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Baddesley Clinton

Baddesley Clinton is not one the grandest of houses, nor is it filled with rare works of art, but having been owned by one family, the Ferrers, since the 16th century and maintained largely intact and original, it is a rare example of the average early-modern home of the lesser gentry. Unlike such mansions as nearby Coughton Court, Baddesley Clinton is relatively small, even cozy, and one can easily imagine the life of the people who lived here. It is best known for being the home of the Jesuit Henry Garnet for almost 14 years, and the existence of several priest hides conceived and built by Nicholas Owen.

The Clintons settled here in the thirteenth century, when it was called just Baddesley, and added their name to the place. They were responsible for the digging of the moat that you see above. It was eventually sold in 1438 to John Brome, a wealthy lawyer, and the Bromes built most of the east and west sides of the house.

John Brome was the Under Treasurer of England but a Lancastrian, and when Henry VI was deposed in 1461 by the Yorkist claimant Edward IV, Brome lost all of his court appointments. He later quarreled with John Herthill, Steward to Richard "the Kingmaker", Earl of Warwick, and Herthill murdered him in 1468 on the porch of the Whitefriars Church in London. Brome's second son, Nicholas, who inherited the estate, eventually avenged his father's murder by killing Herthill in 1471.

Nicholas Brome seems to have had a taste for violence. According to Henry Ferrers, a later owner of the house, it was soon after inheriting Baddesley Clinton that Nicholas 'slew the minister of Baddesley Church findinge him in his plor (parlour) chockinge his wife under ye chinne, and to expiatt these bloody offenses and crimes he built the steeple and raysed the church body ten foote higher". He was pardoned for this killing by both the King and the Pope. Nicholas seems also to have developed a taste for building, and is thought to have been responsible for the building of much of the earliest part of the house. Baddesley Clinton passed into the hands of the Ferrers family in 1517, through the marriage of Nicholas Brome's daughter, Constance, to Sir Edward Ferrers.

The most interesting of the Ferrers is Henry Ferrers (1549-1633), the great-grandson of Sir Edward Ferrers, and contemporary with the times of the Gunpowder Plot. He inherited the property in 1564, and lived through the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I and James I, dying in the reign of Charles I. He carried out extensive building, including the wing that contains the Great Hall, as well as adding the Great Parlour above the existing entranceway. He also installed much oak paneling and mantels that are still there as well.

Henry Ferrers was an antiquarian, and spent a lifetime collecting historical information, much of which was later used by Sir William Dugdale in the 'Antiquities of Warwickshire'. This interest of his can be seen by the enormous amount of heraldic glass and devices throughout the house. He was trained in the law, and admitted to the Middle Temple in 1572. He may also have served a term as an MP for Cirencester in 1593.

After the death of Henry Ferrers, the fortunes of the Ferrers family fluctuated through periods of heavy taxation such as during the Civil War and in the early eighteenth century, followed by attempts by some generations to maintain and improve the property in better times. The last Ferrers in the direct male line, Marmion Edward Ferrers (1813-1884), was so poor that Lady Chatterton, the aunt of his wife Rebecca, and her husband, Edward Heneage Deering, had to come and live with him to share the expense. These two were only married because of a misunderstanding. It is said that Deering came to Lady Chatterly to ask permission to pay address to her niece, but she thought it was a proposal to her, and accepted. Deering, although she was old enough to be his mother, was too chivalrous to set the story straight!

The estate passed down through Marmion Edward Ferrer's nephew through several relatives, and it was Mr. Thomas Ferrers-Walker who eventually sold the house to the Government, after which it became part of the National Trust. The Ferrers Archive is kept at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Henry Ferrers was also a devout Catholic, but a cautious one and was never convicted for recusancy. He must have been aware of the activities of the Vaux sisters, who rented the house from him in the 1590's in order to secretly shelter Father Henry Garnet and other priests, and to be able to conduct catholic services. Soon after they rented the house, Anne Vaux had Nicholas Owen build secret hiding places, including one created out of the sewer and the moat. 

