Even now Speke Hall can still throw up mysteries that leads to the possibility of more stories to be discovered. In January of 2022, national trust staff were repairing one of the blue bedroom windows when a bit of plaster broke away and a musket ball fell out.
Once it was verified as being dated from the English civil war questions arose as to how it got there. Was Speke Hall used as a barracks sometime in the English civil with Royalist troops using the property as a respite whilst moving on to other towns or cities? Could a brief skirmish have broken out, maybe a wayward shot whilst training, a warning shot or someone years after the English civil war firing at the property.
Although it is well known that the Norris family were strong Royalist supporters there are no records of any battles or skirmishes around Speke or Garston. Nor have any other musket balls, weapons and armour have been discovered around Speke Hall.
There was once the story that Charles I stayed at Speke Hall whilst travelling during the civil war. The Oak bedroom was called the Royal bedroom until they reverted to the former name due to no records of Charles ever staying the night at Speke Hall. Nevertheless, there still hangs a print of Charles I, his wife Henrietta Maria and their three children Charles, James, and Mary in the bedroom.
Speke Hall’s Oak bedroom formerly the Royal bedroom
Maybe there was no evidence that could link Charles I or at the very least that there was an undiscovered story about Speke Hall’s history during the time of the civil war.
Despite the effect that the English civil war had on Britain’s history that it led to a constitutional monarchy that we know of today, not much is said about this tumultuous period in Britain’s history. For some it pitched families against each other with the belief that the world had been turned upside down.
There was also an air of uncertainty for the inhabitants of towns and cities who had to suffer the consequences of being under siege from either parliament or the royalists.
Although Liverpool may not have played a major part like other cities and towns it still held strategic value for the Royalists and parliamentarians.
For the King, Liverpool possessed several advantages. It worked in tandem with Chester to ensure that the Royalist ships dominated the Irish Sea. The control of both ports ensured control of the Wirral peninsula which meant that they had access to agricultural produce as well as safe landing places for troops.
Above all Liverpool’s value was its links to Ireland. The royalist organiser in the Northwest Orlando Bridgeman spoke of the unlimited amounts of men and resources from Ireland to support the royalist effort.
Parliament saw control of Liverpool as a chance to keep the royalist area in check. It also meant providing strong communications with Warrington, Manchester, and Cheshire as well as participating in the siege of Lathom House, the seat of the earl of Derby.
Again, naval control was the main value as it meant holding a force against the power of Chester, Bristol, and the Isle of Man. It could also disrupt the flow of men and goods from Ireland which the Royalist forces relied upon.
What is interesting in Malcolm Gratton’s book about Liverpool and the English civil war ’ is the lack of records that confirmed where troops were billeted. It therefore isn’t implausible that when Royalist forces were on the march may have rested at Speke Hall.
Liverpool and the northwest prepare for the English civil war.
Parliament were arranging their pieces in the northwest as they dismissed Lord Strange from the Lord-Lieutenancy of Lancashire and nominated Lord Wharton to the vacant post. Several Deputy-Lieutenants were also appointed, among whom were John Moore of Bank Hall, Kirkdale, a staunch parliamentarian, and a future regicide.
Wharton also appointed colonels of regiments among whom were John Moore, Ralph Assheton of Middleton, who led the forces that besieged Liverpool in 1643, and Thomas Birch later to be the Governor Liverpool.
For the Royalists they had the Earl of Derby, Lord Molyneux, Sir Thomas Tyldesley, and the Norris’s of Speke.
Interestingly, most Liverpool citizens supported parliament but due to Lord Molyneux the Mayor John Walker and the majority of in the Council supporting Charles it became a Royalist stronghold. Colonel Norris of Speke was appointed the Royalist governor of the castle as earthworks and defence works were created to support the city against any parliamentary attack.
Liverpool was not involved in the first large scale fighting in Lancashire. In the early days there was no action with the royalists fighting to keep hold of Warrington and Wigan, whilst the siege of Manchester was the focus for parliament and the royalists.
