Leasowe Castle


Leasowe Castle on the central middle ground left

The original Leasowe Castle was built in 1593 by Ferdinando, the 5th Earl of Derby. In the following year he was awarded with the Manor of Wallasey, and in 1594 became the Mayor of Liverpool. The original purpose of the building is not known but it is likely to have been built in connection with sporting activities, possibly as a viewing area for the famous Wallasey races, the forerunners of the Derby race. The original octagonal tower was built with an entrance door five and a half feet above ground level. This would have given security and protection against flooding from the high tides, and also the ground floor would have served as a stable. The walls were built three feet in width, and a later owner, possibly William the 6th Earl of Derby constructed four turrets onto the original tower. T he Stanley family (the Earls of Derby), seem to have given up the building within a century of its construction, and it rapidly deteriorated to a ruin. Once known as The New Hall it soon became known as Mockbeggar Hall, a name commonly given to old ruined manorial halls. A chart of North Wirral, the Grenville Collins Pilot of 1650 shows the castle named as Mockbeggar Hall, and the foreshore as Mockbeggar Wharf, a name still used on today's Ordinance Survey Maps. The castle passed through several families until bought in 1802 by Mrs Boode. Her daughter Mary Anne married Colonel Edward Cust in 1821 and the castle remained in the Cust family until 1895. Edward Cust, the 6th son of Lord Brownlow, tried initially to run the castle as a hotel, unsuccessful he then took up residence in 1843 and made many additions to the building. In 1911 it was bought by the Trustees of the Railway Convalescent Homes, who ran the place until 1970. It was later bought in 1974 by the Wallasey Corporation who did little with it, Wirral Borough Council eventually reselling it in 1980 to Ken Harding who opened it again as a hotel.  The first St Bernard dog ever brought in England found a home at Leaoswe Casle.

 


Leasowe Castle, by me in May 1971 taken from Moreton Shore

Sir Edward Cust made many additions to the castle. In 1836 when the Star Chamber of the Court of Westminster was being demolished (so called because the ceiling was decorated with stars), he saved the oak panelling and used them to line the ground floor dining room. He used this room as a library but it became known as The Star Chamber. Some of the oak used for panelling came from the old submerged forest at Leasowe and Meols. Sir Edward was known as a bit of a joker and he placed an oak seat at the bottom of the castle garden overlooking the sea. He named the seat 'Canute's Chair' and had carved on the back, "sea come not hither nor wet the sole of my foot". There are some people, however, who believe that King Canute actually visited Leasowe in 1016 AD. There are no traces of the chair today. Not far from the chair were the "Mermaid Stones". These three boulders are thought to have been deposited by the glaciers from the last lce Age. They are associated with the legend of the Mermaid of the Black Rock, who is supposed to have sat upon the stones. Leasowe Castle is now a hotel and hit the news around December 2003 with a story about them sueing a soldier serving in Iraq because he got wounded and had to postpone a wedding.

Kenneth Burnley wrote in his 1981 book "Portrait of Wirral":

Do not go to Leasowe Castle expecting to see a fortress on a hill, surmounted by tall towers and surrounded by a moat. Castellations and turrets it has got, but there the likeness ends. Built in 1593 as “New Hall” by Ferdinando, fifth Earl of Derby, the castle has had a colourful history during its existence. Its original purpose is uncertain; the popular theory that Ferdinando used it as a grandstand for viewing the racing on the “leasowes” can probably be discounted, as it would appear that the racecourse was too far away to make this a worthwhile proposition. Ormerod is probably nearer the truth:

“Whatever the ostensible reason for the creation of a structure so substantial that sea air and the storms of over three centuries, in an exposed situation, have failed to affect it, it is more likely that it originated in a desire on the part of the builder to be prepared for any eventuality which the disturbed times in which he lived rendered probable.”

