Harvington Hall is a strangely fortified English manor house whose name all but demands to be pronounced in a cartoonish British accent, and which also holds a number of secret compartments built by the saint of illusionists and escapists to hide Catholic priests.
Originally built in the 1580s by an undoubtedly British, and devoutly Catholic man named Humphrey Pakington, Harvington Hall quickly began to serve as a hideaway for Catholic priests secretly worshipping during a time in the country’s history when practicing Catholocism was punishable imprisonment or death. The manor house was uniquely suited to concealing the priests as it is surrounded on two sides by moats and a lake bordering the third, making intense inspection of the property difficult.
When the home became part of a loose network of homes dedicated to hiding Catholic priests, Jesuit builder Nicholas Owen was sent to the building to install a number of secret "priest-hides," secret compartments and holes where the holy men could secret themselves away should the Queen’s men come calling. Owen built little cubbies hidden behind false attic walls that could be accessed through a fake chimney, a beam that could flip up on an access point revealing a chamber in the walls (which was not actually discovered by children playing 300 years later), and most elaborately a secret room hidden BEHIND a secret compartment under a false stair. Smaller compartments to hide the priests tools were also built in the floors.
Owens’ skill at building hidden rooms was so good that no hidden priest was ever found thanks to his efforts. Unfortunately he was captured by the Crown while distracting soldiers from a hiding priest. Owens was taken to the Tower of London where he was tortured to death, never uttering a word on any of his hidden charges. He was later canonized and is now considered the patron saint of illusionists and escapists.
Harvington House still stands and is the best preserved example of priest-holes still extant in Britain. In addition to the historic holes, a number of Elizabethan wall-paintings were uncovered in the residence as well. The house is now owned and preserved by the Catholic church that it worked so hard to preserve.