Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A house in Staffordshire

In the early part of the seventeenth century Boscobel House was a Jesuit safe-house in Staffordshire. It was originally a farm house on the Giffard Estate of Chillington. In 1632 it was remodelled as a hunting lodge and subsequently underwent substancial changes. Priest hides were certainly incorporated into the building in the early 1600s and two of these remain to this day.
The photo above shows the entrance to the hide under the closet on the first floor. Its location is seen on the photo below; between the small door at ground level and the tiny square window in the chimney stack. The hide would be easily found today and so it is probably the remnants of a former hiding place which was more cleverly contrived, or it is the remnant of a discrete way out from the first floor to the back garden. 

The famous hide of Boscobel is the one under the second floor bedroom (photo below). This was the hide used by King Charles II on the night of 6th/7th September 1651. The hide is 4 x 3'9" x 5'3" - somewhat uncomfortable for a tall man, which Charles was. Yet the hide is well-concealed for there is a false wall in the room below. The hide was entered through a trap door in the top steps as one ascends into the room. At the far end of this room was the secret chapel; a bed is presently situated in that part of the space where the altar would have been. 

When I first visited Boscobel House about twenty years ago the entrance to the hide was left closed and a guide told us that there was a priest hole in the room and asked us to search for it. We searched, tapped panels and poked boards, but after an extensive investigation of the room and stairwell we gave up the search. When the guide then raised the trap-door, which comprised the upper two steps, to reveal the way into the hide, we are absolutely amazed. When I was there this Autumn, the steps were fixed in place and a glass panel had been placed in the floor of the room  to allow you to peer down into the hide; a much less exciting experience than being able to make your own search.
Nonetheless, Boscobel House is a must for priest-hole enthusiasts and those interested in promoting recusant history. Check the opening times beforehand.

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