Stanley Palace

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This building is on the Millennium festival trail.

Thomas Hughes described it as follows:

  • "..up a narrow inconvenient passage is a house which invites and eminently deserves our notice and admiration. This house is styled indifferently the OLD PALACE and STANLEY HOUSE from its having been originally the city palace or residence of the Stanleys of Alderley, a family of note in the county and now ennobled. This is an elaborately carved three gabled house and is perhaps the oldest unmutilated specimen of a timber house remaining in the city the date of its erection being carved on the front 1591. The sombre dignity of its exterior pervades also the internal construction of this house;- the large rooms the panelled walls the oaken floors, the massive staircase, all pointing it out as the abode of aristocracy in the olden time."

Hughes describes the house as having three gables because the forth, that nearest the street, was only added well after his time.

Stanley Palace in Watergate Street was said (by Nikolaus Pevsner) to be Chester's finest Elizabethan house. It was built in 1591 for lawyer Sir Peter Warburton of Grafton, Vice Chancellor of the Cheshire Exchequer and then the city's MP (and also - a relation to the bread bakers). When Warburton died in 1621, the property was inherited by his (sixth) daughter; Elizabeth, who was married to Sir Thomas Stanley, a kinsman of the earls of Derby (hence it is also known as Derby House). On the death of her husband Elizabeth married Sir Richard Grosvenor of Eaton Hall (his third wife), she died in 1627 at her "Blackfriars home" (probably Stanley Palace) & was buried with the Grosvenors' at Eccleston. Like her first husband Elizabeth's second husband had his share of bad luck: Grosvenor stood surety for the debts of his son-in-law, Peter Daniell, but in 1629 Daniell defaulted on his debts, and for almost ten years Grosvenor was incarcerated in the Fleet Prison.

The Warburton's

The Stanleys inherited their claim to the Crown through Mary, the younger sister of Henry VIII when all of his children died without issue. Earls of Derby are shown in red. The Stanleys of Alderley were descended from John Stanley. Thomas Stanley of Knowsley, was created first Earl of Derby two months after Bosworth Field, where his family contributed greatly to the victory of the Tudors. This first Lord Derby was, according to Ormerod, a younger son, and it was his elder brother, Sir John Stanley, who became the founder of the line of Stanley of Alderley by his marriage with Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Thomas de Weever of Weever and Alderley. Some writers have assumed that the Earls of Derby, having attained the greater social eminence, are the senior line, but this would appear not to be the case in fact.

Just how the house came into the posession of the Stanleys has been the subject of some historic differences of opinion. Peter Warburton died in 1621 and some accounts state that the house was inherited by his daughter Elizabeth. Other versions state that he made his only surviving child, Dame Elizabeth Stanley, his executrix and left her all his lands, with the exception of his leasehold property in Cheshire, which went, along with £500, to his grandson Thomas Stanley. His three grand-daughters were left £266 13s.4d. each. To John Jeffreys, his ‘friend and cousin’, Warburton left all his manuscripts and his ‘written books of the laws of England’, and he bequeathed a small sum of money to his servant Fabian Philipps, possibly the later royalist author.

On 13th September 1596 Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Stanley (born 5 January 1576/77) who is sometimes said to have given his name to the house: but he died on 21 November 1605 at age 28 - before the death of Peter Warburton. Sources agree that the house then passed to his son another Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Bt. who was born on 31 May 1597. He held the office of Sheriff of Cheshire from 1630 to 1631 and was created 1st Baronet Stanley, of Alderley on 25 June 1660. His ancestor was John Stanley, a brother of the William and Thomas Stanleys present at the battle of Bosworth field.

When Warburton was seeking permission to use the family arms in 1597, he described his grandfather as:

  • "a younger son of Sir Geoffrey Warburton by a later wife, and having little to live upon was never married, and so my father [was] illegitimate".

