Born in 1835 in Great Abington in Cambridgeshire, Walter Speed became Head Gardener of Penrhyn Castle in 1862, before going on to serve three Lord Penrhyns in a career lasting over 58 years. Speed was generally considered to be one of the best gardeners of his generation.
The Royal Horticultural Society awarded him the prestigious Victoria Medal of Honour (VMH) and it was presented to him by Queen Victoria herself in 1897.
During his time as Head Gardener the gardens at Penrhyn were seen as one of the top three gardens in the whole of Britain.
Working and domestic life
He managed a staff of over 30 gardeners, who looked after not just the castle’s ‘pleasure grounds’ but more than 6 acres (2.5 hectares) of exotic fruit and vegetable gardens. At this time, working under Speed at Penrhyn was seen as one of the best training opportunities for young gardeners, better even than working at Kew or Windsor.
Speed married Charlotte in 1889 and the couple went on to have 14 children, many of whom went on to gain employment at Penrhyn, such was the high esteem the Pennant family held him in. Speed died in 1921 at the age of 84 and was buried with his wife and four of his children.
Speed was one of a select few to create a lasting legacy that is still remembered today at Penrhyn Castle.