Over the last few years, the soundscapes network has been working with Speke Hall, a National Trust property on the outskirts of Liverpool that was built by the Catholic Norris family in the sixteenth century. The acoustic space of the building connects to the Norris family’s faith: you can read my previous post about the property’s soundscaping here. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Norrises were protecting Liverpool’s slave, tobacco and sugar interests through sitting in Parliament, profiting from and trading in slaves, and attempting to establish trade connections in India. Through the endeavours of first the Norris family and subsequently the Watt family, who purchased the Hall in the late eighteenth century, Speke thus has connections to owners who played significant roles in the British Empire. As Sascha Rasheed Klement reminds us, ‘like other imperial entities before it, the British Empire was the result of a range of converging social, commercial and military factors, and its ascendancy was by no means…self-evident’; in many respects the changing fortunes of the Norris family runs parallel to these converging factors.
Before their conversion to Protestantism in the seventeenth century, the Norrises remained a prominent gentry family and, as Liesbeth Corens illustrates, Catholics were not cut off from their Protestant neighbours with whom they cultivated relations, and wealthier Catholics supported less wealthy Catholics. Travel and education abroad were key methods in both educating Catholics and preparing them to return to England to take up their place in society. Yet raising children as Catholics still presented dangers. The sound story developed by Peter Falconer takes sounds recorded at Speke Hall to illustrate the conviviality and risks of harbouring Catholic priests in sixteenth-century England.