A stone bearing the date 1593 and the “three legs” emblem of the Isle of Man (the Earls of Derby being Kings of Man from 1407 to 1735) has been removed from the castle and is on display at the Williamson Museum and Art Gallery in Birkenhead. The castle’s present unplanned, sprawling appearance is the result of the work of its several owners who have added extra towers, wings, turrets and outbuildings. Towards the end of the seventeenth century the castle became derelict and acquired the name “Mockbeggar Hall”, a name given to any deserted or lonely building. Memories of this era of the castle’s history are still perpetuated in the “Mockbeggar Wharf”, the name given to the sands along the shore opposite the castle. After having been used as a farmhouse for a period, the Egerton’s of Oulton occupied the building and probably gave it its present name. The castle was sold in 1786 to a Robert Harrison, and again in 1802 to Margaret Boode, daughter of the Rector of Liverpool, and friend of the shipwrecked. As we have seen, in Chapter 2, Mrs Boode was tragically killed in an accident in Wallasey in 1826, and the castle passed into the care of her son-in-law, Sir Edward Cust. After unsuccessfully running the castle as an hotel, Sir Edward resided there off and on until his death in 1878. During his period of ownership, Sir Edward transformed the castle from a building into a home. He built the perimeter wall and entrance, panelled the dining room with wood from the original Star Chamber at Westminster, and fitted out the library with oak timbers from the submerged forest at Meols. He was probably responsible for “Canute’s Chair”, a huge oak seat which stood on the sea wall above high-water mark. The chair, which bore the inscription “Sea come not hither nor wet the sole of my foot”, disappeared some twenty years ago.


Then, and now - my photo taken December 2004. The name "Cust" can be made out on the left hand column

After the death of Sir Edward Cust, the property was owned by several other members of the Cust family, then was offered by auction, included about 50 acres of grounds, by Messrs Branch & Leete on 17th June 1893, but no offers Again offerd in Sepy 1895. The sale lasted 4 days and was not only of the Castle and grounds, but all the furnishings and fittings. It was bought and converted into a hotel, under the name, The Leasowe Castle hotel. Then in 1908 was on sale again, as a going concern. Bidding commenced at £9000 and withdrawn at £11,750.

It was bought by the Trustees of the Railway Convalescent Homes in 1910 and, except for a short time during the First World War when it was used to accommodate German prisoners, was occupied by retired railwaymen right up to 1970. In 1981 the castle stands empty, derelict, as it did 300 years ago, a twentieth-century Mockbeggar. Only security guards walk the rooms where shipwrecked sailors were comforted. It is the castle nobody wants. Wirral Borough Council, the owners, have made ambitious plans for its future; these have been scrapped, and the castle is up for sale yet again. What does the future hold for this fascinating piece of  England’s, history? A person visited the castle in order to try to capture something of its past and perhaps to glimpse its possibilities for the future. "As I turned into the driveway a watery November sun bravely tried to penetrate the veil of grey cloud, and a biting easterly wind cut across the waste flats of the foreshore. The colourless afternoon gave the grey stone walls of the castle a cheerless appearance. Away from the busy Leasowe Road, it was like stepping into another world; the weather worn stone dogs keeping watch over the main gateway eyed me curiously as I passed into the castle grounds. The immediate surroundings of the castle are very bare, only a few hardy shrubs being able to survive the merciless winds and sandy soils of these parts. From the main driveway, the castle appears a hotchpotch of additions and extensions, the black and white timbering contrasting sharply with the sturdy grey stone of the main structure. The drive curves gently to the right of the castle, the main doorway being sensibly placed in the lee of the prevailing westerly winds.

A massive stone lion keeps watch over the main doorway, which leads into the entrance hall. My first impression on entering this lofty hail was that of age and decay (an impression justified by my subsequent wanderings). Tiles were loose on the floor, and paint was peeling from the walls. And yet, as I stood alone within these cold stone walls, I felt a sense of grandeur. A fine stone and iron staircase takes pride of place in the entrance hall This is the renowned “Battle Staircase”, so called because of the hand painted nameplates of famous British battles set into the wrought-iron rails. Erected by Sir Edward Cust, the hand-rails also show the dates of the battles, the sovereign reigning at the time, and the generals in command of the troops. I noticed that, regrettably, some of the nameplates were missing, apparently removed by visitors."


