Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall

Our Story

You may know Harvington as a stunning Elizabethan Manor House, but its origins go back much further.

Harvington’s imposing moat and artificial island can be traced back to the 13th-century, making them even older than the bulk of the 14th-century building work that still, amazingly, survives behind a layer of brick. Visitors will be interested to learn that the Hall’s centre block was most probably the “solar” of a typical H-shaped timber-framed building. But there is more to the Hall than its physical foundations. 

The history of Harvington is steeped in the stories of those who lived in it. Adam de Herywnton (Harvington) lived here, and almost certainly died here in March 1344. Upon his death, the estate passed into the hands of the Earls of Warwick and in 1529 was sold to a wealthy lawyer, Sir John Pakington. For those wondering about Pakington, we have documentation to say that he was provided with a special grant by Henry VIII, permitting him to wear his hat in the King's presence! 

It wasn’t until Sir John’s great-nephew, Humphrey Pakington, inherited the estate in 1578 that the Elizabethan Manor we know and love today came into being.

Despite its impressive scale, Harvington is currently only half its original size as two additional wings were demolished c1700. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly why this happened, but we do know that in 1595 the Hall was described as ‘Humphrey’s Mansion House of Harvington’. 

Being Catholic, Humphrey was subject to the harsh penal laws of the Elizabethan age. Humphrey was a recusant, meaning he refused to attend the Church of England service on Sundays, a refusal that initially cost 12p a week but increased to £20 a month (equating to around £4000 today). From 1585 it was illegal for a Catholic priest to step foot in England, making it necessary for Humphrey to equip Harvington with impressive priest holes, which visitors can see today. We don’t know the full story of these priest holes but we do know that some of them were almost certainly the handiwork of the master carpenter Nicholas Owen.  

After Humphrey died in 1631, Harvington was the dower house of his wife Abigail. In 1657 she died, leaving the Hall to her daughter Lady Mary Yate. We know that Mary moved back into her family home and died at Harvington in 1696 at the age of 85.  

Discover the house of Secrets

Neglect and restoration

As she outlived her son and grandson, upon Mary’s death the Hall was inherited by her granddaughter, another Mary Yate. Mary was married to Sir Robert Throckmorton of Coughton Court in Warwickshire. He had very little use for Harvington so two wings were demolished, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries most of the furnishings were stripped, leaving Harvington in a bare and dilapidated state.

With only two generations of gentry living at Harvington, the house was run in a stripped- back style, before being restored thanks to the generosity of a new owner. In 1923, a Catholic lady named Mrs Ellen Ryan Ferris purchased the Hall and gifted it to the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who still own the hall today.

Thanks to the generosity of Mrs Ellen Ferris and the enlightened patronage of an Archbishop in the 1930s, Harvington was not lost.

Harvington Hall

Priest Hides

During the reign of Elizabeth I, wealthy Catholics had to come up with ingenious ways of keeping priests safe from the priest hunters, a group of men often led by the local Justice of the peace with a signed warrant allowing them to search the house for any fugitives.  

Priest hides, more commonly known as priest holes, were secret hiding places built within the house for a priest to hide, sometimes for over a week! Conditions would be cramped, cold and dark. As you explore Harvington Hall, imagine the terrifying sounds of the priest hunters pulling up floorboards and stripping back panelling. Imagine how the priests would have felt knowing that when the house fell silent, the priest hunters were waiting to hear any sound. It was a real-life game of hide-and-seek, often with harrowing consequences.  

Harvington has the country’s finest collection of hides, seven in total. Some are basic in design, others are some of the most ingenious in the country. 

The hides situated around the Great Staircase c.1603 show all the trademarks of master hides builder Nicholas Owen, who was at work from 1588 until his own capture and death in the Tower of London in 1606. 

Owen was a servant to Fr Henry Garnet, the Jesuit superior in England, who during the 1590s built up a network of safe houses throughout the country to which incoming priests could be directed and find disguises, chapels and priest holes. 

The centre of this operation for Worcestershire and the Welsh Marches was Hindlip, the home of Humphrey’s friend Thomas Habington, where the Jesuit Edward Oldcorne arrived in 1590. It was there that Garnet, Owen and Oldcorne were all captured in 1606, just after the Gunpowder Plot. The 12-day search at Hindlip is the longest on record. 

Bread oven hide

Yes, you read correctly: “bread oven”! 

Above the bread oven in the kitchen, within the chimney stack, is one of Harvington’s earliest hides – probably dating to the early 1590s. It is not known if the oven was installed after the hide, but what is noticeable is that an extra layer of earth has been put in the hide so that any priest would not be burnt alive. Even so, the hide is cripplingly small at 5ft deep 2ft 7in by 3ft 9in. It is entered via a trapdoor in the privy off the South Room above, but was obsolete by the end of the 16h-century.

Harvington Hall
Harvington Hall

Swinging beam hide

It is easy to see how many a novel has been written about secret rooms and passages when you see the Hall’s swinging beam hide. This one is almost certainly the handiwork of Nicholas Owen and wasn’t rediscovered until 1894.  

Originally, the wall would have been covered by panelling as it makes up one of the three walls of the book cupboard. The hide is more generous in size, 8ft long, 3ft wide and 5ft high, although the entrance is barely a foot wide.

The large attic hide

Hidden within the complex layout of the attic is the second largest priest hide in England. The priest would escape up the false chimney located in the marble room and climb through a trapdoor, where a walkway would lead him to the safety of the hide. The hide is 12ft wide, 17ft long and 7ft at its highest point.

Harvington Hall

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