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Hindlip House

Hindlip House was perhaps the most famous example of the quality and ingenuity of the work of the master priest hole builder, Nicholas Owen. As the Gunpowder plotters were being readied for execution, Hindlip was laid siege to by Sir Henry Bromley, in an attempt to flush out the priests that hid there. Their information had come from Humphrey Littleton, attempting to buy his pardon by offering the whereabouts of the prized Jesuit, Father Henry Garnet, who the government still believed was instrumental in the conspiracy of the Gunpowder Plot. Over a period of twelve days, no fewer than eleven hides were discovered, including the two that contained Garnet and Edward Oldcorne, Nicholas Owen and Ralph Ashley.

Prior to the Norman Conquest of England, the lands around Hindlip belonged to the See of Worcester, and Bishop Oswald granted a leave of the land for three lives to a woman called Aelfhild in 966. In the time of Edward the Confessor it was owned by Edric, the steersman of the bishop's ship. He was present at the trial of the houses of Worcester and Evesham, and as Edric de Hindlip, took part in the final settlement before the Domesday Commission. The lands soon passed into the ownership of the Earls of Warwick. During the time up to 1557, when it passed out of the Earls hands, the property was successively held by the D'abitot family, the de Beauchamp's, and the Solley's. Thomas Solley, who died in 1557 acquired full lease of the properties and settled them on his cousin Humphrey Coningsby, who in turn sold the lands to John Habington in 1563.

John Habington is recognised as the builder of Hindlip House. Treasurer of Queen Elizabeth I's household, John Habington died siezed of the manor in 1582, leaving as his heir, his son Edward Habington, who was an unfortunate confederate in the Babington Plot of 1586. For his role, he was executed, and the manor passed to his younger brother Thomas Habington, another of the Babington Plot conspirators, but because of his youth, and the fact he was Elizabeth I's godson, was pardoned.

After the Gunpowder Plot was unraveled, Habington was attainted, and Hindlip was retained by the crown, who leased it to Sir John Dromond in 1607, then granted it to William Kynnesman in the same year. During the Civil War, Hindlip was greatly plundered after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, but Thomas Habington's wife Dorothy, who had now recovered possession of the property continued to petition the government for compensation of the crops that had been removed from the property over successive years. Eventually in July 1655, she received an order officially reinstating her to the manor. The estate then passed through the Habington line until 1686 when Thomas Habington's grandson died childless and left the property to his cousin Sir William Compton. The property then descended with the Compton family until 1809, when it passed out of the Compton line into that of Thomas Anthony, third Viscount Southwell, on whose death in 1860 it was bought by Henry Allsopp, afterwards Lord Hindlip. The present Lord Hindlip is in possession of the estate, although a tragic fire in 1814 forced the demolition of the original manor.

A Jacobean Catholic writing not long after the Gunpowder Plot said that Hindlip was 'the most famous house in England for entertainment of priests'. Built of brick, with stone dressings and a tiled roof, the walls were diapered with black brickwork. There were four blocks, built around a courtyard of about 24 yards square. The Hall, Parlour, and original kitchen were in the south block, and the offices on the ground floor of the west block. On the second and third stories were bedrooms, and above them, in the roof, a long Gallery, which Father John Gerard describes as 'wainscotted'.

The priests who served at Hindlip are well documented. The house experienced two distinct periods as a Catholic stronghold, from 1582 to 1586, and from 1590 to 1606, separated by a period of four years, during which the Protestant Dorothy Habington was mistress of the house. The first period ended with Edward Habington's execution, the second began with the conversion to Catholicism of Dorothy, by Father Edward Oldcorne. It was at this time that Oldcorne took up residence at Hindlip, where he went under the alias Parker. Within a short time, he was sent an assistant, Thomas Lister. According to Humphrey Littleton's confession, Lister also attended the Sheldon's of Beoley. Lister unfortunately suffered claustraphobia and Gerard soon removed him, and replaced him with Richard Banks who was later moved to Braddocks. Next came Oswald Tesimond alias Greenway whose account of the Gunpowder Plot is one of the primary sources that we refer to today.

