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Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

CHAPTER VIII

CAVALIER-HUNTING, ETC.

An old mansion in the precincts of the cathedral at Salisbury is said to have been a favourite hiding-place for fugitive cavaliers at the time of the Civil War. There is an inn immediately opposite this house, just outside the close, where the landlord (formerly a servant to the family who lived in the mansion) during the troublous times acted as a secret agent for those who were concealed, and proved invaluable by conveying messages and in other ways aiding those Royalists whose lives were in danger.


SECRET PANEL AT SALISBURY

There are still certain "priests' holes" in the house, but the most interesting hiding-place is situated in the most innocent-looking of summer-houses in the grounds. The interior of this little structure is wainscoted round with large panels. like most of the summer-houses, pavilions, or music-rooms of the seventeenth century, and nothing uncommon or mysterious was discovered until some twenty-five years ago. By the merest accident one of the panels was found to open, revealing what appeared to be an ordinary cupboard with shelves. Further investigations, however, proved its real object. By sliding one of the shelves out of the grooves into which it is fixed, a very narrow, disguised door, a little over a foot in width, in the side of the cupboard and in the thickness of the wall can be opened. This again reveals a narrow passage, or staircase, leading up to the joists above the ceiling, and thence to a recess situated immediately behind the carved ornamental facing over the entrance door of the summer-house. In this there is a narrow chink or peep-hole, from which the fugitive could keep on the look-out either for danger or for the friendly Royalist agent of the "King's Arms."

When it was first discovered there were evidences of its last occupant—viz. a Jacobean horn tumbler, a mattress, and a handsomely worked velvet pillow; the last two articles, provided no doubt for the comfort of some hunted cavalier, upon being handled, fell to pieces. It may be mentioned that the inner door of the cupboard can be securely fastened from the inside by an iron hook and staple for that purpose.

Hewitt, mine host of the "King's Arms," was not idle at the time transactions were in progress to transfer Charles II. from Trent to Heale, and received within his house Lord Wilmot, Colonel Phelips, and other of the King's friends who were actively engaged in making preparations for the memorable journey. This old inn, with its oak-panelled rooms and rambling corridors, makes a very suitable neighbour to the more dignified old brick mansion opposite, with which it is so closely associated.


SECRET CHAMBER, CHASTLETON, OXFORDSHIRE

OLD SUMMER HOUSE, SALISBURY (SHEWING CARVING IN WHICH IS A PEEP-HOLE FOR HIDING-PLACE BEHIND)

Many are the exciting stories related of the defeated Royalists, especially after the Worcester fight. One of them, Lord Talbot, hastened to his paternal home of Longford, near Newport (Salop), and had just time to conceal himself ere his pursuers arrived, who, finding his horse saddled, concluded that the rider could not be far off. They therefore searched the house minutely for four or five days, and the fugitive would have perished for want of food, had not one of the servants contrived, at great personal risk, to pay him nocturnal visits and supply him with nourishment.

The grey old Jacobean mansion Chastleton preserves in its oak-panelled hall the sword and portrait of the gallant cavalier Captain Arthur Jones, who, narrowly escaping from the battlefield, speeded homewards with some of Cromwell's soldiers at his heels; and his wife, a lady of great courage, had scarcely concealed him in the secret chamber when the enemy arrived to search the house.

Little daunted, the lady, with great presence of mind, made no objection whatever—indeed, facilitated their operations by personally conducting them over the mansion. Here, as in so many other instances, the secret room was entered from the principal bedroom, and in inspecting the latter the suspicion of the Roundheads was in some way or another aroused, so here they determined to remain for the rest of the night.

An ample supper and a good store of wine (which, by the way, had been carefully drugged) was sent up to the unwelcome visitors, and in due course the drink effected its purpose—its victims dropped off one by one, until the whole party lay like logs upon the floor. Mrs. Arthur Jones then crept in, having even to step over the bodies of the inanimate Roundheads, released her husband, and a fresh horse being in readiness, by the time the effects of the wine had worn off the Royalist captain was far beyond their reach.

The secret room is located in the front of the building, and has now been converted into a very, comfortable little dressing-room, preserving its original oak panelling, and otherwise but little altered, with the exception of the entry to it, which is now an ordinary door.

