Brief Description

The house was demolished in 1964. The stables were rebuilt in 1911. In 1965 the stables and adjacent buildings were converted to a dwelling. The gardens behind the stables were renovated. From 1965 to present day: restoration of house at Rowlands, the cottages on the estate, the farm, a 15th century mill and the Shell House.


The House at Jordans was built in 1796 by the grandson of William Speke also called William. The house replaced an older Tudor style house built in 1633. The site was named Jordans after a family that had previously owned the land and had built at least 2 houses of the same name before.

This Georgian Mansion was surrounded by parkland, ornamental gardens, a walled garden and a lake beside which a small grotto was built in 1828, which still stands. The interior of the Grotto is decorated by coral and shells from around the British Empire, arriving by ship into the port of Bristol.

In 1827 the house saw the birth of its most famous resident John Hanning Speke, a contemporary of Livingstone and Stanley and other Victorian Explorers. In 1858 John Hanning discovered the source of the River Nile and named it Lake Victoria, solving one of the greatest mysteries of the age. He died only 4 years later in a shooting accident amidst controversy and just before a debate with his rival Burton to be held at the Royal Geographic society in Bath.

More recent history saw the house’s final resident from the family. Colonel Walter Speke, a veteran of both the Boer and First World Wars before returning to Jordans in 1918 until his death in 1944. With no children, having never married the house was due to pass to his nephew William Speke but he had tragically been killed in 1942 during the Second World War and instead it passed to William’s eight-year old son, Peter.

Detailed Description

Survey by Somerset Gardens Trust between February 2002 and January 2004


Jordans was originally approached off the old A358 between Taunton and Ilminster. Jordans is now accessed by taking the first turning on the right after the A303/A348 roundabout, signposted to Ilton, and then the next turning right through a wooden field gate along the old A358, which is now blocked off at the far end. The main entrance is through two stone gateposts, which were specially made for Jordans by the local firm of Minsterstone, Ilminster; these are in good condition; and two rusty wrought iron gates, these gates may have been made by the Estate Blacksmith, they are hung on wrought iron piers. The railings either side of the stone gateposts form a double curve with two smaller wrought iron piers which are almost hidden in the hedge at present. There is a small pedestrian gate in the main left-hand wrought iron gate. There is also a broken cattle grid.


The fenced parkland lies on either side of a tarmac driveway with several specimen trees on both sides. There are a group of turkey oaks on the left hand side, near the gates a large 'veteran oak' on the right hand side and a dying ash.


The driveway leads over a second cattle grid to the yard in front of the former stables now converted to private dwellings. The whole building is in good condition having been rebuilt in 1911 and converted to dwellings in late 1965. On the roof above the plaque is a weather vane of a fox, now missing its brush. A row of six stable doors remains in the wing on the right-hand side, which backs on to the walled kitchen garden. The southern stable wall has a large arch, which has been filled in with random hamstone and has been partly covered by shrubs. At this end of the stables there is a small raised flower bed and a piece of rough paving. These, from conversation with Christopher Booker, are the remains of a small enclosed yard behind a generator house which existed in 1945 to provide electricity for the main house (see aerial photograph 1944). There are two old mill-stones sunk into the ground at the corner.


Behind the converted stables/dwellings are two small walled areas, one is now a private garden with flowers and shrubs. Previously, according to Christopher Booker and the old maps and aerial photographs, this was an area containing a glasshouse and cold frames producing plants and flowers for the house. [No photographs were taken of this area as it is now privately rented.]


Behind the north-west corner of the stable dwelling is a building of rough hamstone with a slate roof, the exact use of this building is unknown; the building is in quite good condition. Beyond this are the rmains of a building/outhouse which is built of rough hamstone, it is now open to the elements but was possibly roofed at some previous time. The west wall is broken down and there is a wooden door on the south side, the interior is very overgrown. Contemporary memory recalls it being used as kennels.

South wall of outhouse 13.30 metres, west wall of outhouse 13.40 metres (measurements are approximate).


A rough track leads on past this building round to the back of the Walled Gardens along the wall of the outhouse built in random hamstone work and then changing to good brickwork as it follows along the side of the former small kitchen garden. The track is very overgrown and runs between shrubs and trees, which are unmanaged. It was known as the Laurel Walk in 1945. (Christopher Booker)

There are tie bars in the brickwork below the level of the coping which may have been there to secure the greenhouse behind and there is a certain amount of blackening of the brickwork, damp (?). There is the site of a possible cold frame a few feet from the wall.

