Knowsley Hall and Estate

Knowsley Hall and Estate

Knowsley Hall was used in different roles during the war; as a military hospital, a convalescent home and a training camp.

Knowsley Hall is the ancestral home of the Stanley family, the Earls of Derby. Since 1953 the Hall has been a grade II listed building. The surrounding parkland covers 2,500 acres, including Knowsley Safari Park.

On 28th August 1914 the 17th Earl, Edward George Villiers, Lord Derby, appealed to businesses in Liverpool for men to enlist and serve together. Within weeks thousands of men had signed up to join the army, making this one of the most successful recruitment drives at the time. In recognition of this feat he was made Director General of Recruiting in 1915. The following year Lord Derby was Under Secretary and later Secretary of State for War. He held this post again from 1922 to 1924. Lord Derby has previously served in the Boer War and was twice mentioned in despatches. Other offices he held include: President of the North West Area of the British Legion; President of the Army Council 1918; Ambassador Extraordinary to France 1918-1920 as well as serving on the board of a number of hospitals across Merseyside.

Lord Derby’s sons also served during WWI. Edward Montagu Cavendish Stanley was the eldest son of the 17th Earl. He was a Captain in the Grenadier Guards, rising to Brigade Major by the end of the war, and decorated with a Military Cross the following year. Edward Stanley was Member of Parliament for Liverpool Abercromby, but left Parliament after the seat was abolished the following year. He returned to Parliament in 1922, later becoming Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and serving in the cabinet during the 1930s until his death in 1938.

Oliver Frederick George Stanley was the second son of the 17th Earl. Oliver Stanley was commissioned into the Lancashire Hussars, and attached to the Royal Artillery, reaching the rank of Major during WWI. He was decorated with the Military Cross and awarded the Croix de Guerre. After the war he elected Member of Parliament for Westmoreland and went on to hold a number of ministerial posts throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Knowsley Hall was used in different roles during the war; as a military hospital, a convalescent home for female munitions workers and a training camp for the Liverpool Pals. On the estate the military camp was situated in the Deer Park, covering almost 600 acres and an area of parkland in the Parish of Eccleston was also used.

The 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions of the King’s Liverpool Regiment were billeted at Knowsley Park. Known as the Pals Battalions, they were given a silver Cap badge featuring the crest of the Stanley family, the Eagle and Child, and underneath this emblem the motto, ‘Sans Charger’, meaning ‘Without Change’. The training camp was very well equipped with wooden huts, not tents, for the men to sleep in, laundry facilities, and entertainment on the site, including a theatre. The YMCA also set up a hut for the men, providing entertainment and meals. Local press frequently published appeals by soldiers for items such as gramophone records and sports equipment for their camps.

Lord Derby’s brother, Brigadier Stanley who was placed in charge of the Pals Battalions, thought the men who had not previously held manual labour jobs needed to practice digging trenches. As there was no spare land available, Lord Derby gave permission for digging on his land. Many men felt that they were merely clearing land on the estate for the benefit of the Lord. The words to a popular song at the time, ‘Moonlight Bay’, were changed to ‘Derby’s Clay’ about digging trenches on the estate.

On 29th April 1915 the Pals left Knowsley Park for Prescot station to travel to Grantham for training. Eight trains departed from the station every hour from early morning with growing crowds turning out to give the troops a send-off. The Brigade later moved to Salisbury Plain, before embarkation to France in October. Lord Derby and his wife, Mrs Stanley, instantly formed a fundraising committee to provide comforts to the Pals. 

A Grand Military Gymkhana was held at Knowsley Park on 24th May 1915, inviting the public to spend a day with the Pals. Attractions included a full military band, torchlight tattoo and a display with over 1000 men from the Artillery and Cavalry. Men were strongly encouraged to enlist on the day and be fully equipped to take part in a March Past Parade, which was inspected by Lord Derby. 

A number of other Battalions from other local Regiments were also stationed at Knowsley, including the East Lancashire Regiment and the Cheshire Regiment. The grounds of Knowsley Hall were also used to cultivate crops to help with food shortages in the local community. At the end of the war peace celebrations were held at the estate with afternoon tea, sports and games, a parade and naval rockets were fired.

On 27th July 1917 the Liverpool Daily Post reported that the Countess of Derby had given a wing of Knowsley Hall to provide a convalescent hospital for female munitions workers from the Liverpool area. The wing was fully furnished and was to be staffed by VAD nurses. A fund of private subscriptions was set up to enable local women to benefit from the care and recuperation available at the Hall. The hospital was opened in early August with a dozen patients. Women or their families or their employers had to apply in writing for admission and pay 10s a week.

At the military hospital wing a number of treatments were available to the patients including a nurse from the Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps. This Corps was started in August 1914 by Mr and Mrs Almeric Paget and the couple would go on to initially fund 50 fully trained masseuses in principle military hospitals in the throughout the UK. At Knowsley Miss Sinclair was one of many local women who were: “…brought to the notice of the Secretary of War for valuable services rendered in connection with the war.” [1]

However, there were numerous problems within the large military camp, with soldiers going absent without leave and committing crimes in the local area. Additionally, in December 1917 the Liverpool Echo reported that men had been stating the food was bad and insufficient and complaints had been made about the conduct of a young officer. Questions were asked in to House of Commons to the Under Secretary of State for War if he will make inquiries about these allegations. Nothing further was reported in the local press.





Knowsley Hall: a guide book for visitors. 1955. Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool 942.7213

Liverpool Echo

Liverpool Pals Memorial Fund, ‘A Short History of the Pals’

The Peerage

Records of Edmund Kirby & Sons. 1916-1919. Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool 720 KIR/1429

World War One at Home: Knowsley Hall, Liverpool: Residence, Hospital and Training Ground,

[1] Liverpool Echo, Tuesday 23 October 1917, p.5

Share this: