Richard Watt of Jamaica and Liverpool

In 1795 the 2400-acre Speke estate was purchased by Richard Watt (1724-96), a Lancastrian who reputedly started out as driver of hackney carriages. Moving to Jamaica in around 1750, Watt made his fortune from almost every brutal aspect of the transatlantic slave trade. He owned sugar, rum, and tropical hardwood plantations, ran factorages, trafficked enslaved Africans, and invested in slave-trading voyages. With the profits, Watt bought three estates in England, including Speke Hall, purchased just a year before his death. In addition to these estates, and a reported £500,000 fortune, Watt’s great nephew, Richard III, inherited his enslaved people – and their future children – through a system known as ‘descent-based’ slavery.


A false start at Speke

Richard Watt III came of age in 1807 and married Hannah Burn of Hull a year later. The couple used his inheritance to repair and refurnish Speke Hall. Richard later recalled that ‘the interior of the house was very much destroyed by the people (farmers and others) that the Beauclerk family allowed to live there'. In 1812, Richard abruptly sold most of the furniture in the house and moved to Yorkshire to continue his father's passion for breeding racehorses.


A state of decay

While Speke Hall was occupied in the early 1830s by Richard IV, eldest son of the racehorse owner, it became empty once again when he died in 1835. He left behind his wife Jane and their two infants, Richard V and Sarah, who settled elsewhere in Liverpool. Shortly after, Speke Hall was let to a timber merchant called Joseph Brereton. Until the late 1840s, Speke Hall became well known for its picturesque state of decay, attracting several painters drawn to its Gothic appearance.

A painting of Speke Hall's West Range