North wall of small kitchen garden is approximately 25 metres long.

This garden projects about 10 metres, there is a heavy wooden door in the middle of the wall with a brick arch (P14), this door is not in use at present.

The wall behind the Kitchen Garden has a blackened area a few yards along, which would probably have been the boiler house for the greenhouse heating (P15). There is a chimney in the angle between the two garden walls. This was probably there for the heating for the "peach house" in the main garden. There are vents through the wall to the greenhouse and holes for the beams visible in the brickwork. There are a lot of tiles and timberting lying around on the ground indicating the remnants of some sort of building, potting sheds and/or boiler house. There is another cold frame site about 5 metres from the wall to the north. The old maps show greenhouses or cold frames on the north side of this wall. There is a wooden door leading into the main Kitchen Garden (P16).


Next to this doorway are the ruins of a small building with windows. This is built sturdily of brick but there is no longer a roof. There are remnants of plaster on the walls and the two small fireplaces, one above the other in the south-east corner of the building, are built of brick with well-made brick surrounds (P17). These fireplaces and the holes in the walls for timbers reinforce the impression of a two-storey cottage. The holes in the walls indicate that the main cross beams run north to south and smaller joists east to west. The windows have metal bars with wooden frames (P18). One of the casement frames stands loose outside the door. Two steps lead down into the cottage (P19) but it would seem that the ground level was probably about 18" lower than this originally. Three saplings are growing inside this ruin.

The Bothy is approximately 13 metres x 4 metres.


The main brick wall of the Kitchen Garden projects to the north (see dimensions given in description of Kitchen Garden). This is the recessed area shown in the Kitchen Garden maps and described as a possible orangery by Susan Campbell. There is a large bricked-up doorway in the east wall of this recess.

Between this "orangery" and the next building are the remains of a flue and a lot of broken brickwork, which would seem to be the remnants of a square built brick boiler used for heating the "orangery". Additional damage has occurred this summer with a large branch of a tree falling onto the left hand corner of the wall next to the second building. The wall, previously in good condition, has been damaged with the coping stones dislodged and the brickwork damaged, there is a considerable amount more debris on the ground and it is more difficult to access the second building.


There is a second building without fireplaces, but with windows, and not quite as big as the one already described, the use of which is uncertain (see Susan Campbell's report). It is well built with 18 inch thick walls, two windows (P20) and a decorative doorway (P21) with a fanlight (P22). There is a large 5 foot arched window in the east wall with a hamstone sill, which is partly boarded up. There are two smaller windows in the north wall (P23) well built with wooden lintels inside and curved stone outside (P20). There are some large pieces of timber, probably former beams, lying around the floor area. The level of the ground is probably considerably higher than originally. Excavation might reveal further indications of its original intended use. There are the remains of a very large old terracotta pot to be seen (P24).

This building measures approximately 6.60 metres x 9 metres.


Beyond the buildings there is another doorway, with a wooden door, in the wall into the main Kitchen Garden and further along the wall is a small curved sandstone 28" x 18" memorial to a dog "Spot" (P25). The wording on this memorial is "In memory of dear Spot faithful companion 1903-1913".

The track follows the wall and emerges at the end of the garden wall into a shrubbery with further fields byond it. Note the large Wellingtonia standing on its own in the middle of the field on the left (P26), this is noted in the Veteran Tree Survey and is about 530 cm in girth. Originally there had been a protective fence round it, but this is now broken and the bark of the tree is badly damaged up to a height of about 6 feet. (See Veteran Tree Report.)


It is difficult to get close to the east wall as the path is heavily overgrown. A rough stone buttress has been built on the south end of this wall (P27) because there is a crack near the corner in the south wall (P28), although this appears to be fairly stable, the buttress has been added as a precautionary measure to stop the east end corner of the wall collapsing outwards.


The south wall is continuous with the end of the stable-wall, it is well built with a double layer of brickwork in-filled with brick not rubble, dated possibly late 18th century (P29). The construction of this wall can be seen because a large gap has been roughly knocked out part way down the wall. This gap has two bars across it (P30) with a gate resting against the wall behind. The gap was made in the early 1960's to allow larger modern machinery into the Kitchen Garden. There is a smaller arched gateway with an old metal rose arch and a mesh door/gate further along the wall (P31 and 32, exterior and interior). At the far end of the wall there is a crack from top to bottom (P28). Against the wall an Ilex oak is growing near the crack, this was pruned heavily in summer 2003. There appears to be a filled in doorway in the wall behind the tree. There is an assortment of wall nails in the brickwork but nothing is trained on the wall at present. The whole of the outside wall is well covered by shrubs (P29), these are listed as follows starting from the stable end. A number of these have been planted in recent years.

