Harvington Hall is an Elizabethan manor house built on a triangular island bordered by a moat on two sides and a lake to the north. It was originally constructed by a devote Catholic, Humphrey Packington, during the 1580's on the site once occupied by an earlier medieval hall. Located between the towns of Bromsgrove and Kidderminster in Worcestershire, it is now owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Harvington Hall is renowned for its secret chambers that were once used to hide priests during a time in British history when it was ruled illegal to practice Catholicism. Both priest and worshippers who were discovered by the so called ‘Pursuivants" (agents) of Queen Elizabeth I, were likely to face confiscation of their lands, torture, imprisonment and even execution. Harvington Hall is recognised as having some of the best surviving examples of these 'priest holes' in Britain. So well hidden were these secret rooms that no priest was ever discovered..
There are four main priest holes, all of which are located near the central staircase and are believed to have been created by Nicholas Owen (aka Little John) a Jesuit master builder who was active from 1588 and who was renowned for his skill in architectural concealment. It was Owen who was instrumental in creating a network of safe-houses for priests during the early 1590's and for masterminding the escape of the Jesuit, Father John Gerard, from the Tower of London in 1597. Shortly after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, Owen was discovered leaving one of his priest holes in nearby Hindlip House and later tortured to death in the Tower of London during 1606. He withstood the torture and never revealed the locations of his secret chambers. Owen was canonised in 1970 and has become the Patron Saint of escapologists and illusionists. It's also ironic to note that Hindlip Hall is now the head quarters of the West Mercia Police.