Castle plan approx 1860s


Just inside main gate, on left hand side

My guide suddenly appeared from one of the many door ways leading off the entrance hall. We wandered down a long, dusky corridor and peeped into side rooms: kitchens, laundry rooms, showers, all once busy during the castle’s occupation as a convalescent home, but now quiet and empty. A spacious snooker room complete with table waited expectantly for the next pair of players to chalk their cues. Was I imagining it, or did I hear the click of cue against ball, ball against ball? Echoes of games past, perhaps? Doorways led to stairs; here there were bedrooms looking out across the grey waters of the Irish Sea and across the dreary Moreton plain to the Welsh hills. Everywhere the damp had penetrated; and indeed, workmen were busy making good rotting timbers where the weather had got in. A bright nursery room resounded no more to the sounds of children playing. My guide showed me an escape route hidden behind a false bookcase, a hiding place behind a huge mirror on the landing, and grim spiral stone stairways thick with cobwebs and leading down into the bowels of the castle. The daylight was beginning to fade as we neared the end of our tour; the cold which had permeated the thick stone walls had found its way into the depths of my being; and I found myself eagerly anticipating my own cosy room and fire awaiting me at home. But my guide had more in store for me yet. Like all good hosts, she had left the best till the last. Unlocking a sturdy door, we entered what must surely be the most attractive room in the castle. The “Star Chamber” was originally a dining-room and was fitted out by Sir Edward Cust with the original panelling from the Star Chamber in the Old Exchequer Buildings at Westminster. The light oak panelling in the walls sets off the exquisite ceiling of gilded stars on a pale background. Four old tapestries depicting the four seasons complete the magical effect of this room; it is sad that the original furniture is no longer here to complement these fine decorations. As I was leaving, the setting sun cast a rich, rosy glow across the room and the panelling seemed to be reflecting the flames from the roaring fires which surely burnt in the great hearth over the centuries.


December 2004

Before leaving the castle, I looked up to the alabaster bas relief on the landing, which depicts Wirral as it was in the days when “From Birkinheven unto Hilbree a squirrel might leape from tree to tree”. I pictured the castle, a haven for the ship wrecked, its rooms warm with life, a place of comfort on the deserted, wild, unfriendly Wirral coast. Will these rooms and corridors ever again hear the cosy chat of people relaxing after a day’s work? Will fires ever again flicker in the cold hearths? Will children ever again run up and down its staircases, discover its secret passages, run across its lawns? Will the laundry and shower rooms ever again run with condensation? The castle would make a fine hostel, school, nursing—home, museum, leisure centre. Its possibilities are endless. Or will it continue to decay, cold, silent, with only the ghosts of times past to walk its rooms and corridors?

Inland from Leasowe Castle, there is little to interest us. Acres of post-war housing cover the low-lying land of the north Wirral plain, with only the playing-fields of Cadbury’s extensive factory providing any relief before the outer housing of Moreton is encountered. The Henry Meoles School (formerly Wallasey Grammar School) squats on the marshy perimeter of the housing estate, looking out across a dreary landscape towards the slopes of Bidston Hill and more housing in the Fender Valley. (Even more so now, 2004, the green fields are vanishing fast under the greedy diggers of modern developers - mk).




December 2004, the open doorway centre has the inscription over it,below


Inscription above a door leading into part of the Castle - December 2004


The Lodge House at the Main Gate - December 2004


Grooves can clearly be seen where the main gates would have fitted into when closed - December 2004


Leasowe Castle taken from by the Lighthouse 1 April 2007


Close Up of Leasowe Castle from the Lighthouse 1 April 2007

May 2015

The Star Chamber 1910


Note tapestries above and below

and in May 2015


Date unknown

The following information was provided by Andrew Barr on Facebook 1st August 2012.

Margaret Boode was the daughter of Reverend Thomas Danneth the rector of Liverpool. She was the widow of a West Indian plantation owner, and took up residence in Mockbeggar Hall now known as Leasowe Castle in the year of 1802. Margaret Boode had a good reputation as a helper of shipwrecked sailors, many of whom were lured onto the  dangerous rocks in the area by wreckers. In addition she was well known for other charity works and promoting Christianity within the community. Their large house provided an ideal place to aid such unfortunates, both in size and situation. On the 21st April 1826, Margaret Boode was carrying out her daily duties and travelling along Breck Road in a horse & carriage. For reasons unknown, the horse shied and Margaret Boode was thrown from her carriage and killed instantly aged 52 years. As a mark of respect a large Gothic style obelisk made from lime stone was erected some 25 years after in 1827. At the bottom of the monument an inscription read:


Near this spot Mrs. Boode of Leasowe Castle was killed
By a fall from her pony carriage April 21st 1826.
May ye who pass by
Respect this memorial of an awful dispensation
And the affectionate tribute of an only child
To Perpetuate the clever mother's memory

Beyond the existence of that breast
Which will never cease to cherish it
Ah, may the sad remembrance which attachés to this spot
Impress on everyone this salutary warning
In the Midst of Life we are in Death
Erected in 1827, mother-in-law of Colonel Cust of Leasowe Castle.

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