Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Salford Hall

I mentioned that the hotel we stayed at last weekend was a historian's paradise. As is the internet, which allowed me to pad out the information I found out at the time.

The oldest part of Salford Hall was built c.1470 as a guesthouse for Evesham Abbey. (Given its name I assume the village where it stands - Abbot's Salford - was originally a manor owned by the abbots of Evesham.) After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the property passed into the king's hands and was sold for private use. In the later years of the sixteenth century the owners, the Stanford family, built a large stone extension. Looking at the plan below (from the Victoria County History, at British History Online), the row of rooms on the right including the kitchen are the oldest section of the building, and the centre and left the Tudor part. The medieval chapel on the east side of the original house was replaced by one in the new section.

I couldn't find much information about the Stanfords, but they were obviously a Catholic family during penal times (the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). Interestingly, the Stanfords built part of their hall in the shape of an "E" - the chapel and rooms behind it, with the shape more obvious in reality than on the plan. This was a common feature of Tudor buildings, in honour of the Queen. Did the family become Catholic later? Or were they loyal to the Queen despite her anti-Catholic policies? They certainly found themselves at the sharp end of persecution at some point as the hall contains a priest's hole, where priests could hide from the authorities. Any Catholic priest captured was automatically considered to be guilty of treason.

I managed to find the cupboard supposed to contain the hidey hole, but wasn't at all convinced I was in the right place, as it was so clearly just a shallow cupboard.

I am, apparently, easily fooled. If a hidden peg is removed, the shelves swing back and reveal the hiding place.

I was thrilled to find the pictures above and this description online. Without them I would still be puzzling over whether there really was a priest's hole, or whether it was just a piece of historical fiction.

Up in the garret is the "priest's hole", ready, it would seem, for some present emergency, so well is it concealed and in such perfect working order; and even when it's position is pointed out, nothing is to be seen but the most innocent-looking of cupboards. By removing a hidden peg, however, the whole back of it, shelves and all, swings backwards into a dismal recess some four feet in depth. This deceitful swing door may be secured on the inside by a stout wooden bolt provided for that purpose. (from Secret Chambers and Hiding Places by Allan Fea)
The Catholic history of Salford Hall doesn't end there. During the early seventeenth century, a Catholic convent was founded in Flanders for a group of English nuns (including a direct descendant of St. Thomas More). The nuns were imprisoned during the French Revolution, but eventually managed to escape to England where they were housed at Salford Hall. They lived at the hall for over thirty years until they had enough money to buy Stanbrook Abbey.

After the nuns left in 1838, Salford Hall was left empty apart from caretakers and short term leases for 150 years, until it was renovated and turned into a hotel. The former chapel is now part of the dining room. Looking at the plan, I can see that the table where we ate dinner was where the altar once stood.


Theresa said...

Fascinating! I love the history!

Shari said...

Thanks for sharing! Are you planning to read Joseph Pearce's new book about Shakepeare?

Pit said...

A truly fascinating story and an absolutely interesting reading, especially for me, as Salford Hall is my favourite hotel in England, where I have spent many wonderful and relaxing days, most recently in May/June of this year.
Best reagrds,