Speke Hall, the oldest hall in South Lancashire, is a black and white half-timbered house, and is extremely picturesque. It is situated on the margin of the estuary of the Mersey, with an approach from the water's edge by an avenue of trees. The foundations of Speke are of solid masonry; the house itself is constructed on a framework of immensely strong timbers, vertical and horizontal, with diagonal bracings of oak, the interstices filled in with laths covered by a composition or cement of lime and clay.
The house was surrounded by a moat originally, of which but the trace remains, and a bridge over it conducts us to the principal entrance. On the lower edge of the window in front of the porch is an inscription carved in antique letters:-
"This worke twenty-five yards long was wolly built by Edw. N. Esq. Anno 1598." That is, by Edward Norreys, for the Norreyses then possessed the property.
In the centre of the large square court are two large yew-trees, and over the moat is a fine weeping-willow. At each angle of the southern wall, within the court, are two large corbelled windows, one of which lights the great hall, a large and lofty apartment. Against the north wall of the hall is the wainscot brought by Sir William Norreys from Holyrood. It is perpendicularly divided into eight compartments, that are again divided into five rows of panels; four of these panels contain each a grotesque but beautifully carved head, surrounded by mantling. The second row of panels contains, in detached portions, this inscription:-
Below these are three more rows, ornamented with carvings.
Over the mantelpiece of the dining-room is a carved pedigree in oak of three generations of the Norreyses; but it is now much decayed.
These panels were spoil from the battle of Flodden Field. Sir William Norreys, in reward of his valour in that fatal fight, was allowed by Surrey to take whatever he pleased from the unhappy James IV.'s palace. Over the door is another of these black-letter inscriptions:-
The Norreys family possessed Speke till the male line became extinct, and was succeeded by Mary Norreys, Thomas Norreys's daughter, who in 1736 married Lord Sidney Beauclerk, fifth son of Charles, first Duke of St. Alban's. Their son was Topham Beauclerk, immortalised (by his friendship with Johnson and Reynolds) in Boswell's "Life of Johnson." He married in 1763 Lady Diana Spencer, the divorced wife of Lord Bolingbroke. He died without family, having dismembered the estates, and Speke Hall was sold to Richard Watt, Esq., who had risen by his own industry from a stableboy at Liverpool. He went to the West Indies, made a good deal of money, and became a rich merchant of Liverpool. Speke Hall is now in trust for a lady who is his collateral descendant.
Mosleys, in Leigh parish, has a love romance connected with it. Sir Thomas Leyland, of Mosleys, had an only daughter and heiress, named Anne. This young lady, tradition tells us, formed an attachment to Edward Tildesley, of Wardlaw, but her father, who was either on ill terms with that family, or had other views for his heiress, shut her up in her own room to prevent the lovers meeting: Mistress Anne, however, had managed to procure a rope, and her lover was watching on the other side of the moat. She boldly threw him one end of the rope, and tied the other round her waist. The water of the moat was thirty feet deep, so she must have had some means of conveying the rope across it better than a woman's proverbially bad throwing; it might possibly have been sent by an arrow, for our story is of Elizabeth's reign. However it was managed, the end of the rope reached young Edward, and then the girl bravely leaped out of the window into the water, and he dragged her to land. Horses were waiting. They rode swiftly away, and were married before the flight of the maiden was discovered. This adventure dates in 1560. She was pardoned, and brought her inheritance to the Tildesleys.
The Leyland family also produced a more than centenarian. "In 1732," says Holland Watson, "died at Lingnasken, in Ireland, Mr. William Leyland, aged 139 and upwards (descended perhaps from the Leylands of Mosleys). He was a tall and prodigiously large-boned man, and so strong and healthy that he never was sick, nor did he lose his sight, limb, or digestive quality until death, a short time before which he gave the following account of himself: that he was born at Warrington in 1593, that he remembered the coronation of James I. in 1602, that he lived in Warrington till 1664, and then went to Ireland, where he lived ever since in good credit in the county of Fermanagh" (History of Lancashire and MSS.).
Hoghton Tower, near Preston, stands in a strikingly picturesque situation, scarcely inferior to any of the best placed of our castles, and worthy of comparison with many of them.
Thomas Hoghton, in the reign of Elizabeth, built it from the stone of a quarry he possessed in the park. Dr. Kuerden says:-
"This tower was built in Queen Elizabeth's reign by one, Thomas Houghton, who translated this manor house, formerly placed below the hill, nere unto the water side. Betwixt the inward square court and the second was a very tall, strong tower or gatehouse which in the late and unhappy civil wars was accidentally blown up by powder, with some adjacent buildings, after the surrender thereof, and one, Captain Starky, with 200 soldiers, was killed in that blast most wofully. The outward (wall) is defended with two lesser bastions upon the south-west and north-west corners, besides another placed in the midst betwixt them, now serving for an outer gate-house. This stately fabrick is environed with a most spacious park, which in former time was so full of tymber that a man passing through it could scarce have seen the sun shine at middle of day; but of later days most of it has been destroyed. It was much replenished with wild beasts, as with boars and bulls of a white and spangled colour, and red deer in great plenty."
At Hoghton Manor James I., in his journey from Edinburgh to London, spent three days, and was magnificently entertained by Sir Richard Hoghton.
There is an old tradition that while here, King James, who bestowed honours with absurd profusion on that eventful journey, being struck by a magnificent joint of beef - the loin - dubbed it Sir-loin, as it is called to this day.
