“ The Walk / Liverpool / L24 1XD / Tel: 0151 427 7231 / Fax: 0151 427 9860 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. „
I'm a National Trust member, and love roaming round properties and gardens at weekends and during holidays. It's normally just me and my OH, no kids, so this an adult only perspective.
WHERE IS IT?
Speke Hall lies in the Speke area of Liverpool and has been run by the National Trust since the 1940s. Well signposted off the motorway we had no trouble finding it by car. Unfortunately it is close to an airport and when you're walking round on a quiet day (and thinking ooh wish I lived here in period times!) it can be a teeny bit of a mood breaker. A teeny bit only!
PRICES AND OPENING
As members we get in free, so it's a cheap and enjoyable day out, but for non members the cost of everything is £8 adults, £4 children, family £20.50, garden only is adults £4.75, children £2.45, family £12. Open hours as with all National Trust sites are best found on their website as they are subject to change www.nationaltrust.org.uk but in general it's open April-November with specific days in December for craft fayres etc.
As one of the most famous Tudor Manors in England, it's busy at peak times and a tourist pull. With ample free parking, incorporating a clean picnic area with bins, free to use clean toilets, it's a short walk to the old stables (have a look in for farming artefacts and information stands) and entrance with it's shop and cafe and wooden play area for small children that always looks busy. If need be, transport to the house is available from this point in the form of a golf buggy to the house itself.
Speke Hall is fascinating to those interested in history with a secret priest's hole and 'thunderbox' toilet. Access is across a bridge, that spans the old moat and is lovely in itself to look at. The house itself is traditional Tudor, dating 1490-1612 (built on a plot where a previous house stood, noted in the Doomsday book), everything you'd expect with dark wood against whitewash (wattle and daub timber-framed black-and-white building), slate roof and brick chimneys, mullioned leaded windows, and surrounded by the remains of its moat. Inside you see period furniture in the appropriate rooms set out as they were historically, the highlight for me being the dining room, bedrooms and Victorian toilet. The priest hole (Roman Catholic family owned the house, and priest holes were needed during the Reformation) scares me to death, and makes you feel claustrophic just looking at it, the guide at this point is a lovely chap, with charming anecdotes and a good sense of humour. As always with these places, I am fascinated by the servants area, I love the bells for the appropriate rooms and feel utterly nostalgic everytime I go into the dairy and love reading the information sheets about the staff that worked in the hall and what they were paid!
GARDENS AND LANDS
The gardens are really lovely and as a keen gardener myself I really appreciated the variety of plants to photograph. There's specimen trees to enjoy, seasonal planting and lawns to be jealous of! The orchards have been replanted recently and are admittedly not much to look at yet, but keep coming back and in 15 years or so they will be! Don't be disheartened though, the gardens and lands make up for this! Have a good walk around the lands you find a lovely walk through a wood, that's got panoramic views (weather permitting!) over the Mersey Basin towards Wales. We know keep our picnic bag for this walk and sit looking out. It takes us, 2 fit and healthy regular walkers just under an hours stroll from the house to the viewpoint, if you're interested in wildlife and birds, it's a good walk for some spotting and related photography. Obviously wear appropriate footwear, this path can be a little muddy and uneven in places, a pair of cross-terrain shoes is suitable for the house (when clean), the muddy them up round the gardens and local countryside.
We've not eaten a full meal in this particular one, so can't comment more than to say other peoples meals looked and smelled appertising and no-one seemed to leave anything on the plate. We always make a point of having a hot drink and slice of cake though, with prices on a par with any highstreet cafe chain like Costa, Starbucks etc, about £1.50 for tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and £1.50-2 for a generous and moreish slice of gorgeous handmade cake. The cafe itself is clean and tidy, well presented with ample moving room between tables and the staff are friendly.
The staff are friendly, both indoors and outdoors, very knowledgeable and eager to offer information which I like.
There's stairs and no lift to the first floor and down to the diary area, more information available on the national trust website.
Speke Hall has an unusual setting: hidden away in a suburb of Liverpool and surprisingly peaceful considering it's right next door to Liverpool Airport. Just don't look up and you'll never notice the planes. It's surrounded by huge old trees and beautiful gardens, which helps a lot in terms of dulling the noise or at least distracting attention.
