Protestantism, Parliament and the EIC

A century after the Norrises were reported for recusancy, Thomas Norris (1618-87), Edward’s great-grandson, converted the family to Protestantism. Four of Thomas’s seven sons lived at Speke, each elected as MP for the port city of Liverpool. At least three of them made their money in trade with the East Indies and in slave-produced commodities from the Caribbean. As MP, Sir William Norris (1658-1702), the second son, expanded British trade in enslaved Africans, and later led an envoy to India for the ‘New’ East India Company with his younger brother Edward (1663-1726). This mission amassed the family considerable fortune, but cost Sir William his life after he contracted dysentery on the return voyage. The fifth son, Richard (1670-1730), is remembered as a rather unscrupulous merchant, trading enslaved Africans to work on the sugar and rum plantations that produced his wealth.


The last Norris

Thomas's youngest son Richard died childless in 1730 and so the Speke estate passed to Thomas’s granddaughter Mary. She married Lord Sidney Beauclerk, son of the Duke of St Albans and grandson of Charles II and his long-term mistress, the actress Nell Gwyn. He was known as a predatory fortune seeker. Mary and Sidney spent most of their marriage at the latter's other substantial estate in Windsor, where their only son Topham was born in 1739.


Topham inherits Speke Hall

When Mary died in 1766, Topham inherited Speke and sold the Windsor estate. However, he rarely visited Speke, admitting to a friend that ‘there is nothing in this world I so entirely hate as business of any kind.’ Topham was described as ‘elegant and accomplished’ but with ‘personal habits beyond what one would have thought possible in anyone but a beggar or a gipsy', and he frequently entertained guests at one of his London houses. Topham died in 1780 at the age of 40, and was buried beside his mother at nearby Garston. He left behind his 6-year-old son Charles – whose first action on coming of age was to sell the Speke estate.