A brief history of Speke Hall

View of Speke Hall by William Gawin Herdman, watercolour on paper, 1860

Today, the Tudor mansion of Speke Hall and its stunning gardens and estate attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. But since Sir William Norris began building it in 1530, its survival hasn't always been guaranteed.

From a refuge for one family’s unshakeable Catholic faith to a Gothic revival mansion restored with the spoils of colonialism and slavery, discover the stories of the people who have lived at Speke Hall.

Use the timeline below to explore Speke Hall's unique place in the history of Liverpool and Lancashire and discover why its fascinating stories remain so important to us today. 



A home for the Norris family

In 1524, Sir William Norris inherited a medieval cruck-beamed hall on the site where Speke Hall now stands, a place where his ancestors had lived as early as 1314. He started building Speke Hall as we know it in 1530 by building the lofty Great Hall. By 1546, he would extend this to create a long west range to accommodate his growing family. One of Sir William's last projects was to create an overmantel for the Oak Parlour featuring portraits of himself, his parents, his two wives and all nineteen of his children.

Interior of the Great Hall, painted by Joseph Nash


Recusants at Speke

The gentry in Elizabethan Lancashire were known for their Catholic sympathies, risking the label of 'recusant' for failure of attending Church of England services. The Norris family were certainly one of these families, and in 1586 one ‘Rychard Brittaine a prieste’ was reported to have been conveyed to Speke by ‘younge Mr [Edward] Norrice’ and kept there. It was common for Catholic families at the time to install hiding places for priests in their homes, and there was at least one ‘priest hole’ at Speke Hall, purpose-built behind panelling in the Green Bedroom. It is no surprise that Edward’s wife Margaret was the daughter of Robert Smallwood MP, a Westminster brewer who had supported Mary Tudor’s restoration of Catholicism.

The ladder leading to the priest hole at Speke Hall


Speke Hall is completed

When Sir William's son, Edward, succeeded him in 1568, he went about extending the east range and finally adding a north range to create an enclosed courtyard. A red sandstone bridge was built across the moat to meet the north range's gatehouse, providing a suitably grand entrance to Speke Hall. The gatehouse is inscribed with the year 1598, when we can presume work was completed to create the Hall as it appears today.

Inscription over the entrance to Speke Hall by Edward Norris