The Hall was built by the Norris family between 1490 to 1612, and what's interesting is that it replaced an even earlier building - possibly the one on this site that was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is a stunning example of an original Tudor wattle and daub timber-framed black-and-white building. The history of the Norris family (Norris Green, a suburb of Liverpool, shares the family name) is interesting in itself: they were Roman Catholics and on the wrong side of the authorities during the Tudor period after the Reformation, when Henry VIII took it upon himself to create a new church and his son and daughter took it upon themselves to burn dissenters at the stake. After the death of the last Norris heir in the early 18th century the house and estate passed through various hands until acquired by the National Trust in 1943.
I've just said it's National Trust owned, so it isn't cheap to go in. The car park is free (the car park is a fair distance from the house though) and by themselves the gardens make a really nice day out - plenty of space for kids to run around and a play area as well, and you can bring a picnic and admire the beautiful scenery.
If you're making the effort though, the house itself is definitely worth a visit. Most of the interior is open to the public with a guided and costumed tour available for an extra pound (otherwise you get a podcast, which is just not atmospheric enough), and includes a Great Hall, Great Parlour, dining rooms, a library, gun room, billiard room, servants' quarters, kitchen and numerous bedrooms. All are set around a cobbled internal courtyard containing two of the biggest trees I've ever seen, named Adam and Eve and so dense that even in winter the rain doesn't hit any people who happen to be sheltering underneath them. You can
The decoration and furnishings reflect various periods from its building to the Victorian era. There is a Priest's Hole to hide Catholic priests from the authorities, fine Jacobean furniture and ceilings, William Morris wallpaper and a superb Victorian kitchen. There's also a toilet called a thunderbox toilet, although I'm too ladylike to tell you why. There's even an alleged ghost, who comes and rocks the cradle in the nursery. The tour's given by friendly and knowledgeable volunteer staff who can answer most of the questions you throw at them and, if they can't, can give you information as to where you'll find your answers.
There are some restrictions - it's narrow and the upstairs isn't wheelchair friendly, although they do have a couple of wheelchairs available in case someone needs one. You can't bring prams or baby backpacks in, although you can borrow baby slings or carriers if you need one. Also, if you're wearing heels that are smaller than about the size of a postage stamp you're given heel covers so your shoes don't damage the original carpets. There's no photography inside, either, as far as I can remember.
The nearby Home Farm buildings have been turned into a shop, restaurant and education centre. I've no idea what the education centre is like because it's for schoolkids and I'm not one, but the restaurant serves local food and it's yummy. The Hall also has a marriage licence: we got married here earlier this year and it was incredible. The ceremony takes place in the Great Hall, and then we walked outside for champagne on the lawn. Their bad-weather plan involves Adam and Eve and the courtyard, but fortunately it wasn't needed. In any case, it was a wonderful day and the Hall and the staff were all gloriously good to us. Even the planes cooperated.
The Hall closes from mid-December to the start of March every year for cleaning and any repairs that might need doing, so check with them before turning up.
Useful information from their website, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-spekehall.htm:
0844 800 4799 (Infoline)
0151 427 7231
Fax: 0151 427 9860
Gift Aid Admission (Standard Admission prices in brackets):
Adult £8 (£7.27)
Child £4 (£3.63)
Family £20.50 (£18.63)
Adult £4.75 (£4.31)
Child £2.45 (£2.22)
Family £12 (£10.78)
Reduced rates when arriving by cycle, on foot or public transport
Arriva 80A, Liverpool Great Charlotte Street-Liverpool Airport (passing Liverpool South Parkway) and close Liverpool Lime Street); 500 Liverpool Lime Street-Liverpool Airport; Supertravel 886 Liverpool South Parkway-Liverpool Airport. All to within ½ mile
On north bank of Mersey, 1 mile off A561 on west Liverpool Airport. Follow airport signs from M62 exit 6, A5300; M56 exit 12
Liverpool South Parkway 2 miles; Hunt's Cross 2 miles
When I was a child our little school's day out was often to Speke Hall. It is a small oasis of preserved history on the outskirts of a very historic Liverpool. It is close to John Lennon airport and easily accesible from the M62.
