Contemporary art installation inspired Speke’s secrets

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Contemporary art installation inspired Speke’s secrets

Espionage and secrecy concealed in the wattle and daub of the 16th century building at Speke Hall is the inspiration behind a new artwork opening on 13 March at the National Trust attraction. From priest holes for hiding Catholic clergy to eaves for servants to eavesdrop for their masters and mistresses, the sound piece will bring to life the hidden rebellions contained within the very fabric of Speke’s iconic hall.

The installation is by award-winning British artist Serena Korda who has been commissioned by the National Trust as part of its Trust New Art programme, which seeks to connect people to places through contemporary art. The commission is also part of a continued partnership with Bluecoat, Liverpool’s centre for contemporary art, who are working with artists to open up heritage in the city.

The term Under the Rose or Sub Rosa means secrecy or in secret. Throughout ancient history the rose has been recognised as a symbol of secrecy and ceiling roses were often placed in locations indicating that secrecy needed to be upheld. In this new sound work made for the courtyard at Speke, Korda was inspired by the acoustics of secrecy charting a history of observation, eavesdropping and the hiding of Catholic priests at the Tudor mansion.

Artist, Serena Korda says: “The courtyard at Speke is a special place not only because of the presence of Adam and Eve, the two yew trees that hold the house together, but because of the unique way in which sound bounces off of its walls.  This was once the entrance to Speke and for this reason was built with acoustics in mind at a time of Reformation Catholic families like the Norris’ wanted to protect themselves. They were aware of the power of acoustics at the time and built eaves into the courtyard to enable eavesdropping. Under the Rose has an unsettling quality making you aware of the layers of secret histories that the house holds and the importance of acoustics in providing protection.”


The new audio artwork is the companion piece to The Bell Tree created by Serena Korda also. In autumn 2018 three hundred fairy-like ceramic mushrooms appeared in the ancient woodland at Speke Hall and Gardens. The artwork combines sound and sculpture to explore the spirit of this ancient site and the folklore of the native bluebells that grow beneath the branches of The Bell Tree. Both artworks can be experienced as part of your visit to the National Trust attraction from 13 March with The Bell Tree set to look even more magical when the bluebells that inspired the ceramic mushrooms come into bloom late April.

Serena says: “This builds on The Bell Tee which looks at how nature spirits provide protection for the forest, the Yew trees at the centre of Under the Rose are an important symbol in plantlore of mourning, they are seen as an access point to the afterlife and for this reason become another attraction to the courtyard as an entrance to many realms.”

Serena works across performance sound and sculpture with an interest in under explored feminist narratives – herstories- and the alternative histories of folklore and witchcraft. Her recent work has included solo shows Missing Time at BALTIC Gateshead and Daughter’s of Necessity at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2018.

Catherine Newbery, Contemporary Arts Programme Manager at the National Trust says: “The new binaural sound piece Serena has created brings another dimension to her project for Speke. Connecting the ancient wood to the house, the piece includes samples recorded across the site and with two local groups. Under the Rose and The Bell Tree are companion pieces that explore the inside and outside at Speke. The Bell Tree has become a visitor favourite at Speke as it changes with the different seasons and we hope Under the Rose will highlight the sound and senses of both works.”

From 15 May 2019 visitors will have the opportunity to find out even more about the Speke’s hidden past in new indoor exhibition Tension, Turmoil and Traitors: The Story of Tudor Speke. The history books will be opened on Elizabethan England at Speke Hall and the life or death secrets that were kept within the walls during the turmoil of religious persecution.

Under the Rose opens at Speke Hall on 13 March and ends 28 July 2019, coinciding with the closure of The Bell Tree also. For more information visit,

Members of the public wanting to discover more about Serena’s work and her inspiration can also attend the following event at Bluecoat in Liverpool:

Under the Rose: The Architecture and Acoustics of Secrecy at Speke Hall
Sat 30th Mar 2pm £4/3

Serena Korda will discuss the making of Under the Rose, part of her Trust New Art for the National Trust and Bluecoat commission at Speke Hall.  In this new sound work made for the courtyard at Speke, Korda was inspired by the acoustics of secrecy charting a history of observation, eavesdropping and the hiding of Catholic priests at the Tudor mansion.  Whilst considering methods of architecture that privileged sound and how it travels through space she establishes how preliterate cultures understood and used sound in their societies. This begs the question, in our highly visual culture has our ability to listen dwindled?