Saturday 30 May 2015

Speke Hall

A lot of National Trust properties have a nice little stream or a pond somewhere on their estates. Some even have a lake. 

Speke Hall has the River Mersey. And not just a little dribbly bit of the Mersey either - the actual whole thing. I had read about it before I went, but I still did a double take when I saw it - as you walk through the visitor entrance, before you turn off to the house, there it is; that big, famous river, with the industrial trappings of Ellesmere Port on the other side. I was awestruck. 

River Mersey at Speke Hall

Speke Hall is a rare Tudor timber-framed house that was mostly built in the 1500s, although bits of it date back further. It was really only ever owned by two families; the Norris family and the Watt family.

Speke Hall

Here's a quick summary of its life and times:

  • The Norrises were involved with Speke from 1390 to 1795
  • William Norris III built the Great Hall and Great Parlour in the 1530s - I do love a great hall and the one at Speke is fab:

Great Hall, Speke Hall
  • Edward Norris inherited in 1568 – he was reported for harbouring a Catholic priest and it is believed that the priest hole dates from then; you can just see the ladder behind the panelling in the Green Bedroom:
Priest Hole Speke Hall
  • In 1736, Mary Norris married Sidney Beauclerk, son of Nell Gwyn and Charles II - he was known as “worthless Sidney”, which isn’t very nice
  • His son, Topham, didn’t spend much time at Speke and died aged 40
  • His son, Charles, came of age in 1795 and decided to sell the estate 
  • It was bought by Richard Watt, a man that had profited greatly from slave labour in his plantations
  • Speke Hall was in a sorry state – according to his nephew, Richard Watt III, the Beauclerks had let the house to farmers and other people that had “very much destroyed” it
  • In 1856, Richard Watt V took control of Speke Hall and began renovations
  • He died aged 30 and his young daughter, Adelaide, inherited
  • While she was a child, the place was leased to a Frederick Leyland, who carried out a lot of work in the house until the lease expired in 1877
  • Adelaide Watt ran the estate and house until she died in 1921
Adelaide Watt sounds like a very smart cookie. She had no children and she wanted a descendant of the Norris family to take on the house after her death. However, an airfield had opened next to the Hall at the start of the 20th century - it is now Liverpool John Lennon Airport - and she had foreseen other developments that might put off future residents. So she made the proviso that if the Norrises didn't want to move in, then Speke Hall would be given to the National Trust. And that's exactly what happened.

It's a beautiful house, really full of history. Houses built around a courtyard always feel a bit special. There are two yew trees in the courtyard at Speke - they're called Adam and Eve and no-one knows exactly how old they are, but we're talking hundreds of years:

Yew trees at Speke Hall

The Speke Hall scones
ANYWAY. I was a bit worried about my trip to Speke today, because they have one of my most favourite things in the whole wide world: the person in charge of baking their scones is on Twitter. And before you get bored and switch off because you don't like Twitter, let me say this; when I'm having a tough day, there is nothing that cheers me up more than a tweet from a National Trust baker saying "just a normal morning's work for me!" with a picture of 800 scones piled up next to some carrot cake.  

But what if I got there and the scones weren't very nice? Or they'd sold out? The FBI will not be smashing the National Trust Scone Blogger's door down in the early hours - this is a corruption-free zone and we never lie.

I needn't have worried; the Speke Hall scone was unequivocally, indisputably up there in the top five National Trust scones of all time. It was the perfect size, it was perfectly fresh, it was perfectly was everything you could ever ask for. Whenever I find myself eating the crumbs of a scone I know it's a out-and-out winner. 

Speke Hall scone

The restaurant at Speke is lovely - big and modern with a great choice of food. I rarely have eyes for anything other than the scones but I was very tempted by the Wet Nelly. 

I'm going to end with a shout-out to all the NT bakers across the land, and especially the ones on Twitter - along with Hayley from Speke are Sian at Quarry Bank Mill and Rob at Dunwich Heath. As long as they've got the oven on, we're all going to be alright. 

Speke Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
The Mersey: 5 out of 5

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