Chastleton is the beau ideal of an ancestral hall. The grand old gabled house, with its lofty square towers, its Jacobean entrance gateway and dovecote, and the fantastically clipped box-trees and sun-dial of its quaint old-fashioned garden, possesses a charm which few other ancient mansions can boast, and this charm lies in its perfectly unaltered state throughout, even to the minutest detail. Interior and exterior alike, everything presents an appearance exactly as it did when it was erected and furnished by Walter Jones, Esquire, between the years 1603 and 1630. The estate originally was held by Robert Catesby, who sold the house to provide funds for carrying on the notorious conspiracy.

Among its most valued relics is a Bible given by Charles I. when on the scaffold to Bishop Juxon, who lived at Little Compton manor house, near Chastleton. This Bible was always used by the bishop at the Divine services, which at one time were held in the great hall of the latter house. Other relics of the martyr-king used to be at Little Compton—viz. some beams of the Whitehall scaffold, whose exact position has occasioned so much controversy. The velvet armchair and footstool used by the King during his memorable trial were also preserved here, but of late years have found a home at Moreton-in-the-Marsh, some six miles away. Visitors to that interesting collection shown in London some years ago—the Stuart Exhibition—may remember this venerable armchair of such sad association.


CHASTLETON

ENTRANCE DOOR, CHASTLETON

It may be here stated that after Charles I.'s execution, Juxon lived for a time in Sussex at an old mansion still extant, Albourne Place, not far from Hurstpierpoint. We mention this from the fact that a priest's hole was discovered there some few years ago. It was found in opening a communication between two rooms, and originally it could only be reached by steps projecting from the inner walls of a chimney.

Not many miles from Albourne stands Street Place, an Elizabethan Sussex house of some note. A remarkable story of cavalier-hunting is told here. A hiding-place is said to have existed in the wide open fireplace of the great hall. Tradition has it that a horseman, hard pressed by the Parliamentary troopers, galloped into this hall, but upon the arrival of his pursuers, no clue could be found of either man or horse!

The gallant Prince Rupert himself, upon one occasion, is said to have had recourse to a hiding hole, at least so the story runs, at the beautiful old black-and-white timber mansion, Park Hall, near Oswestry. A certain "false floor" which led to it is pointed out in a cupboard of a bedroom, the hiding-place itself being situated immediately above the dining-room fireplace.

A concealed chamber something after the same description is to be seen at the old seat of the Fenwicks, Wallington, in Northumberland—a small room eight feet long by sixteen feet high, situated at the back of the dining-room fireplace, and approached through the back of a cupboard.

Behind one of the large panels of "the hall" of an old building in Warwick called St. John's Hospital is a hiding-place, and in a bedroom of the same house there is a little apartment, now converted into a dressing-room, which formerly could only be reached through a sliding panel over the fireplace.

The manor house of Dinsdale-on-Tees, Durham, has another example, but to reach it it is necessary to pass through a trap-door in the attics, crawl along under the roof, and drop down into the, space in the wall behind a bedroom fireplace, where for extra security there is a second trap-door.


BROUGHTON HALL, STAFFORDSHIRE

ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL, WARWICK

Full-length panel portraits of the Salwey family at Stanford Court, Worcestershire (unfortunately burned down in 1882), concealed hidden recesses and screened passages leading up to an exit in the leads of the roof. In one of these recesses curious seventeenth-century manuscripts were found, among them, the household book of a certain "Joyce Jeffereys" during the Civil War.

The old Jacobean mansion Broughton Hall, Staffordshire, had a curious hiding-hole over a fireplace and situated in the wall between the dining-room and the great hall; over its entrance used to hang a portrait of a man in antique costume which went by the name of "Red Stockings."

At Lyme Hall, Cheshire, the ancient seat of the Leghs, high up in the wall of the hall is a sombre portrait which by ingenious mechanism swings out of its frame, a fixture, and gives admittance to a room on the first floor, or rather affords a means of looking down into the hall.[1] We mention this portrait more especially because it has been supposed that Scott got his idea here of the ghostly picture which figures in Woodstock. A bonâ-fide hiding-place, however, is to be seen in another part of the mansion in a very haunted-looking bedroom called "the Knight's Chamber," entered through a trap-door in the floor of a cupboard, with a short flight of steps leading into it.

[Footnote 1: A large panel in the long gallery of Hatfield can be pushed aside, giving a view into the great hall, and at Ockwells and other ancient mansions this device may also be seen.]

