A few weekends ago Mam and I went to the Tatton Park Flower Show. As part of the organised coach trip, a visit to a garden of interest is also included in the price. This year we went to Speke Hall and Garden in Liverpool.
It was raining when we got there, so we took the opportunity to have a look round the fascinating house (no internal photos, sorry, as photography wasn't allowed).
It's a fascinating house, 'One of the finest Tudor mansions in the country', says the guide. For a nominal fee you can join a guided tour of the property with one of the costumed volunteer guides, or you can wander through the house on your own too. Speke Hall, as it stands now, dates from the period 1490-1612, but there is evidence of an earlier building on the site (having been mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086).
The estate has been owned by many families over the years and different parts of the house itself have been built, restored and refurbished by them all. Some of the rooms and furniture date from Tudor and Jacobean times, but the history as told within the house itself centres on the Victorian era and Adelaide Watt, it's final owner, who lived there from 1878 until her death in 1921. It has been in the ownership of the National Trust since 1943.
The mansion is big, but it isn't huge; it feels very lived in and you can actually imagine a real family (and their servants) spending their days here. You can wander through most of the rooms, though a couple are roped off and you can just view them from doorway. The rooms are all furnished, many with huge ornately-carved wooden pieces, and there are loads of tapestries, paintings and ornaments to look at too - though I was most taken with the intricate William Morris wallpaper (some original!) in nearly every room.
Each room has a descriptive textual guide which points out the items of most interest (an eavesdrop in the courtyard, hideaways in walls for persecuted priests, fossils in the stone floor of the Great Hall, to name a few) - and every room also has a room attendant who is ready and willing to answer any further questions that you have. The various bedrooms, morning room, billiards room and dairy were interesting, and I loved the Great Hall with its huge portrait, fireplace and suit of armour. But my favourite rooms were the kitchen and scullery which I thought were fascinating, with lots of strange-looking implements and cooking paraphenalia to view (and the room attendant here was particularly knowledgeable and enthusiastic).
By the time we finished our tour of the house, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeping out, so we enjoyed a walk through the relaxing and peaceful gardens - punctuated by the occasional plane flying VERY low overhead (part of the old Speke estate was sold to what is now Liverpool John Lennon Airport). I didn't mind this at all, far from it, I got excited every time I heard the woosh of the engine as each plane took off (so excited, in fact, that I never actually took a photo!) Anyway...
The gardens as you can see today were created by Richard Watt between 1855 and 1865, and restored in the last few years by three National Trust gardeners in his mid-Victorian planting style. The rose garden (photo above) looked really pretty and the scent was gorgeous, and the south lawn (3rd photo) was very impressive - the estate's gardeners must spend an awful lot of time on its upkeep. The moat borders (5th photo) were designed by Graham Stuart Thomas in the 1970s with lots of dark foliage (Cotinus 'Royal Purple', Corylus 'Purpurea') and splashes of colour in the foreground (daylilies, astilbes, paeonies, echinops, etc).
There's also a stream garden to explore; the north lawn with its evergreen borders; children's play areas and views over the Mersey estuary; and views of the Welsh Hills from the woodland estate walk.
My favourite area in the garden was the long border opposite the house and bordering the south lawn. I'm more of a fan of the lacecaps, but the colours of the mop-head hydrangeas here were stunning.
The garden is open all year round and the house from March to mid-December. There's also a great little shop (including plants for sale), the Home Farm restaurant for a bite to eat, and there's lots of events on throughout the year in both the house and garden (the Victorian Christmas Weekends sound fantastic). You can find out more at the National Trust's website on Speke Hall. We had to return to our coach to travel to our hotel for the night so we missed out on a couple of areas in the grounds - so I'd thoroughly recommend spending the whole day on a visit if you get the chance.