Peter Warburton's father was well thought of, he continued, and was sheriff in 1524. Whatever his origins, Warburton made his way as a lawyer, coming to the notice of the Earl of Leicester, chamberlain of the palatinate of Chester, and to that of Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby, who later succeeded Leicester as chamberlain. He was already legal counsel to Chester in 1584, when Leicester and Derby both recommended to the city that he should be made an alderman. Chester took no immediate action and rejected Leicester’s nomination of Warburton there in 1584. Instead Warburton came in for Newcastle-under-Lyme, through his own duchy of Lancaster connexions. By 1586 he was an alderman and resident of the city. He was elected by Chester to the Parliaments of 1586, 1589 and 1597, on the third occasion in the senior place, usually taken by the Recorder. In 1593 he declined, being preoccupied by ‘great business’ for the Queen, for others and for himself, and he considered that his request to be spared was:

  • "the more reasonable, because I have served three sessions already and will hereafter do you the best I can".

Warburton’s name occurs in the journals of the House of Commons only for his last Parliament, when he was appointed to committees on the poor law (20 Dec. 1597), ordinances made by corporations (12 Jan. 1598), maltsters (12 Jan.), bread (13 Jan.), defence (16 Jan.), Norwich diocese (16 Jan.) and some minor legal matters (11, 14, 16, 18 Jan.). As a serjeant-at-law he could also have attended committees on the penal laws (8 Nov. 1597), the continuation of statutes (11 Nov.), forgery (12 Nov.), the poor law (22 Nov.), monopolies (8 Dec.) and defence (23 Jan. 1598).

Trials in which he took part included those of the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Ralegh and the Gunpowder plotters. He had scarcely become judge when he fell foul of Cecil’s aunt, Elizabeth, who felt that Warburton had done her "an open wrong" by his decision in one of her suits:

  • "Let him know his duty," she wrote, "since he knoweth not honesty nor justice ... For God’s sake let me have ... him unjusticed or openly reproved for his insolent breach of justice."

It is doubtful if the complaints of Cecil’s "desolate wronged aunt" much affected Warburton’s fortunes. He survived somewhat less easily King James’s disfavour in 1616, when he hanged a Scotch falconer at Oxford against the King’s command. He died in 1621. In his will he asked to be buried beside his third wife.

The Stanleys

Stanley Palace in 2014. The house has been extensively modified over the years with the north wing (the rightmost bay) having only been built in 1935. Stanley Palace was built in 1591 on the site of the former Black (Dominican) Friary as the town house for Sir Peter Warburton, a local lawyer and Member of Parliament.

The Stanleys were once one of Chester's most influential families. Through their connection with the earls of Derby, they held custody of the nearby Watergate. Stanley Palace stands on the site previously between the Friary's of the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars. Thomas Stanley the first earl of Derby, managed to remain in favour with successive kings throughout the Wars of the Roses until his death in 1504. Thomas fought on the Lancastrian side at the Battle of Northampton (1460): the opposing forces were an army led by nobles loyal to King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster, his Queen Margaret of Anjou and their seven-year-old son Edward, Prince of Wales on one side, and the army of Edward, Earl of March and Warwick the Kingmaker on the other. He then joined Edward IV but switched his support briefly to Warwick. After the Battle of Barnet (1471), Thomas re-joined Edward. However, he finished the Wars of the Roses a Lancastrian.

His estates included what is now Tatton Park in Cheshire, Lathom House in Lancashire, and Derby House in the City of London, now the site of the College of Arms. They wielded massive power and influence, particularly in the north of England.

Treason! Treason! Treason!

At Bosworth Field Thomas, Lord Stanley (he was the stepfather of Henry Tudor following his marriage to Margaret Beaufort) and his brother Sir William Stanley brought a force to the battlefield, but held back while they decided which side it would be more advantageous to support. The night before the battle, asleep in the Blue Boar Tavern, King Richard was supposed to have had a terrible dream in which he was forewarned that all was lost. It is an unlikely story – one of many told about the King. The pub was not even called the Blue Boar when he slept there - the sign was that of the White Boar and was repainted by the Inn-holder in a hurry as soon as the battle was lost.

