View Full Version : Urbex from the past - Harvington Hall, Worc. Oct '09

07-11-2009, 08:27 PM
In a tiny hamlet, south of Kidderminster, Worcestershire, is Harvington Hall, a medieval and Elizabethan moated manor house. Goodness me Boxfrenzy, a heritage site that you visited with your kids and your parents? How dull can you get?
Give it a chance, as you might just like this one. There are two important reasons which I will explain during the report.
Here we are, look, it's got a moat.

Now of course, as it is this sort of place, then there will be mannequins. Here is a man trying to write with a feather, but sadly there is so much digital noise in the room he is struggling.

Much of the house is furnished in a Elizabethan style. Now, Harvington Hall was a Catholic country house. This is important news. Catholics were persecuted by law in England, from the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I in 1558. How serious could it be though, saying a Catholic Mass?

Very serious, readers, very serious indeed. An Act was passed prohibiting a member of the Catholic Church from celebrating the rites of his religion on pain of forfeiture for the first offence, a year's imprisonment for the second, and imprisonment for life for the third. All those who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy were called "Recusants" and were guilty of high treason. A law was also enacted which provided that if any "Papist" should be found converting an Anglican or Protestant to Catholicism, both would suffer death, for high treason. In December, 1591, a priest was hanged before the door of a house in Gray's Inn Fields for having said Mass there the month previously. (wikipedia)
I told you.
Look, this priest is celebrating mass in a secluded part of the house. But wait, is that a knock on the door? Is it the priest hunters or "pursuivants"?

In the corner of a chapel, two floor boards lift up and the vestments, sacred vessels, and altar furniture are quickly stored away.
But where can the priest hide? The priest hunters can and did rip up boards, tear down paneling and measure the houses looking for the priest who his hiding. Once found, he would be tortured and killed. You're going to need somewhere better than under the bed here.
What about in Doctor Dodds library? Push the board at the top, and in you go. (Pic not by me)

No good, what about down these stairs, in the floor of a cupboard?

Still not feeling that safe? In the corner of a bedroom is a brick fireplace. by kneeling down, and crawling in, it is possible to climb the chimney and head up into the attic space. These pictures of the attic space show different priest holes, some of them designed so if the priest hunters found them they would think they were empty. (not my snap either)

Like many of Catholic houses, they had priest holes to hide the priests in. The ones here are reputed to have been built by the master, Nicolas Owen.
A quote from wikipedia. Just how exiting is the last line...
"With incomparable skill Owen knew how to conduct priests to a place of safety along subterranean passages, to hide them between walls and bury them in impenetrable recesses, and to entangle them in labyrinths and a thousand windings. But what was much more difficult of accomplishment, he so disguised the entrances to these as to make them most unlike what they really were. Moreover, he kept these places so close a secret that he would never disclose to another, the place of concealment of any Catholic. He alone was both their architect and their builder." No one knows how many he made. Some may still be undiscovered."

Surely the best one of the house's seven priest holes is this one. Absolute genius.

What's that? You can't see it? That was the point. Nicholas Owen (not the news reader) a tiny carpenter who knocked through brickwork and rebuilt ceilings and staircases late at night, alone in his job to conceal Catholic priests, had done a good job. Here's my dad helping us out.

Inside, the priest would wait, silently, sometimes for days as the house would be ripped up around him. Here is is, praying for his safety, hidden in the staircase.

Nicholas Owen built seven priest holes here at Harvington Hall; more than any other place in England. Early in 1606, Owen was arrested a final time at Hindlip Hall, nearby in Worcestershire,giving himself up voluntarily in hope of distracting attention from some priests who were hiding nearby. He was submitted to terrible "examinations" on the Topcliffe rack, dangling from a wall with both wrists held fast in iron gauntlets and his body hanging. When this proved insufficient to make him talk, heavy weights were added to his feet.

At the beginning, I said there were two reasons for posting this. One was the exciting hiding places, but the other concerns Harvington Hall in the nineteenth century. Like many other large country houses, it became derelict; heating, maintenance etc I guess. Ivy grew in through windows and under the eaves, and rooves collapsed. The great staircase was removed and taken to nearby Coughton Court. Inside are some great photos taken by urban explorer Bernard Stone of interior of the house around the turn of the twentieth century. (I can't find any of them online. I'm so sorry as they are great. I should have taken shots of his pictures. I didn't. Fail)
Here is a couple exteriors when it was derelict.

Then and now
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2592/4080287244_990f6fa4ef_o.jpg http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2712/4079527033_e66d131049_m.jpg

Although this next shot is probably one, if not the most boring picture ever posted on an urbex forum, don't dismiss it. Just read the sign in the bottom right. And the next time someone tells you they are the original urban explorer, they started it all, they are better than you because they started in 2006 and you are just a worthless n00b or something equally as rubbish, do us all a favour and laugh in their face and tell them to get a grip. Please feel free to copy this picture and post whenever you feel someone is behaving incorrectly.

If you have a tiny monitor, it says
"During the years when the Hall was abandoned, people were still fascinated by it and wandered all over the buildings, often leaving their mark. The Hall attics and some of the outer walls are particularly scarred by graffiti. Please don't add to it!!"
Close up of some tagging from 1871

Final shot of some of those folk who dress up in costumes on a weekend.

07-11-2009, 08:34 PM
I like that mate, Fred Dibnah visited this place on the telly and I found it very interesting.

Great photos and write up as usual :thumb

07-11-2009, 09:27 PM
Very interesting report - like this type of stuff. Cheers mate.

08-11-2009, 01:03 AM
Really nice, BF. 'Tis a lovely building.
Love the 3rd pic and the ancient graffiti
Great report, as ever!

08-11-2009, 08:41 PM
Very nice fella! love the write up and the history, I remember the Fred Dibnah programme too, he found it difficult to squeeze through into one of the priest holes! Lol. :D

08-11-2009, 08:55 PM
^^ Fred was not the slimmest of people LOL