Tuesday 25 June 2013

Wonderful holes in the wall.

Thurnham Hall is a Tudor manor house located just five miles south of Lancaster in the most lovely countryside. It is now a hotel. In 1556 it became the home of the Dalton family, and it remained their home until the very early twentieth century. The Daltons were Catholics, Royalists and Jacobites - they sound wonderful, don't they!
The facade of the house was remodelled in the early 1800s and in 1854 a new family chapel was built on to the house. You can see this in the above photo on the right hand side.
In Recusant days the chapel would have been discretely placed somewhere in the upper part of the house. Its famous priest hole is still there and I was able to see it when I visited the hotel recently. In the above photo the priest hole is to the right of the far left-hand window on the first floor.
The entrance to the hide is chest high and was covered by a slab of stone, set on two iron hinges, so that it formed a pivoting door which opened inwards. You can see the stone door, set on the floor, in the above photo. You can also see in this photo a hole in the left hand side of the slab into which some securing device would have originally been fastened. This entrance slab used to be kept in the central museum in Lancaster; it is fitting that it is back home where its value can be better appreciated.
The hide itself is very roomy and, I think, was built with a air-hole to the outside. What is especially interesting is that the original brackets on which the stone entrance pivoted are still embedded in the stone fabric inside the hide. You can see these in the photo below.
Before visiting the house I had read up about its hides in Michael Hodgetts' book "Secret Hiding places", so I knew that there was a second hiding place for small items in the stone wall across the passage and facing the priest hide. What was extraordinary was that the proprietors of the hotel seemed not to be aware of this second hiding place, which I easily located by removing a stone from the wall - and to their surprise I revealed this small hole in the wall, presumably devised for the concealment of sensitive items. 
What is also lovely is the public church which the Dalton's built on their estate in the mid 1800s for local Catholics. This church is behind the house and a small wood, and is approached via a public driveway. Holy Mass is still celebrated there every Sunday.

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