More probable is the story that the Duke of Norfolk was warned cryptically of the Stanley brothers’ coming treachery by a notice pinned on the door of his tent while he slept. This read:

A highly inaccurate portrayal of William Stanley as used by by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, with a much later gun and the wrong armour.
  • "Jacky of Norfolk, be not too bold, For Dickon thy master is bought and sold."

It did not help the Duke of Norfolk, who died in the battle.

The reasons for all this treason are complex. Richard III was not the complete ogre that he was later painted as, and the Stanleys were a pair of opportunists. William Stanley had married Elizabeth Hopton, widow of the (executed) Earl of Worcester and that gave him a good independent income while the new Earl, a minor, still lived. William lived in considerable luxury at Holt Castle. In August 1585 the 16 year old heir died and William Stanley's guardianship (and income) ended. He had little to lose by throwing in his lot with Henry Tudor.

When Richard III saw the treachery unfolding he was urged to flee, but flatly refused: “This day I will die as a King, or win” he is reported to have stated. Spying Henry Tudor with only a few men around him (well behind the actual fighting), Richard III gambled everything on personally leading a charge across the battlefield to kill Henry Tudor and end the fight - Richard almost succeeded. However, seeing the king's knights separated from his army - perhaps not more than 100 in all - and open to attack, the Stanleys intervened; Sir William led his men to Henry's aid, surrounding and killing Richard. Shakespeare changes the historical facts so that it is Thomas who leads the rescue of Henry Tudor. Richard III's last words were apparently "Treason! Treason! Treason!". The charge has been portrayed has a reckless decision made on the spot, but may well have been an option that Richard had planned in advance, given the past behaviour of Henry Tudor, and given the time it would take to arrange such a charge. Interestingly, Richard opened the battle with an artillery bombardment, using cannon brought from London and as far afield as Calais, which further indicates a well thought-out strategy rather than a reckless decision on the spot. Richard wanted to personally engage Henry Tudor in combat and secure the crown by a heroic act of arms.

A portrait purported to be of "Thomas Stanley" (1st Earl), although the clothing is of a much later period. Thomas had a brother John from whom the Barons Stanley of Alderley descend and a sister Katherine Stanley, wife of Sir John Savage (soldier), KG, of Clifton, Cheshire. Of their many sons, the eldest, Sir John Savage, KG, was the commander of the left wing of Henry Tudor's army at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

After the battle, Richard's circlet was found and brought to Henry, who was crowned king at the top of Crown Hill, near the village of Stoke Golding. According to Polydore Vergil, Henry's official historian, Lord Stanley found the circlet in a bush and crowned Henry Tudor king. The same occurs in Shakespeare's Richard III (where the Earl of Derby, Thomas Stanley says to the Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor):

  • "Courageous Richmond, well hast thou acquit thee / Lo, here, this long-usurped royalty / From the dead temples of this bloody wretch / Have I pluck'd off, to grace thy brows withal / Wear it, enjoy it, and make much of it."

In fact Thomas Staney took no part in the battle, but just stood about with his arms waiting to see who was going to win. Shakespeare also changes who does the crowning. In Bacon's history of King Henry VII it is William who:

  • "..after some acclamation of the soldiers in the field, had put a crown of ornament, which Richard wore in the battle and was found amongst the spoils, upon King Henry's head.."

Lord Thomas Stanley lived on in peaceful obscurity under the new King as the Earl of Derby. Sir William Stanley, however, seemed wedded to treachery. Ten years after Bosworth he became involved in another plot (support of the pretender Perkin Warbeck), this time against the man whom he had helped to the crown. Warned in time, Henry had William Stanley seized, tried and beheaded.

William and Ferdinando

Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (1559 – 16 April 1594) was a supporter of the arts, enjoying music, dance, poetry, and singing, but above all he loved the theatre. He was the patron of many writers, including Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have been employed by Strange in his early years as one of Lord Strange's Men, when this troupe of acrobats and tumblers was reorganized, emphasizing the performing of plays. The troupe produced Titus Andronicus and the trilogy of Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2, and Henry VI, Part 3. Some of these plays may contain oblique references to the Stanley family's political position at the time. By 1590, Strange's was allied with the Admiral's Men, performing at "The Theatre" (owned by James Burbage, father of the actor Richard Burbage). Ferdinando Stanley never lived at Stanley Palace and died (1594) before the property became Stanley property (1596).

