Tuesday 30 October 2012

Kirby Hall

In a remote northern corner of Northamptonshire is Kirby Hall; another magnificent example of the English Renaissance. The transformation of the earlier house began in 1575 under the Hatton family and continued throughout the seventeenth century. My interest followed that of Mrs Elizabeth Vaux, the great Catholic lady of Northamptonshire in the early recusant era. Looking for a base for the Catholic mission in that area, which would serve better than her houses in Harroden and Irthlingborough, in March 1599 she took a lease on Kirby Hall. In the summer of that year she came to visit the property with Fr John Gerard, St Nicholas Owen and Hugh Sheldon. Their intention was to fit the property out with hides and conveyences which would enable the concealment of priests and items for the celebration of Mass in the house. However, Elizabeth Tudor's Privy Council got wind of this and raided the house, preventing any further development for Catholic use to take place, and Mrs Vaux abandoned the plan. Fortunately, Mrs Vaux and her three guests curtailed their visit and had left the property before the pursuivants arrived.
The property is now in the care of English Heritage; part is in ruin and part is still an integral building, although no longer a dwelling place. The architecture is fabulous, particularly the grand Elizabethan porch (second photo above). There would have been enormous scope here for the master hide builder, Nicholas Owen, to practice his skills, but no hides were in fact built here. The house is matched by a wonderful Elizabethan garden, and the whole site is set in lovely countryside. More on Mrs Vaux later.

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