Referring to Scott's novel, a word may be said about Fair Rosamond's famous "bower" at the old palace of Woodstock, surely the most elaborate and complicated hiding-place ever devised. The ruins of the labyrinth leading to the "bower" existed in Drayton's time, who described them as "vaults, arched and walled with stone and brick, almost inextricably wound within one another, by which, if at any time her [Rosamond's] lodging were laid about by the Queen, she might easily avoid peril imminent, and, if need be, by secret issues take the air abroad many furlongs about Woodstock."


STAIRCASE, BROUGHTON HALL

In a survey taken in 1660, it is stated that foundation signs remained about a bow-shot southwest of the gate: "The form and circuit both of the place and ruins show it to have been a house of one pile, and probably was filled with secret places of recess and avenues to hide or convey away such persons as were not willing to be found if narrowly sought after."

Ghostly gambols, such as those actually practised upon the Parliamentary Commissioners at the old palace of Woodstock, were for years carried on without detection by the servants at the old house of Hinton-Ampner, Hampshire; and when it was pulled down in the year 1797, it became very obvious how the mysteries, which gave the house the reputation of being haunted, were managed, for numerous secret stairs and passages, not known to exist were brought to light which had offered peculiar facilities for the deception. About the middle of the eighteenth century the mansion passed out of the hands of its old possessors, the Stewkeleys, and shortly afterwards became notorious for the unaccountable noises which disturbed the peace of mind of the new tenants. Not only were there violent knocks, hammerings, groanings, and sounds of footsteps in the ceilings and walls, out strange sights frightened the servants out of their wits. A ghostly visitant dressed in drab would appear and disappear mysteriously, a female figure was often seen to rush through the apartments, and other supernatural occurrences at length became so intolerable that the inmates of the house sought refuge in flight. Later successive tenants fared the same. A hundred pounds reward was offered to any who should run the ghosts to earth; but nothing resulted from it, and after thirty years or more of hauntings, the house was razed to the ground. Secret passages and chambers were then brought to light; but those who had carried on the deception for so long took the secret with them to their graves.[1]

[Footnote 1: A full account of the supernatural occurrences at Hinton-Ampner will be found in the Life of Richard Barham.]

It is well known that the huge, carved oak bedsteads of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were often provided with secret accommodation for valuables. One particular instance we can call to mind of a hidden cupboard at the base of the bedpost which contained a short rapier. But of these small hiding-places we shall speak presently. It is with the head of the bed we have now to do, as it was sometimes used as an opening into the wall at the back. Occasionally, in old houses, unmeaning gaps and spaces are met with in the upper rooms midway between floor and ceiling, which possibly at one time were used as bed-head hiding-places. Shipton Court, Oxon, and Hill Hall, Essex, may be given as examples. Dunster Castle, Somersetshire, also, has at the back of a bedstead in one of the rooms a long, narrow place of concealment, extending the width of the apartment, and provided with a stone seat.

Sir Ralph Verney, while in exile in France in 1645, wrote to his brother at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, concerning "the odd things in the room my mother kept herself—the iron chest in the little room between her bed's-head and the back stairs." This old seat of the Verneys had another secret chamber in the middle storey, entered through a trap-door in "the muniment-room" at the top of the house. Here also was a small private staircase in the wall, possibly the "back stairs" mentioned in Sir Ralph's letters.[1]

[Footnote 1: See Memoirs of the Verney Family.]


SHIPTON COURT, OXFORDSHIRE

BROUGHTON CASTLE, OXFORDSHIRE

Before the breaking out of the Civil War, Hampden, Pym, Lord Brooke, and other of the Parliamentary leaders, held secret meetings at Broughton Castle, oxon, the seat of Lord Saye and Sele, to organise a resistance to the arbitrary measures of the king. In this beautiful old fortified and moated mansion the secret stairs may yet be seen that led up to the little isolated chamber, with massive casemated walls for the exclusion of sound. Anthony Wood, alluding to the secret councils, says: "Several years before the Civil War began, Lord Saye, being looked upon as the godfather of that party, had meetings of them in his house at Broughton, where was a room and passage thereunto which his servants were prohibited to come near."[1] There is also a hiding-hole behind a window shutter in the wall of a corridor, with an air-hole ingeniously devised in the masonry.

[Footnote 1: Memorials of Hampden.]

The old dower-house of Fawsley, not many miles to the north-east of Broughton, in the adjoining county of Northamptonshire, had a secret room over the hall, where a private press was kept for the purpose of printing political tracts at this time, when the country was working up into a state of turmoil.

