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Harvington Hall is a moated medieval and Elizabethan manor house built in the late 1570s by Humphrey Pakington. Approaching the building the Elizabethan section is on the left attached to a central gateway which is the location of the medieval solar (the restaurant is the former lower half of the solar where you can view the 1500s moulded beams and chamfered rafters, the stone chimney stack, two medieval sandstone tiles, and part of a 1350 oak screen.) On the right of the hall is the north tower which was reconstructed around 1756 with the addition of Georgian windows and staircase.
The solar was a wing of the 14th century H shaped house that was timber framed and had a stone tiled roof. The name of the house comes from the de Harvington family who lived in this original home. It was willed on the death of William, abbot of Pershore, to the Earl of Warwick, friend of a relative. Chaddesley Corbet estate was added to the holdings in 1359. In 1529 Chaddesley was bought to John Pakington, a rich lawyer who became a “sir”. He was wealthy enough to buy 30 more manor houses. He left the house to his nephew Humphrey who is thought to have rebuilt the present Harvington Hall.
Humphrey being a Catholic caused problems as it was against the law. The house is noted for its priests’ holes. They were probably built by a noted priest hole builder, Nicholas Owen. Four of them are located around the great staircase. In the 1640s Humphrey Lutley (a nephew of owner Humphrey Pakington) was a priest in residence. His disguise was that of a man servant.
In 1600 a great staircase was added. The roundheads treated the home roughly during the civil war (1642-1651) and stole many furnishings and other items. Original Elizabethan wall paintings have survived in some of the rooms. Two of note are on the back staircase and the Mermaid’s passage. Humphrey’s widow lived at Harvington until her death in 1657; then Humphrey’s daughter, Lady Yate, who lived at Buckland in Berkshire, moved to Harvington in 1659 when her husband died. She spent the remaining 40 years of her life at Harvington Hall.
In 1696 the Throckmortons (married granddaughter of Lady Yate) inherited the property and this family owned it until 1923. In the 1700s two sides of the hall were demolished by the Throckmortons. They were responsible for removing two sides of the courtyard. In 1743 their son, Sir Robert, built a large chapel on an upper floor of farm buildings sited in the garden. He moved away and the building became a girls’ school and headquarters for bailiffs and chaplains. This was the beginning of the hall’s downfall.
In the 1800s the hall had its panelling, heraldic carvings, tapestries and most of the furniture removed, and the house edged into dereliction. Windows and floors rotted and the roof was in danger of collapsing. Fortunately it was rescued by Mrs Ellen Ryan Ferris (mother of Lord Harvington) and she gave it to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Birmingham who is responsible for its restoration.
Rooms open to the public cover three floors. The ground floor is made up of domestic office, the floor is home to the state rooms, and the second floor has the chapels, priests’ rooms, and bedrooms.
Lady Yate’s bedroom is reached by a narrow staircase up to the first floor and through a panelled porch. The Elizabethan panelling here has survived and reaches from floor to ceiling. Also in the room is an arcaded overmantel and garderobe, a four poster bed and a mahogany turn-over table.
The upper half of the original 14th century solar was made into a withdrawing room. It still has its 14th century walls and timberwork and 16th century panelling and fireplace. The furniture is mostly 18th century and includes an oak bureau. An Italian walnut cabinet dates from the 1700s. There are six Chippendale chairs and an oval Queen Anne table. A piece of 17th century needlework is on display. A passage from the room leads to another priest hole which is in the fireplace of what is now the restaurant. Its original ladder is on show on the other side of the fireplace alongside a longcase clock.
The great chamber, reached from the withdrawing room, was used for entertaining, music, dancing, and dining. The wall panelling is modern but copies the Elizabethan style. Furniture dates from Jacobean times. In the room are an 18th century refectory table and 17th century paintings. The butler’s pantry in the north-west corner of the room hides another priest’s hole.
