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Forum Home > Memorabilia From the past. > Secret Passages.

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Secret Passages.


Almost every old Castle, Manor House, Grand Hall, or ruined Monastry has a story or two, about Secret Passages and underground tunnels. Some of them were rumoured to be over a mile long, and various dark and mysterious deeds are atributed to the existence, and the reasons for the construction of them. ( not so much a secret then, as the builders would have wished ) Dudley Castle is said to have a couple, as does Halesowen Abbey, linked, it is said to Haden Hall. From Moseley Old Hall , Himley Hall, Bradley Hall, in fact, almost any of the old and ancient eddifaces that once graced the region, comes a dark tale or two. So is it all myth, and did they actually exist at all ? To find at least part of the answer, we have to go back a long way in time. Castles are a good start, for there's no reason to build a passageway into a Castle, when the very reason for building it in the first place, was to keep people out. A vital part of any Castle being defended under siege, was a supply of Water. Some had their own wells, others relied on an outside supply to keep the well topped up, and of course, this supply required a conduit, pipe, or brick built trough. Getting rid of "waste " was another concern, and no self respecting Castle owner would want the whiff of something nasty drifting around his pride and joy, especially when he had important  guests staying. Far better to have it channeled away into the town or out in the fields somewhere. The same applies to Manor Houses, many of which had a Moat, and resorces were needed to keep it topped up and in good condition. ( An expensive job, as a well publicised recent case shows ) Most Monastries had several Fish Ponds, a staple food source for the Medieval Period, which were all interconnected by a series of conduits/pipes. In Tudor times, the price of bricks came down, and these were used to line many of the little waterways. The growth of Industry, which, early on, reliedmainly for power on Water Wheels, also needed a steady supply, and Streams Brooks and Rivers were dammed to form large pools. The water was then guided along channels and small tunnels, ( the Mill Race ) and then onto the wheel. When the Canals came along, the most valuable commodity became a steady water supply, and every usable source was exploited. Old Mill ponds became reservoirs, New water storage facilities built on  Hills and high ground, channeled, via a sluice gate, to brick lined  tunnels, to the Canal. These were called feeders, and until the advent of Steam Engine Powered Pumps, were the main form of " Topping up ". There are a few shown on some early maps, but one of the longest, was from Titford Pool, in Langley, near Oldbury, and which, via a series of culverts and tunnels, through Smethwick, connected it with what today is called, Edgbaston Reservoir, in Birmingham.


Over the years, during either building works or someone falling down a hole, many of these old structures have come to light. The uneducated mass's, that were our ancesters, not knowing what they were, and being at the same time a bit on the superstitous side, called them " Secret Passages, or Tunnels ".  Even, when the dimensions were little more than two feet wide, and a foot deep. The close proximity to Industrial sites, failed to alter the mindset of the simple folk of the Blackcountry, who apparently, couldn't tell the difference between a proper " Dungeon ", or an Engine House Sump. Neither it would appear, could many see, that only a population of one foot tall midgets would have been able to use the so called " secret tunnels". Still, I suppose, it all makes for a rather more interesting tale around the old coal fired, black leaded grate on a cold winters night, than the true explanation, that most carried water to a Canal, from a reservoir to a Forge, or the waste from someone's private " Closet ". I wonder what the Archaeologist's will make of what they dig up, in a thousand years from now, given that water is pumped in massive Iron tubes from many miles away, and gas even further. Even that far in the future though, it's unlikely they will mistake an old Sewage tunnel for anything else.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 9, 2012 at 11:56 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Many of the old, and now demolished buildings, were supposed to have secret passages and hiding places. Mosley Old Hall was one, Bentley Hall and the Old Himley Hall being others. There is one though, within a short distance from Stourbrige, that has many, that can be seen today. Harvington Hall, about 3 miles south of Kidderminster, has some of the best, and most cunningly concealed " Priest Holes ", in the country. The Dudley Family owned it, prior to 1529, when is was aquired by Sir John Pakington, who was at the time a stauch supporter of the Protestant Faith. It was one of his decendents, Mary Pakington, who changed her faith when she married Sir John Yates. The old Manor House. which was originaly built to the standard " H " shape, had undergone some alterations by the time it came into her hands, mostly dating from around 1569. There is some debate over who actually built the hiding places, but a likely contender would be a man called Little John Owen, as his marks are still to be seen. This assumes that it was not the same John Owen who died under torture on The Rack, while the house was owned by Pakington's nephew, also, confusingly, Sir John Pakington. Mary Yates, sensed that trouble for the Catholics was coming, and had the hiding places constructed by either the original John Owen, or more likely, by one or more of his apprentices. As well as secret passages, moving wall panels, and disguised stairs, there were also hidden rooms, and religious paintings. It was only a great many years later, that one hiding place was re-discovered, in one of the vertical beams. Eventually, the house became the property of Mary Yates grandaughter, whose husband, Sir Robert Thockmorton, added another story to the Great Hall, which now gives the house a rather jumbled, and lopsided look. The man engaged to do the work, John Harris, from Elmley Lovett, was a careful man, and thanks to him, decorated doors, panelling, wall paintings, and pictures, were found and preserved. Now, if you find yourself with a bit of spare time, on a nice sunny afternoon, why not take a ride out and see for yourselves, the ingenious works of John Owen.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

January 29, 2013 at 2:41 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Not far from Harvington Hall, stood another grand old pile, Hindlip Hall. Not the one you see today of course, for this was built to replace the old hall in 1840. The old hall dated from the mid 16th century, and a member of the first owners, Thomas Habington, being a staunch catholic, had some places of concealment built. In total, 11. They were frequently in use, for religious tolerence was not in fashion during this period. At least two of them were actually outside the Hall, but could only be entered from the inside. In the loft, under stairs, and behind false walls, Thomas's ingenuity knew no bounds. It was said,  that some of them were so small, that a visiting priest would be "sized" up before he was admitted, least he should prove to difficult to extract after a raid. Its not known, if Holbeache House, ( of the Gun Powder Plot fame ) also had hiding places, but I would  have supposed it needed at least 2, for the owners were also Catholic. They were no good to anyone though in 1605, when during said plot, the house was surrounded, an explosion blew off part of the roof, and a fire started. The house was restored in 1919, but there was no mention of any priest holes.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 5, 2013 at 2:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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