useful.
One of the things I loved most about Speke was the survival of so many features and characteristics such as the eavesdrop in the courtyard. For anyone interested in the history of print and design, stunning examples of William Morris’ ‘Pomegranate’, ’Trellis’ and ‘Daisy’ wallpaper designs can be seen in the Library and corridors. His ‘Willow’ wallpaper design can be seen in the Blue Drawing Room. The original priest hole can be seen today (what a tight squeeze that would have been!) as well as the observation hole, which was built into the chimney so the priest could be warned of approaching visitors.
A huge portrait of the ‘Childe of Hale’ hangs in the north bay of the Great Hall. John Middleton was born in the village of Hale in 1578. He quickly became a favourite at the court of James I as he reached a height of 9ft 3in before he was twenty years old. For an additional trip, Hale is nearby where a statue stands in the village and you can visit his grave in the local churchyard.
In the Great Parlour, we overheard one of the guides telling a group of people about a piece of furniture, which he called the ‘fertility table’. Apparently, one woman visits to sneakily touch it every time she is ready to have another child. Considering we have been trying for two years with no luck, my husband grabbed my hand and placed it on there. Touching the furniture is not allowed! Big slap on the wrist for me!
The hall is filled with personal stories of its past occupants. The Norris family owned Speke for many generations until the female heiress, Mary Norris married Sidney Beauclerk in 1736. Their grandson Charles would go on to sell Speke in 1795 to the Watt family. Adelaide Watt inherited Speke Hall in 1878 when she was 21 years old. Upon her death in 1921, she left the house and estate in trust for over two decades during which, it was looked after by Adelaide’s butler Thomas Whatmore. In 1942, the house was passed to the National Trust.