William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, incorrectly assumed the barony of Strange created in 1299 on the death of his elder brother, the fifth Earl of Derby, in 1594. The Stanley's were associated with the Isle of Man. The title of the "Lord of Mann" was the subject of a succession dispute between the daughters of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby and Ferdinando Stanley's brother William Stanley in 1594-1607. It was during this time that Bishop Lloyd of Bishop Lloyd's House was Archbishop of Mann, hence the Manx symbol on the front of that building.

Stanley Palace from a postcard. The "narrow entrance" can be seen on the right.

In his later years William Stanley purchased "a convenient house on the side of the River Dee", near Chester, whither we are told he retired and "passed the evening of his life in quiet, peace, and pleasing enjoyment of ease, rest, and freedom of body as well as mind". He died on the 29 Sep 1642. See: Shakespeare and Chester for more on that. While there is an engraving of William on the wall at Stanley Palace he probably never lived there, but may have visited after Elizabeth Warburton married Thomas Stanley in 1596.

In 1628 his son and heir apparent, James Stanley, was summoned to the House of Lords through a writ of acceleration as Lord Strange. When it was discovered that his father's assumption of the barony was erroneous, it was deemed that there were two baronies of Strange, one created in 1299 and then in abeyance, and another created "accidentally" in 1628. James Stanley later succeeded his father as seventh Earl of Derby.

In 1626, James Stanley, then the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, was ordered to establish a magazine in Chester Castle at the county's expense. The post of the Lord Lieutenant was at this time held by the 7th Earl of Derby. This same Earl of Derby was later (1651) tried at Chester and executed in Churchgate, Bolton. While in Chester Castle, Derby nearly escaped by means of a long rope thrown up to him from outside the walls; he fastened the rope securely, slid down it, and reached the banks of the River Dee, where a boat waited for him. Unfortunately, Derby's escape was discovered; he was seized and brought back to the castle. The following story is told of subsequent preparations for the execution:

  • "Lieutenant Smith came from the governor of Chester to notify the condemned earl to be ready for the journey to Bolton. The earl asked, "When would you have me go?" "To-morrow, about six in the morning," said Smith. "Well," replied the earl, "commend me to the governor, and tell him I shall be ready by that time." Then said Smith, "Doth your lordship know any friend or servant that would do the thing your lordship knows of? It would do well if you had a friend." The earl replied, "What do you mean? to cut off my head?" Smith said, "Yes, my lord, if you could have a friend." The earl answered, "Nay, sir, if those men that would have my head will not find one to cut it off, let it stand where it is."

Derby was taken to Bolton for his execution (15th October 1651) after a last drink at the ominously named "Ye Olde Man And Scythe". Outside that Public House, there is a cross on the site that bears plaques which relate various stories of Bolton through the ages. However, within the pub itself, there is the chair that the Earl of Derby supposedly sat in before being taken outside to be beheaded, the inscription of which reads "15th October 1651 In this chair James 7th Earl of Derby sat at the Man and Scythe Inn, Churchgate, Bolton immediately prior to his execution".

The constellations Aquila (Adler in German) and Antinous.

The Bird and the Baby

The building itself has suffered some changes since the late 16th century, however , original parts of the house have survived, e.g. exterior timbers on the ground floor and in the upstairs long gallery. There are some early floorboards in the long gallery. On the ground floor, the ceiling in the Queen Anne Room has the Stanley's Coat of Arms, bearing Three Stags Heads & the Eagle & Child, with the words Sans Changer, 'without changing'. Sir Peter, the second Baronet, who died in 1683 is supposed to have added this room. The "eagle and child" motif in the staircase window is a reference to the story of Sir Thomas Latham (a Stanley ancestor) who had no son by his wife but one by a mistress. To get the child accepted by his wife, Sir Thomas had the infant placed in an eagle's nest where he and his wife just happened to find it. Then again, the "eagle" might just be a griffin as another story tells of another Stanley ancestor who went away on Crusade leaving his soon to be unfaithful wife behind. When the knight returned he found his wife nursing an infant but she told him that a griffin had left the child in a basket. The stained glass window on the stair is not as old as some might think, it was donated by the 17th Earl Derby in 1935.