Shrubs on exterior of South Wall from Stable end to Gap

Garrya elliptica, Amelanchier, Winter jasmine, Myrtle, Olearia, Fuchsia

Between the gap and the small arched doorway there is a beech tree and a winter jasmine

Shrubs on exterior of South Wall to end of wall

Symphocarpus, Weigela, Japonica, Cotoneaster, large Escallonia opposite a 20 ft? Cupressus and a small holly, Viburnum laurestinus, Guelder rose, Olearia Macrodonta, Ilex

Main Shrubbery beyond Walled Garden

Laurel, Escallonia, Buddleia, Amelanchier, Prunus serrulate (tibetica?), Quercus frainetto (Hungarian Oak), A small sapling with a larger tree behind it, Hypericum, Berberis, Cupressus with a large Cedar of Lebanon behind it, Mahonia, Cotoneaster, Cotinus, Viburnum bodnantense, Ilex, Tree Peony, Lilacs, Rhododendrons. Many of these are large and well established; a considerable amount of severe pruning has taken place during the summer of 2003.


The west wall of the Kitchen Garden, also the back wall of the stable, is made of brick which is in poor condition for the first half, as far as a small wooden door (P33), which probably leads into the stable behind. There are diamond patterns in this wall similar to Tudor designs (P34 and 35). There are a number of wall nails for plants. There is an arched gateway (P36) next to the former grape house, leading into another small walled garden behind the stables, now a private garden but formerly used for raising plants for the flower garden (see C Booker's notes).

A greenhouse (P37) for grapes on the north wall has a floor level lower than the ground surrounding it. The remains of a low brick wall surrounds the area in the front with heating pipes running along the inside (P38). There is also a cast iron trough on top of this wall actually fixed to the wall but its use is uncertain (P39). After consultation with Susan Campbell it was ascertained that this is part of the construction for a Paxton portable greenhouse. (See Susan Campbell's Report.) There are two large well-established grapevines on the back wall, but not well pruned. There appear to be two levels to the greenhouse, the area past the vines being slightly higher than the first. The door to the greenhouse would have been at the east end. There are vents (P40) high on the wall. There is an old pulley (P41) on the wall for blinds. There are also a lot of old timber and metal struts lying on the ground. If this greenhouse was originally designed to grow peaches rather than grapes the roots of the peach trees would have been planted in the soil outside the greenhouse (P42).

After the greenhouse there is another small arched doorway through the wall to the laurel walk with a broken wooden door (P43). The brickwork of the wall is very broken and overhung with ivy (P44) and the top half metre appears to curve over as far as the recess in the wall. The walls of the recess are hung with a large number of wires (P45) as if there had been plants trained up the wall but, because it is shaded except for the morning sun, one cannot be sure how it might have been used. (See Susan Campbell's Report for her opinion that it was most likely to have been an "orangery" with access to the boiler beside it through the large door on the left-hand side which is blocked up.) In the aerial photo and Ordnance Survey maps it looks as if there might have been cold frames in front of it. Since the record was started a large branch has fallen across the wall of this recess dislodging some of the coping and brickwork. The wall continues in an unbroken line and height to the corner (P48) where the height is reduced in two steps by about a third of a metre.

The brickwork on the east wall is in good condition. There are wall nails for training plants. The wall leans outwards at approximately 5-10 degrees at the south-east end gateway in the north-east corner, which has been filled in with brick (P50). All the doorways through the wall are well made with neat brick arches (P51).

The entire brick wall round the Kitchen Garden area has hamstone coping, in reasonable condition on the top, except for the newly damaged area by the east corner of the orangery where a branch has fallen damaging the coping and some of the brick work. The heights of the wall vary from approximately three and a half to four and a half metres, this is marked by curved coping stones (P48) making a very attractive finish to the wall.

In the south-east corner of the garden is a sycamore tree probably self-seeded. The south wall is lower than the other three walls at approximately three and a half metres. In the corner, behind the sycamore tree, there is a portion of the wall which looks as if it has been replaced possibly to fill in a gateway. Seen from the outside, this wall has a large crack (P28) running from top to bottom, there has been a considerable amount of repair work which is not very effective today possibly due to trees growing close to the base of the wall. There is another filled-in arched gateway at the other end of this same wall nearest the stable (P52). It would seem likely that the original design of the Kitchen Garden had arched entrances symmetrically at each corner. This is reinforced by the OS maps showing the layout of the garden. The assortment of different kinds of wall nails continues the length of the wall with remnants of wire attached to them. (Interior views of the Walled Garden P53 and 54 and S1-3.)

