Posted in Architecture, Cumbria, History

The strange case of the missing priest hole

This is something I forgot to mention when I blogged about Levens Hall yesterday.

I visited the house several times with my parents as a child or young teenager, and on the last of those visits I’m convinced I remember a priest hole. It was entered through a trap-door in one of the main bedrooms, and I remember the room concerned being furnished in Elizabethan style. And yet, there’s no mention of a priest-hole in any of the literature about the house, and when I went back a few years ago and asked, they denied all knowledge of it – and seemed slightly put out that I’d even suggested such a thing!

Looking at the history, it’s less likely the house ever sheltered Catholic priests, since the owner in Elizabethan times was a staunch supporter of the (Protestant) queen. However, it’s still not impossible that a hiding place existed before he bought the house, or that something was built or used to hide Protestant ministers at a time when they were banned. Or, of course, I could simply have imaged the whole thing, or transposed a priest-hole I saw somewhere else to a trip to Levens without realising.

It is odd, though. I can still picture the surroundings so clearly, and there aren’t all that many other houses of the same date that I might have been to at the time. Sizergh Castle, a few miles away, is a strong candidate, but although that has an unusual chapel built into the thickness of the walls, there’s no mention of any priest holes, certainly not in the bedrooms. So if anyone can shed any light on the priest hole that never was, I shall be forever grateful!


Fiona lives in a slate cottage within stone-throwing distance (never a good idea in Glass houses...) of England's largest lake. She enjoys history, gardening and photography, and rarely has her nose far from the pages of a book - or a cup of tea.

3 thoughts on “The strange case of the missing priest hole

  1. When I was a child we visited Bamburgh Castle with my gran and she showed us where a secret passage lay behind a wooden panel. Gran grew up in Bamburgh and her auntie was a cook in Lord Armstrong’s kitchens so she knew the castle better than the guide.

    1. That’s wonderful and doesn’t surprise me at all. Guides can be very knowledgeable, but unless they grew up there themselves they can’t know it all. 🙂

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