A spectacular raid on Baddesley in October 1591 was recorded both by Father John Gerard in his Autobiography of an Elizabethan, and also by Father Henry Garnet in a letter to his Jesuit superior, Aquaviva. Several priests, including Garnet and Gerard, as well as lay assistants had risen early and were preparing to leave the house, when it was surrounded and all the approach roads blocked by pursuviants. The stable-boys, knowing that so many horses saddled and ready to go would be suspicious, armed themselves with farm implements and blocked the pursuviants attempt at violent entry. This bought some time for those inside the house, as the pursuviants had to resort to requests, and led them to believe that the lady of the house had not yet arisen. Those outside had to wait patiently, albeit not quietly, while those inside were quickly hiding away the priests, Catholic vestments, and all other signs of the presence of a Catholic priest, including the overturning of their mattresses so that the pursuviants could not feel the warmth.

The priests stood in the hiding place in the moat, ankle-deep in cold water for over four hours while the pursuviants tore through the house, although their attempts at intimidation seemed to have far outweighed their skills in searching. Anne Vaux said "here was a searcher pounding the walls in unbelievable fury, there another shifting side-tables, turning over beds. Yet, when any of them touched with their hand or foot the actual place where some sacred object was hidden, he paid not the slightest attention to the most obvious evidence of a contrivance."

The searchers turned up nothing, and eventually left after being paid off by Anne Vaux with twelve gold pieces. As Gerard later said, "Yes, that is the pitiful lot of Catholics when men come with a warrant ... it is the Catholics, not the men who send them, who have to pay. As if it were not enough to suffer, they have to pay for their suffering."

You can still inspect these hiding places today, and we must say they are not for those who are claustrophobic or faint of heart. Until you actually see them, it is hard to imagine the cramped, damp, dark and tomb-like conditions these priests endured.

The first of these is a lath and plaster hutch in the roof above a closet off the bedroom in the gatehouse block. It measures six feet three inches by four feet, and is three feet nine inches high. It contains two wooden benches and is lined with fine hair-plaster.

In the corner of the kitchen, where a garderobe once existed, you can see through to the medieval drain where the hiding place used by Father Gerard and Father Garnet was located. At the time, this could only be accessed through the garderobe shaft in the floor of the Sacristy above. A hiding space beneath the floor of the Library was accessed through the fireplace in the Great Parlour, and can now be viewed from the Moat Room. It was in the Library Room that Nicholas Brome was said to have murdered the priest, and it is reputed to be haunted.

For an excellent account of the priest holes and the work of Nicholas Owen at Baddesley Clinton, the article Elizabethan Priest Holes : III - East Anglia, Baddesley Clinton, Hindlip by Michael Hodgetts, and published in Recusant History, is a must read.

The house itself consists almost entirely of building done by either the Bromes in the fifteenth century or by Henry Ferrers in the sixteenth, and although much repair and alteration work has been carried out inside the house, the panelling, fireplaces and heraldic glass throughout the house all date from the work of Henry Ferrers.

Originally quadrangular in shape, the property today consists of only three blocks, the east including the gatehouse and the Great Parlour, the south containing the Hall, and the west containing the kitchen. The gatehouse and kitchen wing are of grey sandstone, whereas the Hall, which was reconstructed in the 18th century, is of brick.

The crenellated gatehouse is one of the house's most interesting features. The lower part with the gun ports was built by Nicholas Brome in the late fifteenth century, and is thought originally to have had a drawbridge. The upper part was re-formed by Henry Ferrers to accommodate the Great Parlour. The brick bridge was built in the early eighteenth century, and the crenelations added in the nineteenth century. The massive carved oak door in the gatehouse leading through to the courtyard dates from Nicholas Brome.

The present owners are still undertaking restoration work to enable all the documented priest hides and trapdoors to be made available for viewing, this work includes part of the moat tunnel complex that is presently plugged in order to prevent midges from penetrating into the Sacristy and bedrooms

Baddesley Clinton, although still a private dwelling was sold to the Government and passed to the National Trust in 1980 and opened to the public in 1982.

All material copyrightę The Gunpowder Plot Society