The "Eagle and Child" used to be a constellation which has now been simplified to Aquilla. It was associated with the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his boyfriend Antinous a real character, not a mythological one, although the story reads like fiction. Antinous was born c. AD 110 in the town of Bythinium (also called Claudiopolis), near present-day Bolu in north-western Turkey. At that time this area was a Roman province, and Hadrian is thought to have met Antinous during an official visit. Hadrian, the first openly gay Roman Emperor, was smitten by the boy and groomed him to become his constant companion. Hadrian’s happiness did not last long, though. While on a trip up the Nile in AD 130, Antinous drowned (in October) near the present-day town of Mallawi in Egypt. Supposedly an oracle had predicted that the Emperor would be saved from danger by the sacrifice of the object he most loved, and Antinous realized that this description applied to him. Whether the drowning was accident, suicide, or even ritual sacrifice, Hadrian was heartbroken by it. He founded a city called Antinoöpolis near the site of the drowning, declared Antinous a god, and commemorated him in the sky from stars [Antinous (constellation) south of Aquila], the Eagle, that had not previously been considered part of any constellation. Antinous was mentioned as a sub-division of Aquila in Ptolemy’s Almagest, although it is not included among the canonical 48 Greek figures. Ptolemy worked at Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile and he compiled the Almagest about 20 years after the famous drowning so he would have known the story; indeed, he might have had a hand in creating the constellation, possibly at Hadrian’s request. According to Ptolemy, Antinous consisted of six stars, which we now know as Eta, Theta, Delta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda Aquilae. The constellation’s first known depiction was in 1536 on a celestial globe by the German mathematician and cartographer Caspar Vopel (1511–61); it was shown again in 1551 on a globe by Gerardus Mercator. Tycho Brahe listed it as a separate constellation in his star catalogue of 1602 and it remained widely accepted into the 19th century, when it was eventually remerged with Aquila.

The legend of the Eagle and Child may however be older still, as there was an inn of that name in Chester. It was in Shoemaker's Row in Northgate Street and dated back to 1540. The inn was distinguished as being associated with the Minstrel Court, the last instance of which was held in 1756. The inn later became the "Legs of Man" indicating a further link with the Stanleys.

A gallery - inside and out

Later History

In 1831 the house, owned by two builders (and sometime architects) Hodkinson & Boden, was split into three cottages. Along with this, additional land and outbuildings were also sold off for further housing development. It was shut off from Watergate Street by other buildings, and could only be reached through a narrow entry. Threatened with demolition, there was a proposal in 1866 to dismantle the structure and transport it to the United States. Several of the larger and longer established boys' schools in the 1870s occupied such notable buildings as the old Albion Hotel and Bridge House in Lower Bridge Street, 'Derby House' (Stanley Palace), and Forest House in Foregate Street, though Gamul House had closed as a boarding school in the 1860s.

In 1889, Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby, came to the rescue by buying it to have it preserved for the community. In those days he was Foreign Secretary and a Knight of the Garter. Derby's health never recovered from an attack of influenza which he had in 1891, and he died at Knowsley on 21 April 1893, aged 66. In 1911 the house opened as a Museum & curio shop by a Mancunian gentleman, E. Booth-Jones. It was said to contain "1000 curios". Postcards from the time show the building crammed with all manner of bric-à-brac, or in modern English, "tawdry tat". The exhibits included what appear to be "carronades" (short-barrelled unrifled cannon) with a distinctive breach ring or "eye". They fired an extremely heavy shot but, to keep down the weight of the gun, it had a very short barrel, giving it shorter range and lesser accuracy. However, at the short range of many naval engagements, these "smashers" were very effective - especially at creating anti-personel splinter "shrapnel". Their lighter weight and smaller crew requirement allowed them to be used on smaller ships than would otherwise be needed to fire such heavy projectiles. It was used from the 1770s to the 1850s. Carronades initially became popular on British merchant ships during the American Revolutionary War. A lightweight gun that needed only a small gun crew and was devastating at short range was well suited to defending merchant ships against French and American privateers.

