One of the most distinctive places to stay on the Wirral is Leasowe Castle, which was in fact never a castle, though it has been put to many uses in its four-hundred-year history.
Leasowe Castle is identified with the “New Hall” built by Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby in 1593, the year of his accession to his title, possibly as a stand from which to watch horse-racing on the flat shore.
A datestone bearing the Stanleys’ triskelion, the three-legged symbol of the Manx kingdom, is now in the Williamson Museum & Art Gallery in Birkenhead.
Ferdinando, Earl of Derby’s original structure was an octagonal tower with walls three feet thick, to which were later added four square towers, possibly by William, 6th Earl, in the early seventeenth century.
By the late seventeenth century the building was derelict and known locally as “Mockbeggar Hall” and for much of the eighteenth century it was used as a farmhouse.
In 1802 was sold to Margaret Boole, “the kind old lady of Leasowe Castle”, which she had made a refuge for the victims of shipwrecks and wreckers on the Wirral coast.
She set up Dannet’s Rocket Apparatus on the shore in an attempt to prevent shipwrecks and the pernicious activities of the local wreckers, who would show false lights in an attempt to lure vessels ashore.
Margaret Boole died in 1826 as a result of a carriage accident, and the Castle passed to her daughter and heir, Mary Anne, the wife of Col Edward Cust.
Colonel Cust converted the Castle to a hotel with the intention of establishing a resort in the grounds, and when this ambitious project failed in 1843 he turned back it into a residence which he kept until his death.
Edward Cust added most of the features of the building as it now stands –
- the perimeter wall and entrance gateway
- the Battle Staircase, its 84 wrought-iron balusters each carrying a painted nameplate commemorating a British victory
- the dining room panelled with wood ostensibly taken in 1839 from the original Star Chamber in the Exchequer Buildings of the Palace of Westminster
- the supposedly haunted library fitted with oak timbers from the submerged forest at Moels
– and possibly the oak Canute’s Chair, now lost, which stood above the high-water line, carved with the motto “Sea come not hither nor wet the sole of my foot”.
One of Col Edward Cust’s successors sold the Castle in 1891 to the Leasowe Castle Hotel company.
The original Star Chamber panels are reported to have been sold in the contents sale which took place on September 16th-20th 1895: the existing ones may be reproductions.
In 1910 the Castle was bought by the Trustees of the Railway Convalescent Home and, apart from an interlude during the First World War when it housed German prisoners of war, it remained in their hands until 1970.
In 1982 it returned to hotel use: http://www.leasowecastle.com.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.