The Speke Family originated from a small village near Cherbourg called Quettehou in Normandy, France. Settling in England sometime after the Norman Invasion. First records were of a Richard L’Espec born 1110 living in North Devon at Wembworthy.
Over time the name became Anglisized to Speke and marriage to a Joan Keynes in 1420 brought the family to Somerset and the estate of Dowlish Wake, near Ilminster.
Since that time some 25 generations have owned land around Ilminster, Ashill and Dowlish Wake.
William Speke (eleventh to bear that name) and the sixth son of George Speke of Whitelackington Manor bought the Jordans site in around 1680. The family gained some notoriety as William’s elder brother Charles was hanged in Ilminster town square during Judge Jeffries’ bloody assizes for the part the family played in the failed Monmouth rebellion of 1685.
The family at the time lived at nearby Dillington house and Anne Speke married Lord North, later Prime Minister in 1770 at the time of American Independence.
The House at Jordans was built in 1796 by the grandson of the afore mentioned 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, 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.
Peter had been taken to live in Canada, his mother having moved and remarried following the war. The house was put into trust and run by Distant family and Land Agents. The Contents of the house were sold by Auction in 1945 and it was turned into a prep school for boys and girls between 1945 and 1955. Over the next 9 years it fell into a poor state of repair, the lead on the roof having been given by the Colonel to the war effort and never replaced. The house was finally demolished in 1964. The grotto, stable-block and walled garden survive as well as the beautiful parkland in which the Shepherd Hut is placed.
Peter returned to England with his young family in 1965 and made about restoring a house close-by called Rowlands and began farming the land which continues today.