Hindlip's Gunpowder Plot secrets
Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire, owned by the Habington family, was the hiding place for some of those involved in the Gunpowder Plot.
The Gunpowder Plot attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament with the King inside is well known. What is less well known is the involvement of Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire.
When the plot was betrayed to the authorities and the hunt was on, two of the Catholic priests who had been involved, Father Oldcorne and Father Garnett, sought refuge in the cunningly devised priest holes at Hindlip - which acted as a Catholic safehouse.
They hid in great discomfort, existing on hot broth and drinks passed through a tube in the wall, and so cramped that they could not straighten their legs. Master priest hole builder Nicholas Owen and his apprentice also hid from authorities at Hindlip.
Early on 20 January 1606, over 100 armed men surrounded Hindlip Hall. For seven days Magistrates scoured the house and kept watch in the parlour outside the hide.
Nicholas Owen was finally starved out of his hiding place and the Catholic priests found. All the conspirators were executed as traitors and Owen died under torture.
Local amateur historian Peter Wilkinson tells us:
"Nicholas Owen was known as Little John because of his deformed shape, which was an advantage to him in building within confined spaces."
His years of work had left him with internal injuries, and despite the efforts of his captors who fitted an iron plate around his body so he could be placed on the rack - his bowels burst.
Some now believe though that Owen took his own life rather than disclose the other sites he had worked on.
The others conspirators were hanged, drawn and quartered, Garnett in London and Oldcorne at Red Hill in Worcester.
The secrets of Hindlip Hall
Thomas Habington inherited the Hindlip estate from his father John, and together with his sister Dorothy set the house up to shelter Catholic priests.
They employed Nicholas Owen, who was renowned for the construction of such hiding places and in all eleven hides were built - some by Owen and some by others.
It is likely that the gatehouse block, on the north side of the great courtyard, probably built about 1590, was actually designed to contain some of these hides. The construction of this wing would have provided a reason for building activity and mask any secret work taking place in the rest of the house.
A tunnel, part of which was rediscovered in 1974, and which is thought to be part of an escape route, ran from the cellars out under the gardens.
The Habington family was well known in British society. John Habington was an official at the Court of Elizabeth I. He along with his wife Catherine Wykes and children Edward, Thomas and Dorothy, settled at Hindlip Hall, rebuilding it in a grand style.
The mansion was built of brick, a fairly new material in this part of the Midlands, and it had all the latest fashionable details of diamond patterned walls, twisted chimneys and large and expensive glass windows.
When the Queen came to Worcester in 1575, she visited Hindlip Hall. Two rooms were set aside for the Queen's special use. More than two hundred years later those rooms on the first floor of the south wing were still called Queen Elizabeth's Presence and Bedchamber, although she never seems to have actually slept at the house.
It pays to have connections
John Habington's children had come into contact with militant Catholics whilst travelling in Europe. When he died in 1582, they became involved in the scheme to set Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne.
When it was uncovered, Edward Habington was beheaded. However his younger brother Thomas was spared, both because of his youth and because he was the Queen's godson.
Later, when the Gunpowder Plot was foiled and the conspirators captured at Hindlip Hall, Thomas again survived.
Confined to Worcestershire
Instead of being killed, tradition has it that he was banned from setting foot outside Worcestershire - though this is now have been proved to not be the case as he and his wife Mary both spent time in London.
During the rest of his life Thomas lived quietly at Hindlip assembling material for a history of Worcestershire.
His notes were not printed in his lifetime but became the basis for the History of Worcestershire by Treadwell Nash and were published in 1895 by the Worcestershire Historical Society.This article is drawn from information in the book A Dip Into History by Dr Pat Hughes. You can find more information about Hindlip's involvement in the Gunpowder Plot in the book
last updated: 25/09/2008 at 11:07
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