When the regicides were being hunted out in the early part of Charles II.'s reign, Judge Mayne[1] secreted himself at his house, Dinton Hall, Bucks, but eventually gave himself up. The hiding-hole at Dinton was beneath the staircase, and accessible by removing three of the steps. A narrow passage which led from it to a space behind the beams of the roof had its sides or walls thickly lined with cloth, so as to muffle all sound.

[Footnote 1: There is a tradition that it was a servant of Mayne who acted as Charles I.'s executioner.]

Bradshawe Hall, in north-west Derbyshire (once the seat of the family of that name of which the notorious President was a member), has or had a concealed chamber high up in the wall of a room on the ground floor which was capable of holding three persons. Of course tradition says the "wicked judge was hidden here."


ENTRANCE GATE, BRADSHAWE HALL, DERBYSHIRE

The regicides Colonels Whalley and Goffe had many narrow escapes in America, whither they were traced. What is known as "Judge's Cave," in the West Rock some two miles from the town of New Haven, Conn., afforded them sanctuary. For some days they were concealed in an old house belonging to a certain Mrs. Eyers, in a secret chamber behind the wainscoting, the entrance to which was most ingeniously devised. The house was narrowly searched on May 14th, 1661, at the time they were in hiding.[1]

[Footnote 1: Stiles's Judges, p. 64]

Upon the discovery of the Rye House Plot in 1683, suspicion falling upon one of the conspirators, William, third Lord Howard of Escrick, the Sergeant-at-Arms was despatched with a squadron of horse to his house at Knights-bridge, and after a long search he was discovered concealed in a hiding-place constructed in a chimney at the back of a tall cupboard, and the chances are that he would not have been arrested had it not been evident, by the warmth of his bed and his clothes scattered about, that he had only just risen and could not have got away unobserved, except to some concealed lurking-place. When discovered he had on no clothing beyond his shirt, so it may be imagined with what precipitate haste he had to hide himself upon the unexpected arrival of the soldiers.[1]

[Footnote 1: See Roger North's Examen.]

Numerous other houses were searched for arms and suspicious papers, particularly in the counties of Cheshire and Lancashire, where the Duke of Monmouth was known to have many influential friends, marked enemies to the throne.[2]

[Footnote 2: See Oulton Hall MSS., Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. iii. p. 245.]

Monmouth's lurking-place was known at Whitehall, and those who revealed it went the wrong way to work to win Court favour. Apart from the attractions of Lady Wentworth, whose companionship made the fugitive's enforced seclusion at Toddington, in Bedfordshire, far from tedious, the mansion was desirable at that particular time on account of its hiding facilities. An anonymous letter sent to the Secretary of State failed not to point out "that vastness and intricacy that without a most diligent search it's impossible to discover all the lurking holes in it, there being severall trap dores on the leads and in closetts, into places to which there is no other access."[1] The easy-going king had to make some external show towards an attempt to capture his erring son, therefore instructions were given with this purpose, but to a courtier and diplomatist who valued his own interests. Toddington Place, therefore, was not explored.

[Footnote 1: Vide King Monmouth.]


MOYLES COURT, HAMPSHIRE

TODDINGTON MANOR HOUSE, BEDFORDSHIRE, IN 1806 (FROM AN OLD DRAWING)

Few hiding-places are associated with so tragic a story as that at Moyles Court, Hants, where the venerable Lady Alice Lisle, in pure charity, hid two partisans of Monmouth, John Hickes and Richard Nelthorpe, after the battle of Sedgemoor, for which humane action she was condemned to be burned alive by Judge Jeffreys—a sentence commuted afterwards to beheading. It is difficult to associate this peaceful old Jacobean mansion, and the simple tomb in the churchyard hard by, with so terrible a history. A dark hole in the wall of the kitchen is traditionally said to be the place of concealment of the fugitives, who threw themselves on Lady Alice's mercy; but a dungeon-like cellar not unlike that represented in E. M. Ward's well-known picture looks a much more likely place.

It was in an underground vault at Lady Place, Hurley, the old seat of the Lovelaces, that secret conferences were held by the adherents of the Prince of Orange. Three years after the execution of the Duke of Monmouth, his boon companion and supporter, John, third Lord Lovelace, organised treasonable meetings in this tomb-like chamber. Tradition asserts that certain important documents in favour of the Revolution were actually signed in the Hurley vault. Be this as it may, King William III. failed not, in after years, when visiting his former secret agent, to inspect the subterranean apartment with very tender regard.


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