Ince Blundell: How one wealthy family changed the area forever
Step back in time with YM Liverpool as we delve deep into the past of a historic Sefton village and discover the remarkable story of how a wealthy family transformed one part of the Liverpool City Region forever.
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Head north out of Liverpool, take a right at Crosby, then a left at Thornton, and you’ll arrive in the tiny semi-rural village of Ince Blundell.
The ancient parish, possibly Sefton’s oldest settlement, was originally known simply as Ince – a derivative of the Celtic word ‘Hinne’ meaning ‘island in the marsh’.
The arrival of a rich Catholic family, the Blundells, as the dominant landowner in the early 12th Century, would give this area a much grander reputation.
In the 14th Century, in order to distinguish it from the Ince near Wigan and the Ince in Cheshire, John Blundell added his surname to the village’s title.
Fast-forward to 1720 and it was one Robert Blundell who decided to build a grand mansion for the family – a building which still stands today as the centerpiece of a sprawling estate in the village.
Designed by respected local architect Henry Sephton, Ince Blundell Hall (pictured) was completed in 1750 and boasts a nine-bay brick front with giant columns and pilasters similar to that of Buckingham Palace.
Under threat of prosecution for recusancy (the state of Roman Catholics who refused to attend Anglican services at the time), Robert retired to Liverpool in 1761, upon which time the estate passed into the possession of his eldest son, Henry Blundell.
Henry, an avid art collector, extended the main house with offices and began developing the surrounding grounds with a stable block, greenhouses and a kitchen garden.
He also oversaw the construction of a wall around the estate’s perimeter, as well as the landscaping of the park, which included a lake.
Inspired by his neighbour and eminent antiquarian Charles Townley, Henry embarked on a series of Grand Tours of Europe, chiefly in Italy, bringing home ancient Roman and Greek marble statues as the ultimate souvenirs.
As his collection expanded he naturally wanted somewhere to show it off and after a time his greenhouses just wouldn’t suffice.
So, in around 1790–92 he had the Italian-inspired Garden Temple built to the south west of the main hall to house part of his rich collection of statuary, paintings, sarcophagi, vases, bronzes and other objects of interest.
This was followed in approximately 1802-05 with the construction of a more notable building, the Pantheon, based on the iconic Roman temple.
When Henry died in 1810 the estate and art collection passed to his only son, Charles Blundell.
Charles, like his father, was a keen collector – chiefly of drawings and books.
Upon his death in 1837, with no direct male heirs the Ince Blundell estate transferred to his distant cousin Thomas Weld of Lulworth.
Thomas extensively restored the hall and added a chapel which is known today as the Church of the Holy Family. It is still used as a Roman Catholic parish church.
However as the 1960s approached, the hall and surrounding estate fell into a poor state of disrepair and in 1959 it was sold to the Canonesses of St. Augustine of the Mercy of Jesus.
The sisters proceeded to adapt the Grade II*-listed hall for use as a nursing home for the elderly and retired priests.
In the same year Colonel Sir Joesph William Weld gifted the estate’s extensive catalogue of statues to National Museums Liverpool.
Although the collection has been in the museums’ possession for almost 60 years, it has never been put on display in its entirety.
The majority of the works, including the Roman pieces, are under antiquities at World Museum, whilst the 18th Century items can be viewed in the Walker Art Gallery’s sculpture gallery.
Ince Blundell today
Colette Birch, clerk of Ince Blundell Parish Council, says the village is a good place to live with “lovely walks and great countryside as well as being close to Southport for the seaside and Liverpool for a fabulous city”.
According to Colette, who has been a local for the last three decades, the Blundell family of Lulworth Cove in Dorset still owns property in the village.
For any commoners interested in owning their own slice of this historic parish, there are a few housing options available to you.
As you might expect, the housing market in Ince Blundell isn’t exactly what you’d describe as bustling.
In fact, according to Rightmove, two properties are all that’s been sold in the area since January.
Despite this, at the time of going to press, a spacious two-bedroom cottage on Carr House Lane is available for £225,000 with a south-facing rear garden offering glorious views over nearby farmlands.
Meanwhile a three-bedroom converted barn on Hall Lane is looking for offers over £420,000.
The detached property benefits from solid oak wood flooring and exposed brickwork beams throughout, as well as a double garage and immaculately kept driveway with electric gates.
“Close to Southport for the seaside and Liverpool for a fabulous city.”
A curator’s perspective
YM Liverpool spoke to Dr. Chrissy Partheni, curator of classical antiquities at World Museum, to find out more about the Blundell treasures – the largest collection of classical sculpture in Britain outside of the British Museum.
Q: How important is the Blundell collection to the museum?
“It’s amazing that the collection is on our doorstep here in Liverpool.
“It’s fascinating because it tells the story of British 18th Century collecting practices, the importance of the Grand Tour and classical education for the wealthy and elite.
“The statues are of such great value and are comparable to similar pieces in internationally known museums such as the Vatican and the Louvre.
“It’s also important that Henry Blundell’s collection remains in its entirety in a national museum outside London and not dispersed among different private collectors and institutions.”
Q: Are there any particularly significant or rare pieces in the collection?
“Which pieces are rare or important can be a bit of an ambivalent question; what is important and rare for scholars may not be necessarily what visitors would appreciate.
“The over life-size statues of gods such as Jupiter and Mars are breathtaking. In the case of Jupiter it is amazing how such a massive piece was preserved over centuries without major repairs or even of how they were brought back to Britain.
“Statues of deities such as the Ince Athena, Apollo the Lizard Killer (Sauroktonos) and Venus the Euploia are also unique because of their references to Greek art and the ways Roman artists extensively copied and enriched the Ancient Greek traditions.”