Easter Monday was spent in the company of my lovely boyfriend Ben at Speke Hall, the Tudor House and surrounding gardens on the edge of Liverpool.
It’s been a long time since I visited. Previous visits as a child were associated in my head with boredom, as my mum cooed over the delicate Tudor furniture and I longed to get home to my Commodore 64. In adulthood, the site was never really on my radar as a place to visit, despite being just a few miles from my house. It doesn’t help that it is curiously difficult to get to by public transport – the only option being to take one of the buses to Liverpool Airport, alight a couple of stops early, and walk nearly a mile.
I don’t want to brag, but Ben has a car. We were able to drive to Speke Hall on Easter Monday, arriving just after the 10.30am opening time. The hall is in the care of the National Trust, and admission is £15 if you want to access all areas. If you don’t want to see the house, a tenner will get you into the grounds only.
The house didn’t open until 12.30, so we spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds. There is a variety of greenery on show, from neatly-tended gardens to woodland trails.
The tranquility was interrupted only occasionally by the roar of jet engines. Yes, Speke Hall is very close to Liverpool Airport – walk through the woods for long enough and you actually come up against the security fence protecting the runway.
We ended our outdoor stroll in the Secret Garden, but by this point the weather had taken a turn for the worse, the light drizzle giving way to consistent heavy downpours. We made a bee-line for the tea room in the old stables, getting there just before a horde of other visitors with the same idea arrived, bagging one of the last free tables for a much needed Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down.
By the time we finished, the time was approaching 12.30, so we headed off to the hall itself. Speke Hall is a wattle-and-daub manor house of the Tudor era. Work started in 1530 and continued throughout much of the 16th century, with the last significant alterations completed in 1598.
The Norris family were Roman Catholics, not a popular religion in England at the time. Features of the house reflect this turbulent time – there are spy windows to allow advance warning of visitors coming up the long driveway, and a hole in the eaves near the front door allowed residents to listen in to conversations from people waiting to be let up (the origin of the term ‘eavesdropping’, fact fans).
We also got to see the Priest’s Hole, the secret room behind hidden wall panels, where a Catholic priest could hide if necessary. Hearing the name made me giggle just as much now as it did thirty years earlier.
There’s lots of interesting architectural details to see. Some rooms still have original William Morris wallpaper, while many rooms are exquisitely decorated with ornate furniture and details. An army of National Trust volunteers were on hand to say “please don’t touch” to the excitable children who were being dragged around by their parents and couldn’t resist putting sticky hands on a priceless antique.
Downstairs offers a view into the less salubrious servants’ quarters, where the lower classes toiled away to keep the owners of the house in comfort. It all started to get a bit Downton Abbey (I assume – I have never watched Downton Abbey).
We rounded off the day with a toasted sandwich and cake in the restaurant, and a trip to the on-site second-hand bookshop, the excellently-named Speke’s Volumes – surely the best Speke-based pun since “Is this bus going to Speke?” “Well I’ve been driving it all day and it hasn’t said anything.”
Maybe it’s a sign of my advancing years that a wander around a stately home was so enjoyable. Maybe it was because I had excellent company. But enjoy it I did.
Opening times at Speke Hall vary day-to-day, and the hall itself is not open every day – check the National Trust website for up-to-date info.