Britain’s Best Priest Hides


The priest-hides were built in the time of Humphrey Pakington, at the end of the 16th Century, when it was high treason for a Catholic priest to be in England. The hiding places at Harvington are the finest surviving series in England, and four of them, all sited round the Great Staircase, show the trademarks of the master builder of such places, Nicholas Owen, who was at work from 1588 onwards.

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

The centre of this operation for Worcestershire and the Welsh Marches was Hindlip House, 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.

Owen was starved out of one of his own hides on the fourth day of a twelve day search, during which he and a companion, Ralph Ashley, had nothing to eat but one apple between them. He died under torture in the Tower; Garnet, Oldcorne and Ashley were all hanged, drawn and quartered. Although Hindlip was demolished in 1814, descriptions of the hides there show a striking similarity to those that survive at Harvington. That is unlikely to be an accident.


Diagram of the Priest Hides at Harvington Hall

Cross section of the West side of the Hall, showing the hiding places probably by Nicholas Owen, centered around the Great Staircase.
The false fireplace in the Marble Room led to two hides in the attics (not open to the public).