During these years, as priests came and went, Nicholas Owen was called on to build hiding holes within the confines of the house. Oldcorne had always been willing to offer sanctuary to newly arrived priests, whom he soon put to work within the Catholic corridor of the north. Eleven hides in total were discovered in the great search of 1606, but not all of these were considered 'conveyances', or able to sustain a man. Many were simply small hides used to store 'Popish trash' such as vestments, candles, beads, etc. Only one more hide was uncovered, and this not until 1814 when the house was being demolished.

Unfortunately, because the property is no longer standing, it is difficult, taking the accounts of Gerard and Tesimond, to identify the locations of all the hides in the house. The first was found in the Secret Chamber or Dressing Room, and was accessed via a hole in the garderobe. The second and third were found in the Gallery, over the gate. One of these sheltered Owen and Ashley. Three more were carefully crafted into the chimneys, one of these holding Oldcorne and Garnet. It is presumed that these are the only 'conveyances' and that the remaining holes only contained personal effects.

On the fourth day of the great search of Hindlip, Sir Henry Bromley wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, informing him of the progress they had made 'I holding my resolution to keep watch longer, yet at the last, yesterday being Wednesday, found a number of Popish trash hid under boards in three or four several places'. His men had ransacked the house over three long days, and had at that point found nothing. Cecil's information, from Humphrey Littleton, had initially proved of no value, but Bromley, whose seat was the neighboring Holt Castle, some four miles away, had always worked long and hard to indict the Habington family on charges of harbouring priests. Bromley, a survivor of the Essex Rebellion, had sought favour from the crown by working for the government soon after his discrepancy of his involvement with Essex. He was a Puritan, and hated with zeal, the Romish Papists. On more than one occasion he had been fooled by Thomas Habington who had denied countless times that he harboured priests, but when Sir Henry arrived in the early morning of January 20, Thomas Habington was away on business, and his wife Dorothy Habington, who was Lord Monteagle's sister, proved a difficult foe. Bromley declared he knew she was hiding priests, but because of her connection to Monteagle, who had uncovered the Gunpowder Plot, he was forced to tread very carefully. Bromley's persistence was soon rewarded.

Three dayes had whollie bin spent, and no man found there all this while. But upon the fourth day, in the morning from behind the wainscot in the Gallerie, came forth two men of their owne voluntarie accord, as beeing no longer able there to concele themselves, for they confessed that they had but one apple betweene them, which was all the releefe they had received during the time they were thus hidden. One of them was called Owen, and the other Chambers, but they would take no knowledge of any other men's beeing in the house'.

Oldcorne and Garnet meanwhile were able to take in food through a small iron pipe that led from the Lady's Chamber to their hide in the chimney, but it was their unfortunate rush to hide in the beginning that proved their downfall. After a week, the conditions in the hide had become extremely unpleasant. With the lack of proper sanitation, and the cramped nature of the location, Garnet and Oldcorne elected to give themselves up also.

'Out of the foorth of this secret and most cunning convayaunce came Henrie Garnet, the Jesuite sought for, and another with him named Haule' [Oldcorne].

Marmalade and other sweete meates were found there lying by them, but their better maintenaunce had bin by a quill or reede thorowe a little hole in the chimney that backt another chimney into the gentlewoman's chamber, and by that passage cawdles, brothes, and other warme drinkes had bin convayed in unto them. Now in regard, the place was so close, those customes of nature which of necessitie must be doone, and in so long a time of continuaunce, was exceedingly offensive to the men themselves, and did much annoy them that made entraunce in upon them, to whom they confessed that they had not bin able to holde out one whole day longer, but either they must have yeelded or perished in the space'.

The prisoners were taken to Bromley's residence at Holt Castle, where they spent several days recuperating before being taken to London and the Tower. Five weeks later, Garnet wrote to Anne Vaux, declaring that if he had had but half a days liberty he could have ensured that he and Oldcorne survived in the hide for at least three months.

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