The overall measurements of the kitchen garden are only approximate due to vegetation in the way and inadequate tape measure.

Overall Measurement of Walled Kitchen Garden 95 metres x 39 metres

Paxton Greenhouse (Grape/peach house) 28 metres x 3.35 metres

Greenhouse door 1.67 metres

Gateways approximately 1.50 metres except for small stable door which is 1 metre

Recess/Orangery 7 metres wide and 4.50 metres deep


At the end of the Kitchen Garden wall there is a shrubbery and the path joins the grass track from the stable yard, which runs along a fence between the park and the Kitchen Garden wall; this path winds on to the Shell House (S1.4) which is set on a raised promontory, which originally projected into the lake, which is now little more than a pond and stream and is very overgrown (P55 and 60). The lake was mainly filled in and planted with withies by William Speke from 1911 onwards to allow extra land for foxes and hunting. The Shell House faces west with a view across the parkland, on the south-west side it is screened from the A358 by the trees in the lower parkland. To the north-west the view is towards the Walled Garden (P56). The Shell House is surrounded by a small area of grass which ends in an overgrown rockery that runs down towards the water (P57).


Detailed History

Jordans in the hundred of Abdick and Bulston

Reign of Edward I Jordans in the ownership of a Mr William Jordan.

In reign of Edward III William de Jordan married eldest Muttlebery daughter. Jordans owned by the Muttleberys until mid 17th century.

1633 Jordans house was rebuilt in Tudor style

1655 Jordans purchased by William Speke of Shepton Beauchamp/Dillington from Thomas Muttlebery. Document of conveyancing of manor of "Jordaynes" with all cottages and lands from Thomas Muttlebery to William Speke of Dillington is in the Somerset Records Office.

1680 William Speke of Jordans died. Jordans inherited by eldest son, William Speke

1691 William Speke born (became the Rev William Speke, Vicar of Ilminster)

1703 Stables at Jordans blown down in severe gales

1729 Rev William Speke of Jordans became Vicar of Ilminster

1715 2nd Rev William Speke of Jordans born. Succeeded his father as Vicar of Ilminster in 1773. Dies 1791

1791/2 William Speke inherits Jordans. Married Mary Dickinson. 1819-1821 High Sheriff of Somerset. Dies 1839

1796 Jordans rebuilt. Façade in Portland stone. Poor workmen "rendered the work tragic" quotation from Thomas Gerard of Trent (historian and traveller)

1798 William Speke (of Jordans) born, died 1887. Married in 1824 Georgina Elizabeth Hanning of Dillington. Father of John Hanning Speke. Inherits Jordans in 1839

1827 John Hanning Speke born. Died 1864

1828 Shell House built

1887 William Speke, elder brother of John Hanning Speke, inherits Jordans

1908 William Speke dies and inheritance of Jordans passes to nephew Walter Hanning Speke who is the eldest son of the Rev Bengamin Speke

1911 Stable block rebuilt

In the intervening years until the death of Walter Hanning Speke a large part of the lake is filled in and withies planted to encourage foxes

1944 Walter Hanning Speke dies and, having no children, the inheritance passes to great nephew Peter Hanning Speke, nine years old and living in Canada with his mother. Peter's father and his uncles had been killed in the war

1945-1950 Jordans used as a Preparatory School run by a Mr and Mrs Piers

1950-1955 Jordans used by another School run by a Mr and Mrs Piers

1955-1957 Jordans abandoned and neglected but still contains furniture and fittings

1956 National Buildings Record taken

1959 Peter Hanning Speke learns of his inheritance and his mother returns in 1960

1964 Jordans House demolished

1964/5 Peter Hanning Speke returns to UK to live on the Jordans Estate, eventually at Rowlands

1965 Stables and adjacent buildings converted to dwelling for Mrs Speke senior. Gardens behind stables renovated

1965 to present day. Restoration of house at Rowlands, the cottages on the estate, the farm, a 15th century mill and the Shell House



  • Recorders Mrs Marigold de Winton, Mrs Wendy Eliot and Mrs Susan Story for Somerset Gardens Trust February 2002 to January 2004