Hoghton Tower still shows clear traces of its original strength and grandeur. Standing in isolated majesty on the rocky hanks of the Darwen, we see what it must have been, and how nobly it was placed. The western front has three stately towers; the centre one battlemented, and with indented windows; and at the entrance arch that leads to the outer court is the statue of a knight slaying a griffin. The outer court is of great space, to the inner we approach by a fine flight of steps. The tower contains grand staircases, galleries, and many apartments. The chamber called James I.'s is richly wainscoted. His visit here is the subject of one of Cattermole's best pictures, now in the possession of Mr. John Hargreaves, Rock Ferry.
The buildings on each side of the entrance are ornamented with mouldings, fillets, balls, and mullioned windows.
The great hall is lighted by high and large mullioned windows; the music gallery at one end remains, and the fire-place. All the upstair rooms are wainscoted; one is called the guinea room - gilt circles abounding in the pattern in which the panels are painted - but the rooms are fast decaying, and becoming ruinous. The landscape seen from the tower is strikingly beautiful; extending over the rocky scenery of the Danven.
The founder of this beautiful tower was an exile in Elizabeth's reign, perhaps, soon after he had erected his stately home, for conscience sake.
He was a devout Catholic, and refused to comply with some of the requirements of the Protestant Government; he was obliged, consequently, to abandon his native country and find a refuge on the continent, and died, an exile, at Liege, in 1580. His banishment was the theme of the old ballad, "The Blessed Conscience."
A tragic story belongs to Blackburn Parish. In the second year of King James, a gardener, named John Waters, of Lower Darwen, was often absent from his home on account of distant employment. His rather long absence, therefore, did not arouse much surprise or anxiety; but when he did not return after weeks had passed away, and his wife was often in the company of Giles Haworth, a neighbour, suspicion became awakened, and the matter was talked over by the people. Then a man, named Thomas Haworth, a yeoman of the place, began to be tormented by horrid dreams of the murder, and told his wife of them; but she entreated him not to mention them, as they could mean nothing: however, every day, as he had to pass Waters's house on his way to his fields, he called regularly at the door to ask if his friend had returned. One day he found Mrs. Waters out, but seeing people in the room he went in as usual to ask if any thing had been heard of John Waters. He found a neighbour there and the constable, Myles Aspinall; in answer to his inquiry the neighbour pointed to the hearth-stone, and said, "People say that Waters lies under this stone." And Thomas Haworth then replied, "I have dreamed night after night that he is under a stone, but not there." The constable at once asked him to tell his dreams, and Thomas, who was actually made unhappy and ill by their nightly recurrence, answered, "I dream every night that he is murdered, and buried under a stone in the cowhouse." The constable said, "There can be no harm in searching there." They went out at once to the spot, and disinterred the poor gardener's body, which had lain there eight weeks. Giles Haworth fled the moment he heard that Ann Waters had been arrested, and a man, named Ribchester, fled with him. The woman was tried and confessed the crime. She said that she and Giles had hired Ribchester to kill her husband, but that when the hired assassin saw the poor man sleeping peacefully between his two baby children his heart failed him, and he refused to harm him. Giles, very angry, seized an axe and dashed out Waters's brains, and they buried him in the cowhouse. The actual culprit never returned, nor was it known what had become of him, nor did Ribchester return. Ann Waters was found guilty on her own confession., and was burned, according to the then existing law, for the murder of her husband.
The Hall i' the Wood is a most interesting place. It was so called because hidden in the centre of a forest; it is built on the brow of a high precipitous cliff; at the foot of which flows the little river Eagley. Hall i' th' Wood might have been the home of some Lancashire franklin or country gentleman. Its large lay window belongs to the age of its erection. In the room of the house that has this remarkable window, Crompton invented his cotton machine.
Clitheroe Castle consists now only of the keep and a portion of the outer wall, but it has a singular situation. It stands on a huge limestone crag rising out of a great plain which extends to the west from the foot of Pendle.
The chief builders of Clitheroe were probably the De Lacys, but there was never any important family dwelling here. The walls of Clitheroe are ten feet thick. The chapel has long disappeared, its ruins being probably used for building the huts and cottages of the neighbouring villages.
Lancaster Castle is supposed, from the Roman antiquities discovered there, to have been a Roman station. It was dismantled by the Picts after the Romans had left Britain, but was restored by the angloSaxons of Northumbria, under whom it first gave name to the shire. The town of Lancaster received a charter from King John, The castle was enlarged, almost rebuilt, by Edward III., who conferred the Duchy of Lancashire on his son, John of Gaunt, in whose favour he made the county again a Palatinate. Henceforth the castle was connected with the famous man who supported Wicliffe, and who was great in war and peace, "time honoured Lancaster." It was a strong and stately castle, commanding views of the sea, and we may imagine the splendour of its rooms when the great Plantagenet Prince dwelt in it.
The town of Lancaster stands on the slope of an eminence rising from the river Lune, and the summit of this eminence is crowned by the castle, which, with the church beside it, is highly picturesque from the bridge across the river. The entire area of the castle measures 380 feet by 350, not including the terrace. The oldest portion, perhaps built by Roger de Poictou, the original builder of the castle, is the lower part of the tower or keep, a massive building, eighty feet square, with walls ten feet thick. The upper portion was rebuilt in the reign of Elizabeth. This tower is seventy feet high, and eighty up to the turret called John o' Gaunt's Chair.
From thence a magnificent view is obtained over the surrounding country, and especially towards the sea, where it extends to the Isle of Man. The magnificent gateway tower is said to have been built by John of Gaunt.
The castle is very spacious in plan, comprising a large courtyard
and several smaller courts. It is now fitted up as a county jail and court-house.