21 Jan 2014
Haunted Tudor mansion has 100ft great hall, a moat, its own arboretum... and room for several Catholic priests to hide inside specially built ancient 'priest holes'
- Sawston Hall in Cambridgeshire, which is for sale for £4.75million, was a Catholic stronghold in the Reformation
- It has three priest holes in which outlawed priests could hide when the feared priest-hunters came looking for them
- The Hall, where Mary Tudor hid on her way to claim the throne in 1553, lies seven miles outside Cambridge
- Despite recent renovations, the hall is said to be a rare example of a mid-Tudor domestic building on a grand scale
By Harriet Arkell
A 500-year-old Tudor mansion boasting a 100ft great hall, three priest holes and its own ghost is for sale for £4.75million.
Sawston Hall, described as the finest private house in Cambridgeshire, has five ensuite bedrooms, a moat, and an arboretum with rare trees, but its real draw is its history.
Owned by a grand Roman Catholic family for centuries, the Hall has secret places where outlawed Catholic priests could hide when the terrifying priest-hunters came to call during the Reformation.
Sawston Hall, which dates back to the Tudor period, was a Catholic stronghold and boasts three priest's holes in which outlawed Catholic priests could hide when the feared priest-hunters came to call
Life-saving hiding place: This priest hole, hidden beneath in a spiral stone staircase in Sawston Hall, was designed by carpenter Saint Nicholas Owen
Guardians of history: Stephen and Claire Coates, left, who live at Sawston Hall with their three children, have spent 'millions' renovating the rare Tudor mansion
Feared by Catholics who continued to practise their religion even after it was made illegal, priest-hunters would arrive with skilled carpenters who would spend up to a week ripping out panelling and pulling up floorboards looking for priests.
Sawston Hall, which was one of the famous Catholic safehouses in the reign of Elizabeth 1, has three such holes hidden in the fabric of the stone, Grade I-listed mansion. One of them, hidden within a stone turret housing a spiral staircase, was created by master carpenter Nicholas Owen, and is said by experts to be the finest example of a priest's hole in the country.
Owen, who died under torture in the Tower of London in 1606, was later canonised for his role in ensuring the future of British Catholicism, and his work in creating spaces where priests could escape capture played a key role in English Catholic history.
Sawston, which lies seven miles outside Cambridge, was owned by the Huddleston family from 1517 until they sold up in 1982, but much of its original furnishings and artefacts are still there, including paintings, tapestries and furniture.
Hailed as a rare perfect - not added to or rebuilt - example of mid-Tudor building on a grand scale, it was built using stones from Cambridge Castle between 1557 and 1584, replacing a late medieval manor house on the same spot that burnt down.
Mary Tudor, the future Mary I, hid in the original house as a guest of the Huddlestons in 1553 on her way to claim the throne, and it is said the Duke of Northumberland, hot on her heels, burnt it down when he found she had escaped dressed as a dairy maid.
Beautifully restored: Sawston Hall has fine wooden panelling and plenty of original features dating back to the Tudor period
Place of worship: The house, one of the most famous Catholic strongholds in the Reformation, comes with its own chapel
Sawston Hall boasts Grade I-listed gardens with formal gardens, a wildflower meadow, a moat, pinetum, and arboretum with rare trees
Mary is said to have told her hosts not to worry, and promised to build them a better house, and the current Sawston Hall, which was occupied by the US Air Force during the Second World War, is the result.
After the Huddlestons sold it, Sawston Hall became a language school and was then bought by an internet tycoon who hoped to turn it into a five-star hotel. But when he lost interest and emigrated to Australia, it was bought by former hedge fund manager Stephen Coates in 2010.
Since then, he and his wife Claire have spent millions of pounds restoring the building, adding a bespoke kitchen by kitchen designer Mark Wilkinson, five bedroom suites, and a sophisticated zoned heating system.
The house is said to be haunted by Queen Mary, but the Coates, who have three young children, say it has never bothered them.
A campaign to raise the money to buy the house and open it for future generations has been launched by historians and is backed by leading Catholics including Ann Widdecombe and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster.
Modern touches: The Coates family, who have owned Sawston since 2010, have added an expensive, bespoke Mark Wilkinson kitchen to the Tudor mansion
Rear view: Sawston Hall lies just seven miles outside the city of Cambridge and has grounds of nearly 60 acres, with water gardens, a moat, and specimen plants
Brian Plunkett, of the Sawston Hall Heritage Trust, said the house's rich history made it of interest to everybody, regardless of religion.
He said: 'We want to buy it and open it as a heritage site for everyone to share. It's just the most beautiful place, and has the most astonishing history.'
He added: 'One of the priest holes at Sawston, said to be the best in the country, is ingeniously hidden within the actual thick stone wall of the medieval spiral staircase and can be accessed by lifting the boards of the landing at the top of the stairs.
'It is a couple of metres long once you get inside it and is a genuine hidden chamber built of stone. As you walk up the spiral staircase you could never spot it without knowing it is there.
'The opening is quite small so the priest would have needed to be quite small to get in through the access. My understanding is that it worked in that nobody was ever caught in it during the bad times.'
He also said Sawston was designed to allow someone to circulate in such a way that would confuse an intruder.
Sawston Hall is for sale through Savills estate agents, who say it may be of interest to the new breed of tech millionaires working in Cambridge.
PRIEST HOLES: THE DEADLY GAME OF HIDE AND SEEK CATHOLIC PRIESTS HAD TO PLAY TO STAY ALIVE
When Catholics were persecuted by law in England, beginning in 1558 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it became an offence to celebrate Mass.
Those found breaking the law were fined in the first instance, imprisoned if caught a second time, and imprisoned for life for a third offence. Imprisonment for a priest often meant torture and execution.
And those who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, declaring that the Queen was the head of the Church, would be found guilty of high treason and could be put to death.
Prince Charles examining a priest hole at Boscobel House in Shropshire - Charles II hid in a priest hole in the house after evading Cromwell after the Battle of Worcester in 1651
After the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, anti-Catholic sentiment became even more rabid.
Grand Catholic families who were determined to continue in their faith built secret priest holes into their large houses, where priests could hide from the dreaded priest-hunters.
They would be carved into thick stone walls, dug deep under wooden floorboards, or hidden in thick chimney breasts, and priests would often have to hide in them for days at a time while the priest-hunters laid waste to a house in their bid to uncover evidence of practising Catholics.
Many grand houses had priest holes, including Boscobel House in Shropshire, where Charles II hid in a priest hole after hiding in a tree known as the Royal Oak, to avoid capture by Cromwell after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2543390/Haunted-Tudor-mansion-100ft-great-hall-moat-arboretum-room-Catholic-priests-hide-inside-specially-built-ancient-priest-holes.html#ixzz2r49L2FJN
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