Speke Hall is a lovely black and white timber mansion on the banks of the River Mersey in Liverpool, built round a central courtyard with two ancient yew trees called Adam and Eve. The house was originally surrounded by a moat round the front. But this is now drained with a bridge across it.
Because this review is very long, I have split it into two parts. This section covers the outside of the house, the grounds, a brief history and disabled access. The detailed description of the inside of the house is covered by a separate review here.
The front of the house has four bays and above the doorway is written “This worke 25 yards long was built by Edw N. Esq Anno 1598. A notice warns you to beware of jackdaws nesting and falling bits of nesting material.
The hall was built over 400 years ago by Edward Norris who married twice and had 19 children. He wanted a house to impress his friends and neighbours. It would originally have been moated, although the moat has now drained. The great hall was the first to be built in 1530 followed by the oak parlour east wing. Gradually the south and west wings were added, making a courtyard house.
The Norris family lived here for over 200 years, when the property and its estate was sold to the Watt family in 1795. The last heir of the Watt family inherited the estate was a girl who inherited the estate at the age of eight. She was sent to boarding school and the house was rented out to Frederick Leyland, a shipping magnate, and his wife. They fell in love with the house and spent a lot of money reorganising and refurnishing rooms. They papered the walls with William Morris wallpaper and added fireplaces and carved stone mantle pieces, generally making it more comfortable. They were hoping to buy the house. However, when Adelaide reached 21, she returned here to live, booting out the Leylands. She lived here until her death in 1921. The house was left in trust before passing into the care of the National Trust.
In 1942 the house was passed on to the National Trust, and was administered by Liverpool City Corporation until 1986, when the National Trust took complete control.
Inside it is a mix of Tudor met Victorian. Much of the decor is the work of the Leylands and much of the heavy Victorian furniture was bought by them.
The Hall is a few minutes walk from the Ticket Office and restaurant, which is in part of the C19th farm buildings with pig sties and storage space for carts. By it is the engine house containing a small Hornsby Akroyd engine used for drilling.
There is a very good children’s playground and a maze behind the farm buildings. The walk takes you past the apple orchard and the original stone built farmhouse. Beyond this is the newly restored walled kitchen garden. In early May, there wasn’t a lot to be seen.
Behind the house is a long row of topiary yews leading to the start of a woodland walk around the edge of the estate. Next to it is a large expanse of lawn with shrubs. The lilacs and rhododendrons were beginning to come into flower. The base of the shrubs is planted with Bergenia, hostas and grasses. Beyond this is the sunken garden with a hedge of neatly trimmed topiary yews. In front of the house is a large expanse of grass fringed with rhododendrons, azaleas and lilac.
The house opens for free flow visits at 12.30. Before then are 45 minute taster tours lead by a person in Victorian dress. Places have to be booked on these. There are friendly and knowledgeable stewards in all rooms and also information sheets with some basic information.
There is disabled parking in the car park nearest the ticket office. It is a short walk to the house and a multi-seat vehicle is available, ask at the ticket office. It is possible to drop disabled visitors off by the house by prior arrangement with the property. There are four wheelchairs and a mobility scooter which can be loaned from the ticket office, but they do need to be booked in advance.
The walk to the house is along well made paths suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. Access in the gardens is good, although there is a steep gradient down into the sunken garden. A map of accessible routes is available from the ticket office.
There is level access into the ground floor of the house. Stairs with a handrail lead to the first floor. There is a large print photo guide available of all the rooms in the Hall.
There are disabled toilets by the Visitor Centre and also in the dairy courtyard at the Hall.
This was an interesting visit. It is a lovely house and very photogenic, although the gardens are a bit ordinary. There was plenty to see in the house, with the original Tudor work and the Leyland additions. The oak parlour is particularly impressive. The heavy Victorian furniture didn’t do a lot for me though.
The shop, plant sales and restaurant are in the farm buildings with the ticket office.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/england/north/speke/index.html