The circumstances of parliament’s takeover of Liverpool are unclear with no precise records of what happened. It seems that Derby’s defeat at Whalley on 20 April 1643 meant that Liverpool also fell into parliamentary hands at the end of April.
John Moore was appointed governor of Liverpool whilst Sir William Brereton, parliament’s Cheshire commander-in-chief quickly moved to utilise Liverpool’s port facilities against royalist reinforcements from Ireland.
To bolster support in Cheshire and Lancashire, the royalists landed three thousand men in North Wales in late November. In addition, there was another one thousand men led by Lord John Byron from Oxford was on the move. The instructions to Byron were to clear Lancashire of enemy forces, coordinate moves with the earl of Newcastle in Yorkshire and thereby oppose any march southwards of Scots forces that attempted to cross the border to aid parliament.
Paranoia grabbed the city, and it was decided from 21 December onwards that ‘divers Papists and other ill affected persons or Malignants’ were to be expelled. This took place over seven months although there were still royalist supporters who kept themselves hidden.
The Crow’s nest and the Siege of Liverpool.
King Charles nephew Prince Rupert was instructed to take Liverpool back in the attempt to force back parliamentary forces. The accounts state that Rupert was a dashing, fearless leader and certainly matched the stereotypes of a Cavalier.
For the parliamentarians that were suspicious they believed that Rupert’s white poodle dog called Boy was a demon who caught bullets in his teeth, whilst his pet monkey was a shape shifter. Boy was also able to find treasure and was invincible in battle.
Boy the demon dog with Prince Rupert
The white poodle was adopted as a mascot by troops and was given the rank of Sergeant-Major-General.
Part of claiming Boy as a demon dog was not just down to superstition but to suggest that the Royalists were devils, unlike the God abiding Parliamentarians. Sadly, Boy turned out not to be invincible as he was killed at the battle of Marston Moor.
Not content with a demon dog, Prince Rupert was rumoured to have a shape shifting monkey which could change into people and therefore spy on behalf of the royalists.
Prince Rupert’s shape shifting monkey
Upon the Royalist arrival in Liverpool who set up camp in the north of Liverpool, Prince Rupert stood on Everton Brow and as he looked down at the castle declared ‘It is a crow’s nest that any party of schoolboys could take!’
It wasn’t as easy as the Royalists thought despite having 10,000 men at their disposal. What proportion that was used in June 1644 nobody knows. What is known is that Prince Rupert moved his army from their headquarters at Everton Brow down to where Lime Street is now. This allowed him to look down towards the river and the Roundheads at Liverpool Castle.
There were a couple of factors that helped Rupert take back Liverpool. Firstly, the Royalist Molyneux family had been smuggling secret maps to him about the layout of the town as well as the suggestion of treachery from the Parliament side.
William Rigby a naval captain was later charged with carrying out ‘perfidious correspondence,’ with the enemy in Lancashire.
After many days of fighting, Rupert decided to use his cannons at night-time. The artillery blasted the mud walls rather than attempting a direct assault. Once the walls began to crumble, and the earth filled the ditches, a sustained defence was unlikely.
Once the governor Colonel John Moore fled the town by sea in the early hours of 11 June and escaped with least four other ships, it was a matter of when not if, that Liverpool fell back into Royalist’s hands.
Although a parliamentarian newssheet may have called Moore’s retreat ‘prudent,’ there was those that called for an enquiry into the circumstances of Liverpool falling to Rupert. The accusation was on whether Moore’s defence was half hearted or whether he should have reached an agreement with the Royalist forces to avoid any further loss of life.
There were those that defended Moore like Captain Ashton who stated that the Colonel had not slept for eleven days prior to 10 June and still attempted to rally defenders in the early hours of 11 June. According to Ashton he blamed the defeat on some of the soldiers and sailors who had no stomach for a fight and fled leading to Moore make the decision that he had to evacuate.
Once Prince Rupert’s royalists’ forces entered the town, they set about destroying and looting the city’s gold and treasure. It is said that the treasure that Rupert stole is buried in the tunnels under the Everton district and has not been recovered since. Also taken or destroyed was King John’s original Liverbird seal as this was not found. It was said that there were three hundred to four hundred people killed in the Siege of Liverpool.