It is a Tudor house, well preserved and well presented. As children we were warned not to wander off in case we got lost in the attic spaces or priests hole and were never seen again! I loved my visits there then and I still do!
Speke Hall is a beautiful half timbered manor house. The present building dates from between 1490-1612, but there was an earlier house there and the manor of Speke was mentioned in the Doomsday Book.
It is surrounded by pleasant gardens and a new orchard has been planted in the grounds to the left of the house on the site of the old orchards.
Visitors nowadays will find plenty of free parking. The car park is close to the toilets and cafe. There is a courtyard there with shady trees and picnic tables if you want to sit outside and eat. The ticket desk is there too and a lot of information about the National Trust and other NT properties in the area.
Don't miss looking at the old sandstone pig-sties and the outhouses and barns which have been renovated for use as display and information areas. I think there is a play area for children here too.
At present the prices are £8.00 for an adult. £4.00 for a child.
There are concessions and a cheaper price if you have walked or arrived by public transport!
The admission price for members of a group is around £6.00 but that has to be booked in advance.
The opening times have been extended this year but it is worth checking on their website to see if the Hall is open when you want to visit, as the opening times are seasonal. All the admission prices and a good deal of information about the Hall is listed there too!
There is quite a walk through the gardens from the car park but help is available if you are struggling. A little trolley thingy driven by a staff member can bring you to the Hall. The ground floor is wheelchair accessible but I seem to remember there were a few steps down into the dairy so anyone in a whellchair would have to go out and access the dairy from outside.
There is a lot to see in the hall, my favourite part is the great hall where Jacobean plaster carvings adorn the walls. There is also a life size painting of the Child Of Hale who was a 'giant' and a local celebrity. He came from the village of Hale nearby. Legend tells us he was 9 foot 3 inches tall and lived between 1578 -1623. The story goes that he was summoned to court to wrestle for the King but he was a religious and modest man so refused to strip down to his underwear to wrestle. He was sent home in disgrace for defying the King! As kids we used to love imagining what it was like to be that size! One time one of our teachers put a child on his shoulders to let him see what it felt like to be so tall!
Back to the Hall. There is a range of historical furnishings in different rooms and many are original to the Hall. When my Mum was a child in the next door village of Garston (not a village now!) the Hall had been allowed to become derelict and she used to go in and play there, she distinctly remembers the many servants bells on the wall near the dairy. They are still all there but bright and shining now! The Hall was refurbished and renovated fabulously by the Trust and local volunteers.
In the main courtyard stand two venerable oak trees named Adam and Eve if I remember correctly. It is intriguing to stand in the courtyard looking at the dozens of little leaded and mullioned windows all a bit askew with time, imagining the generations of masters and servants that have been reflected in them. The muffled sound of centuries of living here echo quietly.
The dairy/kitchen has been re-equipped with all the equipment that would have been used in there through the ages. It is fascinating to see the tools and dishes, pots and pans that the servants utilised to feed the household. It is a very accessible and educational place and brings the history of the house alive.
The Priest hole is fascinating too, there is access to the very small 'room' and hidden passages to the safe haven built into the Hall to shelter renegade priests. It is chilling to think that men hid in this very cramped 'hole', sweating in fear of discovery and execution. There is a worksheet for children featuring the 'Priest's Hole' and of course the children are fascinated. They also love the 'thunderbox' privy, an early inside toilet. I'll leave it to your imagination to work out why it got that name!
In one of the rooms there are some beautiful ancient carved wooden panels with the family 'pictures' on them. They must have been the 17th century equivalent of a photo! They are lovely to see and well worth the time taken to really study them and pick out the details.
Surrounding the Hall is a moat which is now dry and planted with beautiful shrubs and flowers. There is an old bridge built of local sandstone spanning the moat at the rear of the house, from here you can look down into the moat and see some of the prettily laid out gardens. The sloping sides of the moat are a great place to rest and eat your lunch on a nice day. All of the gardens are well maintained and seem to have been enlarged and improved every time I visit.
From the grounds of the Hall you can set off on a coastal walk, I have never done this but I imagine that the views over the Mersey estuary could be quite something!