A Postcard Gallery of "1000 Curios"

The house was still three cottages, and after some restoration work to open up the building, it is often reported that tunnels "to both the Watergate & the Castle" were supposedly discovered, these are usually associated with the trap door that was situated in the floor of the entrance. In 1928 the 17th Earl of Derby passed the house over to Chester City Council on a 999-year lease. The Council commenced work to restore and extend the building, adding the fourth bay on the site of the demolished building which had previously defined the "narrow entry".

The arms of the Stanley family refer directly to their history as wardens of a royal hunting forest. They are also found on the front of Bishop Lloyd's House in Watergate Street.

In 1935 the elaborate stained glass window was installed on the second floor. It depicts the Coat of Arms of the 7th Earl of Derby, and quartered on it, the Arms of his wife, Charlotte de la Tremoille. Her father was Claude de La Trémoille. Her maternal grandparents were William I, Prince of Orange, and Charlotte de Bourbon. The French motto is that of Knights of the Garter honi soit qui mal y ponse, 'Evil he who thinks ill of it'. 'The Eagle & Child,' forms part of this Coat of Arms.

Lady Derby was famous for her defence of Lathom House in the Siege of Lathom House by Parliamentary forces during the First English Civil War in 1644. During the absence of her spouse, she was left in charge of what turned out to be the last remaining Royalist stronghold in Lancashire. Immediately after the fall of Warrington, she was requested to acknowledge Parliament's authority and surrender her house, but she refused on the grounds that doing so would dishonour her husband. She offered to limit herself to defending her home and this postponed further attacks on her position. In February 1644, Latham House was besieged by the forces of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Lady Derby had fortified the castle to resist bombardment and assembled a militia of seasoned marksmen who were able to inflict significant losses by sniping. She expressly refused repeated offers of surrender. On 27 May 1644, Prince Rupert arrived with Royalist forces and the siege was broken. Lady Derby and her staff were evacuated to the Isle of Man. Lady Derby's defence of Lathom House is commemorated in Letitia Elizabeth Landon's poem. The song "They called her Babylon" by Steeleye Span also tells the story of the siege. It appears on their 2004 album of the same name. Her husband was also Lord of Mann. Lady Derby's attempt to barter the island for her husband's freedom provoked an anti-English revolt led by Illiam Dhone. Lady Derby was holding Man, but the total destruction of the Royal army at Worcester, the flight of Prince Charles to an exile in France and the execution of her husband left her without hope of assistance. She eventually yielded with reluctance to the necessity of a surrender and retained, says David Hume:

The arms of the La Trémoille family.
  • "the glory of being the last person in the three kingdoms, and in all their dependent dominions, who submitted to the victorious rebels"

Stanley Palace is a Chester City Council Public Building, but administered by the Trustees of "The Friends of Stanley Palace", a registered charity formed in 1999. The rooms are available for hire.

Architecture

What we see today is not entirely original as the house has been in part demolished with the south-west wing bring rebuilt early in the 18thC and the north wing built in 1935. The structure has an ashlar sandstone plinth and above that a timber frame with plaster panels and a slate roof. It extends over two storeys and is now U-shaped. The east front has four gables, of which the the northernmost has been rebuilt. The twelve-panel oak door is a replacement. There is a two-light mullioned window in the south bay, a similar single-light window in third bay, and five-light window in second and fourth bay. There are narrow full-height panels between openings of lower storey. The front has a moulded jetty bressumer, decorated in three southern bays. A projecting mullioned and transomed five-light window is seen in each bay of upper storey and these have three arched decorated panels beneath. There are four terms between windows and four "Atlantes" beneath the second window. All glazing is leaded. There are quadrant-braced panels between windows, replaced jettied moulded tie-beams, wavy herringbone struts in the gable. The brick south end is probably 18thC. The north wing has been rebuilt in simplified timber framing.