The Royalists only held Liverpool for three months before it was re-captured by the Parliamentarians under Sir John Meldrum. Once again, the records are vague in terms of the details but in terms strategy it was an important one for parliament in terms of controlling one of the ports in the northwest.
Childwall battle at Bloody Acre Field
For what was one of the most prominent moments of English history there are not many records that recorded any activity of the civil war in Liverpool. As mentioned earlier, the Molyneux and Stanley families were the two influential families who both supported Charles I. The Norris family who was also prominent (but not as wealthy as Molyneux and Stanley) also supported the crown.
In the years since the English civil war there have been cannonballs and long swords that have been discovered in Childwall in a field called ‘Bloody Acre.’ There are no records to confirm that a battle took place but due to the number of artifacts that have been dated from that period it points in favour of at least a skirmish taking place.
A theory is that a Royalist army was took up positions there in the east of the city in preparation for Parliament’s attack. As the Roundheads would have advanced on Liverpool from Manchester and Wigan it would have been the ideal spot to see the advancing army. Is it possible that the Norris’s had soldiers barracked at Speke Hall and advanced towards Childwall in preparation for the battle? Perhaps there had been training which would account for a mis-shot hitting the house rather than a target.
The execution of Charles I and the aftermath
Following the siege of Oxford where Charles escaped disguised as a servant in April 1646, he put himself in the hands of the Scottish presbyterian army who was besieging Newark. After nine months of negotiations the Scots reached an agreement with the English Parliament in exchange for £100,000.
There was the last throw of the dice by Charles with another royalist uprising in May 1648. This though was put down by the New Model Army and with the defeat of the Scots fighting on behalf of Charles at the battle of Preston in August 1648, the royalists lost any chance of winning the war.
Feeling that they could no longer trust Charles to broker an agreement the King was put on trial for treason and found guilty. Charles was executed 30 January 1649 and England became a republic. Later, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector and was King in all but name.
After the turmoil and the death of Charles it meant that royalists supporters such as the Norris family suffered as a result. Timber from the Speke Hall estate (felling of the trees) was deemed to be compensation for their part in the civil war.
In 1650 the estates were confiscated after Thomas Norris who had inherited the property had fallen under the displeasure of parliament. The lands though were returned in 1662 after Charles II was reinstated on the throne in 1660.
Speke Hall’s involvement in the English civil war
It is plausible that Speke Hall may have been used as barracks for royalists’ forces. The Estate would be well protected with access to the Mersey for any potential troops arriving by boat. Equally, if troops were being moved to say Ormskirk where a battle took place in 1640, it is a possibility that troops could have made their way at Speke prior to moving towards where they were needed.
One can also wonder whether there is a grain of truth about King Charles I staying the night at Speke Hall. Rather than Charles maybe it was Rupert that passed through after capturing Liverpool. After taking the city, Rupert moved on to Yorkshire, so may well have taken that route.
Unfortunately, we shall never know unless there are any other English civil war artefacts found within the area then there is no evidence of any skirmishes near Speke Hall.
No doubt it is a mystery that won’t be resolved. Whether it was a hapless soldier accidentally firing at the house, target practice going awry or of someone getting into an argument and firing a gun, it is a mystery to still be resolved. Indeed, it is possible that years or even a couple of hundred years later someone was messing about with a civil war gun and accidentally hit the house.
Researching on Speke Hall’s involvement has shown the tactical reasons for why parliament and the royalists wanted Liverpool. This of course was control of the port and controlling the Irish sea.
It also showed the Norris’s involvement with Edward being involved in manning the defence against parliament. Being on the losing side the Norris’s also suffered in having to produce timber from their woods and having their estates being seized. This though would be returned upon Charles II taking the throne.
Above all though it has given stories about Rupert’s demon dog which could catch bullets and a shape shifting monkey. Plus, there is buried English civil war treasure buried somewhere in Everton. Who knows, it could be underneath Goodison Park!