There is a lot to see and do at Speke Hall and I am sure I will have missed some aspects out.
The best thing to do is go and see for yourself and find a little oasis of peace and history.
Speke Hall is situated in the Speke area of Liverpool, very close to John Lennon Airport. I first went there when I was a young lad in the 1970's. At that time it was run by Liverpool City Council, however since then it has been take over by the National Trust. A couple of months ago I took the opportunity to take my children, as the National Trust had an open day. This meant it was free to get in.
For those who don't know much about Speke Hall, it is an old Tudor Building in magnificient grounds. It is probably one of the most famous Tudour Manors in England. The gardens are lovely and have some great floral displays. For those who are thinking of getting married or having a civil memory it is licensed for this also.
When we arrived there was plenty of parking, which is free all the year round. You then take a small walk to the old stables and entrance. It is here that the main shop and cafe are situated. On the day we went there was a little buggy ferrying people to and from the hall. I took the opportunity to take the children for a little ride, but it is only a small walk anyway.
On the way we went past the childrens play area - which is very basic.
In the hall we were given a quiz to complete on our way around. The children loved doing this. The building is fascinating to those interested in history but to young children probably not. Inside there is the secret priest's hole and 'thunderbox' toilet. There is also the opportunity of dressing up. One thing I was told by a guide when I was younger was that the house was haunted. I was told that a young girl haunted upstairs as she had fallen out of the window a century or two back. However when I asked a volunteer who was clued up on the hall, she said that this was a common myth brought about by the guide 30 years or so ago and there was no truth in it. It was merely told to give the hall some interest to the visits of School children.
In summing up the Hall is large, the grounds are beautiful. Ideal for picnics. However that is really it. You would need to look at entertaining the children when there, maybe with the play area.
Trying to think of a cheap and cheerful day out during the summer holidays to entertain four children aged between three and thirteen is no easy task. So many things cost money nowadays and there are only so many times you can get them excited about the museum! In our never-ending search to find a cheap but fun day out my wife and I had vague positive childhood recollections of Speke Hall. Buoyed by the good weather we decided to take brave the twenty mile trip from scenic Ormskirk to Speke.
Getting to Speke Hall is straightforward wherever you may be coming from. Simply following the signs to Liverpool airport takes you there as Speke Hall is right next door. Unfortunately, this was to be one of the few positives of our trip. On arrival at 11 am we were greeted by an open gateway yet a large "closed" sign. Confused and about to reverse for another entrance, we were fortunate enough to encounter a dog walker who informed us that, "the sign is often like that but it is open". Driving down to the large car park this was confirmed by the few cars dotted about although we were surprised that it was not a lot busier, particularly with it being the summer holidays. Perhaps, an omen of things to come?
Admission seemed to be reasonable enough at £19.50 for a family of five with our three year old being free. This was to include (and I quote):
* One of the most famous Tudor manors in Britain
* Intriguing period interior: discover the secret priest's hole and 'thunderbox' toilet
* Attractive landscaped gardens with vivid flowering displays
* Countryside walks, with panoramic views over the Mersey Basin towards Wales
* Adventure playground.
All sounded good so in we went. Greeted by some friendly national trust staff our initial fears were quelled for the time being and we headed off with our map to find the house otherwise known as "Speke Hall". After a long walk along a twisting road we came to the house itself and indeed its exterior is impressive with dark wood, high walls and surrounding paths which dip where a deep moat used to be. However, we were disappointed to find the house locked and bolted with no sign of opening. With no signposts or people to ask we were left with a map and four children to keep amused. Lucky for us we had the
"restored stream garden". Unluckily for us, aside from the impressive reclaimed moat the rest of the gardens consisted of a few trees, large lawns and a number of pretty but inconsequential hydrangeas. Hardly, the Chelsea Flower Show and certainly not enough to keep our sprogs entertained.