Internally, the hall has square cross-beams halved over two chamfered main beams. A large recess to rear has cased posts and main beam and the ingle-nook to the right has bressumer carrying brackets to main beam. Some of the wood appears to be re-used ship-timber as illustrated by the artist Joseph Pike (1883-1956). The entrance of the former screens passage is opposite. A pair of oak doors leads to the "Queen Anne Room" in the south-west wing: the room has early C18 panelling in an earlier basic structure, with one row beneath the dado and one tall row above. The panelled overmantel has been repaired. Two plainly chamfered main beams separate the three plaster ceiling panels, each of which has the Stanley of Alderley arms on a raised shield, and motto "SANS CHANGER". A rose is in each corner of each panel, and on upper oak panel of the overmantel. Oak stair with a panelled cupboard inserted beneath have closed string, square newels, two spiral-moulded balusters per step and a heavy (probably replaced) moulded rail. The gallery has framed partition north of the stair-head with two intermediate rails and vase-posts between lower panels. There is small panelling to all walls and cased beams. The room above the "Queen Anne Room" has restored early C18 panelling, as in the Queen Anne Room.

A few Mysteries

William Stanley, Sixth earl of Derby, who probably didn't live at Stanley Palace, is believed by some to have written the plays of Shakespeare: see - Shakespeare and Chester.

Shakespeare

William Stanley is sometimes said to have written (between 1589 and 1613) the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. His brother Ferdinando, also known as Lord Strange and who was to become the fifth Earl of Derby, formed his own group of players known as Lord Strange's Men. Lord Strange's Men was one of the leading companies of the time, by 1592, probably including a little-known actor named "William Shakspur" from Stratford-on-Avon. Eventually, Lord Strange's Men became The Chamberlain's Men and finally The King's Men.

William Stanley called himself "Will", as did the author of the Shakespeare Sonnets — not "William", "Francis", "Edward" or anything else. He grew up in an environment saturated with and famous for drama, both in his Lancashire/Cheshire homeland and in his family, again much more than any other candidate. He was deeply involved in the drama of the time — with players, in play-writing, with his own company, and with at least one children's company. He was of the right age — four years older than the actor from Stratford-on-Avon and longer-lived — so no pre-dating or post-dating of the plays (almost all of which are reasonably dated to within a few years) is required to fit him. His path crossed "Shakspur's" at just the right time to agree on an author/front-man relationship that would benefit both, perhaps when William Stanley's works were already circulating as "by W. S.". And, finally, someone, writing in a handwriting indistinguishable from William Stanley's (and very distinguishable from any other candidate), was writing lines in the one surviving manuscript of a play that are generally agreed to be in Shakespeare's handwriting.

There is some evidence that "Shakespeare" was influenced by the contents of medieval "Mystery Plays" off which more is said on the Chester Mystery Plays page. There is even more on this site about the possible links between Shakespeare and Chester.

Tunnels

The tunnels "to both the Watergate & the Castle" are a recurring theme in Chester, but there is no actual evidence for them. In Roman Chester there was a main sewage and waste-water disposal system via rock-cut culverts set below the main streets and no doubt connected to both communal and private latrines, such as those for the centurions at Abbey Green. Ranulph Higden, a monk at the abbey of St Werburgh in Chester (later the Cathedral) wrote a description of Chester in the mid fourteenth century. He described underground passages, huge stones inscribed with the names of ancient men, and vaulted dining rooms:

  • There be waies heere under the ground vaulted marvelously with stone worke, chambers having arched roofes over had, huge stones engraven with the names of ancient men. Heere also are sometimes digged up peeces of money coined by Julius Caesar and other famous persons, and stamped with their inscriptions

Gerald of Wales refers to:

  • "Urbs Legionum base authentica, ac per Romanos muris coctilibus circumdata, ubi multa aclhuc pristine nobilitatis apparent vestigia ; palatia scilicet immensa, turris gigantea, thermae insignes, templerum reliquiae, et loca theatralia, egregiis muris partim extan tibus pene clausa, et tarn intra quam extra murorum ambitum, sedificia subterranea, aquarum ductus, hypogffiique meatus." (A genuine city of the Legions, surrounded by walls of brick (or tiles), in which many remains of its pristine grandeur are still apparent, namely, immense palaces, a gigantic tower, beautiful baths, remains of temples, and sites of theatres, almost entirely enclosed by excellent walls, in part remaining; also, both within and outside the circumference of the walls, subterranean constructions, water-courses, vaults with passages.)