A passage, the Mermaid, is named after two of its Elizabethan tempera wall paintings of mermaids. It is reached from the south-west corner of the great chamber. Six small steps lead from a landing to a small library room used by a priest (1722-43). This room hides a priest hole not discovered until 1894. From a raised platform used as a book cupboard a heavy timber was hung on a pivot allowing access to a small passage to a hiding hole between the ceiling of the mermaid passage and the floor of the marble room above.
The Lady Yate’s nursery has an exhibition of local happenings and Catholic artefacts. The chapel is off the nursery which is decorated with late 1600s designs of vines, pomegranates and lilies on whitewashed brick. The altar is a 17th century table. In the floor was a hidey hole for various items needed for mass. A smaller chapel is on the west side of the nursery at the top of a newel staircase. It is decorated with red and white drops in rows. They are supposed to be reminders of the blood and water of the passion. In the room is a small Jacobean oak table.
By the 1790s there was a priest’s bedroom on the middle floor. In the room today are a bed, oak cupboard and chest dating from 1600. A rosary dating from the same time was found under the floorboards near the chimney and is now displayed in the nursery. 17th century panelling is in place behind the bed. Behind the chimney is a priest hiding hole. It is reached from the false chimney in the “Marble” room. A chapel constructed in 1743 was restored with its altar, rails, and organ.
The marble room was so named because of its painted bands of red and grey made to resemble marble. It along with two other rooms were used by priests in the 16th and 17th centuries. Just inside the room are three floor boards hiding a priest hole from the library. The fireplace is not a working one but a secret passage into the roof where a priest could hide. In the roof is a narrow door that leads to a space over the priest’s room. A room called the Nine Worthies passage has red painted timbers and plaster panels edged with black. It is named from the drawings of the Nine Worthies (theme in Elizabethan times) that included Hercules, Samson, Joshua and David and Goliath.
At the top landing of the great staircase are two removable steps that led to a gap and secret door and then an inner hiding place above the butler’s pantry. The staircase now in place is not the original which was taken to Coughton in 1910. This, however, is an exact copy. Four of the priest hides are around it. It is thought that a doorway led from the top landing to the eventually demolished west courtyard block and a long gallery. The wall painting on the first landing dates from c1500.
The kitchen has a limestone floor and whitewashed walls, two fireplaces, a bread oven, an 18th century jack for winding up the spit mechanism, and a well. In an 18th century oak corner cupboard is a display of pewter and slipware. A dairy and brewhouse are reached from doors off the kitchen. The upper part of the brewhouse served as a pigeon loft in the 1800s. In the kitchen chimney above the bread oven is a priest hiding hole reached from a trap door in the garderobe of the floor above. A brewhouse is sited near the kitchen. A path begins here and leads around the edge of the moat.
An herb garden near the moat has been restored. At one point the moat is enlarged to make a small lake. An island is home to waterfowl. There is a North garden and a South garden. The Georgian chapel is in the South garden. A Georgian chapel may have been a stable building at one time. The upper floor was made into a chapel in 1743 but caught fire in 1823. After some restorative work it served as a village school until 1913. In 1986 it was restored as a chapel. Inside is a chamber organ, altar and rails.
The Elizabethan malt house, with a sandstone ground floor and brick and timber 1st floor is in the garden. It retains its 18th century malting kiln, part of the original floor and the hoist for raising the sacks of barley used in making malt. Displays detail the life of the hall and include an AV presentation and interactive games.
Across the parking area is St Mary’s church built in 1825 in the simple gothic style. It is of sandstone and has a porch and bellcote. Next to it is an 1838 priest house. The church is used for recitals and concerts.
Three miles south-east of Kidderminster on minor road at jct A448 and A450
Reached by narrow lane from village pub; opposite a church and stables
Tel. 0 1562 777 846
Open: March, weekends only; April-Oct, Wed-Sun and BH Mon, 11.30am-5pm; closes early in Oct
Historic Houses Association member; parking; restaurant; shop
Web: Harvington Hall
Note: We found this to be one of the most fascinating historic homes we have visited. It’s not grand to be sure but it is historic and higgledy-piggledy, and presents surprises in every room. We also found the restaurant served excellent food.
Photos © by Barbara Ballard