Speke Hall also promises, "woodland walks and magnificent views of the Mersey basin and North Wales hills from The Bund, a high bank." The map cum guide suggests putting aside one and half hours for this scenic, spectacular walk and being an active lot we were up for a ramble before lunch. Unfortunately, the woods are a sparse collection of trees and the magnificent views are only visible on a small stretch of path overlooking Speke Airport. Perhaps, we were imagining more than this treacherous pathway with a bench in the middle as we envisioned from the map and description a large bank that allowed marvellous views of the surrounding scenery. The length of time to negotiate this walk was half an hour to forty minutes at most. And this is remembering we had four children and a pram loaded with food in tow. It says a lot about this walk that the most exciting part of the walk for our children was seeing the planes passing low overhead and taxiing on the adjacent runway.
So, the walk has returned us to the entrance. This incorporates a cafe, picnic area and adventure playground. Hungry and if were honest, somewhat pissed off, we make camp underneath a large tree and venture into the cafe. We are greeted by a paltry selection of four sandwiches (tuna, ham, cheese or chicken) at the inflated price of £3.25 and the option of a children "funbox" which had a stale ham roll in it, a packet of cheddars, juice and a rice bar. All completely unappetising and certainly not worth the £2.75 per box. However, since we unadvisedly did not bring anything substantial we are forced to part with nigh on £20 for four boxes and two sandwiches. Add to this a wholly unfriendly set of staff and we could not get back under our tree quick enough!
After eating our "meal" the kids had a run around on the adventure playground which, to be fair was quite adequate and being wood construction and bark chip flooring, was in keeping with the area. There was a nice selection of slides, ropes and roundabouts for my three and seven year old although the two teenagers were a bit unimpressed. The age range does state three to eleven though and as such our eleven and thirteen year olds were probably too old to be seen dead there!
A visit to the toilets which are plentiful and very clean shines some light on why the house was not open. It does not open until 1 pm! This is something that is not common information and it is very annoying that I had to read it on the door of a toilet cubicle to learn it! What is a nice feature though is the use of a small shuttle bus between the reception and house for use by those disabled or otherwise. Something we also did not discover until we had walked back to the house.
On finally entering the house we were offered various guides and had the option to pay an extra £5 each for a tour which included the "secret priests hole" and "roof". At these prices we decide to wander ourselves but were pleased when the quiz were given an educational detective style quiz to complete. Indeed, Speke Hall itself is a very pleasant experience. Parts of it built in Tudor times and others Victorian it has an odd combination of styles and atmosphere and plenty of features in its construction from roman numerals left by carpenters when constructing woodwork to secret listening holes to hear illicit conversation in the courtyard. Each area of the house also has a steward who is happy to answer questions and give information.
Wandering around the house is interesting as you examine old furniture and rooms kitted out as they would have been used including dining rooms, bedrooms and even a Victorian toilet! However, what is disappointing is the lack of interaction. Many of the areas are roped off to such an extent that you can barely pop your head in the doorway to see the spectacular furniture. Also, due to this cramping with a queue of people building up behind, we felt obliged to move on quicker than we would have liked. We would have loved to have spent more time examining the armoury or the secret priests escape route but felt like we were being ushered by the hordes of people relentlessly towards our exit. In fact on exiting we felt like we had missed a lot of the house and with no ticket anymore, had no chance of re-entry. As such we were forced to retrieve our pram (which we had to leave in a store on entry) and head for home. Another minus point although the disabled access to the house and gardens is good there is no access available upstairs. Likewise, the scenic walk is certainly inaccessible for wheelchair users.
Oh well, we have had a bit of a crappy day but we shall let the kids pick something expensive as way of apology from the gift shop. No such luck! The shop is sparsely stocked and certainly missing souvenirs other than the standard key ring, spoon, postcard. Our kids had to settle for things they could buy in any store namely plastic water pistols, bow and arrows etc. Hardly, memorabilia from Tudor or Victorian times. As a parting shot we noticed a marking on our map stating "orchard". Another hyped up term as a group of barely spouted saplings greeted our bemused faces. Kind of sums up the place really. Speke Hall describes itself as, "An ideal afternoons' escape from Liverpool" yet it is far from it. The place is poorly signposted, suffers from over hyping itself and woefully short on activity. We would have been better going next door to John Lennon Airport for the day!
If you are planning a day out in Liverpool there are hundred places better than this and even better equivalents. Liverpool's Croxteth Country Park offers more for pretty much the same fee. Go anywhere but here!
Tudor half-timbered house with rich interiors and fine gardens.