Another website about Chester records:

  • "WATERGATE STREET, BISHOP LLOYD'S PALACE, c. 1880. This two gabled building, not looking much like a palace here, was built early in the 17th century, supposedly for Bishop George Lloyd, formerly Bishop of Sodor and Man, and Bishop of Chester from 1604, whose date of death, 1615, is on one of the panels, as are various biblical subjects. Inside is a 'secret' doorway, said at one time to lead by an underground passage to the Cathedral. (If all the secret passages which were said to lead to the Cathedral actually existed, the town would have a veritable catacombe under its streets. I remember as a schoolboy being told with great authority that a house in St. John's Street had such a passage and another was said to lead from the old brewery in Lower Bridge Street. In neither place could I find trace of them)."

Nearby Wrexham also had persistent legends about extensive tunnels under the town center. These were treated with a certain degree of disbelief until quite recently (2019) when some tunnels were in fact "discovered". It is not clear whether these had any purpose other than as drains and sewers.

Paranormal

James Stanley, the Earl of Derby was imprisoned and tried at Chester Castle, almost escaped, and was executed at Bolton. He is said to haunt Stanley Palace. The painting is by Anthony Van Dyke.

Being labelled as the most haunted house in Chester, there have been numerous reports of various phenomena happening over many years:

  • The Lady Elizabeth, Sir Peter Warburton's daughter died in her Black Friars home in 1627. On two occasions her presence has supposedly been observed. A visitor to Stanley Palace reported seeing a lady dressed in a manner related to the 17th century and though it was a volunteer, to welcome visitors to the building. The Lady then disappeared through a doorway, which on later inspection the visitor found this doorway to be an interior panelled wall. A paranormal group, who recently investigated the building, stated that they became aware of a lady, who although welcoming to them, demanded formal etiquette and respect and was clearly the Lady of the House.
  • James the 7th Earl of Derby (executed in Bolton by Cromwell's followers) was said to have been betrayed by his trusted manservant, a sympathizer of Oliver Cromwell. A lady attending a social function at Stanley Palace is said to have seen a man dressed in a fashion to that worn by servants in the 17th century, pass her in the foyer and enter the Queen Anne room. James has the wonderful title "Lord Strange": it is sometime said he lived here, but he didn't. The story of him having lived here and much else of the local legends about the house were fabricated by Booth-Jones when he ran the property as a museum
  • Over the years footsteps have been heard in the Gallery and a report in a local newspaper tells of two ladies who not only heard the footsteps, but have been told a number of people have also been aware of the Gallery footsteps and other unexplained noises. None of the staff working there in 2019 have ever seen any sign of hauntings (apart from the footsteps .....).
  • By 1831 the house had deteriorated and had been divided into three shabby cottages. Paranormal investigators were aware of a giggling atmosphere and children. A girl with waist-length dark hair, wearing a pinafore dress, was frightened by an old man with a walking stick, who swore at children and gave chase waving his stick; perhaps he was a resident of the neighboring cottage, who disliked the children's chatter and giggles.
  • During WW2 Stanley Palace was a place of recreation for the armed forces that were stationed in Chester. Upstairs by the staircase entrance to the Gallery, one paranormal group a noticed figure of a gentleman, dressed in the uniform of a second world war army officer was in command of the entertainment. At the far end of the Gallery a grey haired lady was playing the piano and seamed to have a preference for Johannes Brahms.

Related Pages

Sources and Links

Many thanks to the incredibly pleasant and helpful staff at Stanley Palace for photographic access.

  • Stanley Palace - official site (did have many pictures - now a bit of a mess);