Stanley Palace

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This building is on the Millennium festival trail.

Stanley Palace in Watergate Street is said (by some) 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, she died in 1627 at her Black Friars home (probably Stanley Palace) & was buried with the Grosvenors' at Eccleston.

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.

The Stanleys were one of Chester's most influential families. Through their connection with the earls of Derby, they held custody of the nearby Watergate. It 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. 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.

At Bosworth Field Thomas, Lord Stanley (he was the stepfather of Henry Tudor following his marriage to Margaret Beaufort) and 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. 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:

  • "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.

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. 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.

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 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."

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 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.

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.

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 a plaques which relates 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 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 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 an other 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.

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. 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".

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".

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. 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.

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.


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. Ther 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. 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 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 early C18 panelling, as in the Queen Anne Room.

A few Mysteries

William Stanley, Sixth earl of Derby, who lived at Stanley Palace, is believed by some to have written the plays of 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.


The tunnels "to both the Watergate & the Castle" are a recurring theme in Chester. 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)."


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.

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".
  • 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.
  • 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.