Grid. Ref: SO 877 745
Date: 31 January 2005


Model   Frontage
Harvington Hall   View of the frontage and moat
Model   Elm Stump
The house at its fullest extent. The three dark red blocks
at the right rear no longer exist
  Ancient Elm stump
Great Chamber   Priest Hole
The Great Chamber; note the cupboard door left of the fire   A priest hole in the cupboard of the Great Chamber
Kitchen   Chimney
Cooking hearth   Fireplace hiding escape route


Harvington Hall is near Kidderminster in Worcestershire and is easily accessible from the M5. It belongs to the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Apart from being an interesting Elizabethan house in its own right, it is known as the house with the most priest holes.

The hall is an Elizabethan brick structure on the site of a 14th century timber-framed house. The earlier house was in the shape of a letter H and lay at the left hand side of the site in my picture at top left. The first house was built by the Harvington family who are known in the area since the late 13th century. It passed from them to the Earls of Warwick for two hundred years then, in 1529 to John Packington, who had 30 manors in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. He was succeeded by his nephew, also John, who died in 1578 to be succeeded by his son Humphrey. John may have begun the house but it is not until 1582 that there is documentary evidence of the Pakingtons living at Harvington. The parts of the half-timbered medieval house retained in the new structure were encased in brick.

The model shown in the photographs illustrates the hall at its fullest extent. The part in slightly darker red at the right rear no longer exists so the courtyard is now open on two sides. The north tower at the front right in my photograph was rebuilt in 1756.

There are four priest holes at Harvington. On the top floor is a chapel and a display showing some of the people who hid at Harvington and their subsequent fate. I will not spoil the story by revealing more here. I recommend a visit and lunch in the dining room overlooking the moat.

A Brief Background to the Persecution of Catholics in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) on succeeding her Catholic sister, Queen Mary, returned England to Protestantism. The prayer book of 1552 was adopted again and Elizabeth introduced a new Act of Uniformity in 1559, which required those who held public office to take communion. She brought in the Thirty-niine Articles of Faith in 1563. As a result of these moves, Pope Pius excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570 and issued a Papal Bull allowing any Catholic to assassinate Elizabeth. He declared Mary Queen of Scots as Queen of England. Moreover, priests trained in Europe for the reconversion of England to Catholicism were arriving in England in disguise. This led Elizabeth to consider all Catholic priests as traitors. Laws were introduced against priests and Catholics suffered fines and land confiscation. Priests who were caught were usually tortured to make them reveal details of other priests and then executed. The situation was worsened by Philip of Spain's abortive invasion with the Spanish Armada in 1588. About 200 Catholics were executed as traitors during Elizabeth's 45 year reign. Her sister, Queen Mary had been responsible for the death of 400 Protestants in her short reign from 1553 to 1558.

Most of the laws against Catholics remained on the statute books until the late 18th century but were infrequently enforced in the 18th century. In 1778, a Catholic Relief Act was passed to remove three unused laws whereby a priest was considered a felon, where Catholics could not be NCOs in the army and where land was sequestered as a punishment for those who sent children to be educated abroad. A further relief Act in 1791 allowed Catholics to be called to the bar, made chapels and priests legal and allowed Catholic schools to be licensed. Catholics were still excluded from parliament, civic office, army commissions and the universities. They were not allowed to stand for Parliament until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1828.

In the interests of balance, you may like to look at my page on Charlbury which tells the story of the English Bible and Archbishop Cranmer.


Harvington Hall by Michael Hodgetts, an illustratred booklet of 24 pages, published in 1998 by the the Archdiocese of Birmingham Historical Commission, a body whose main interest is to encourage interest in the Catholic history of the Midlands.

Course on Late Medieval England at Wedgwood Memorial College, Barlaston, Staffordshire, Winter 2004/5 by Mike Higginbottom.


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