Secret rooms and daring escapes at Chastleton House
24 August 2022
The imposing Jacobean manor house at Chastleton was the scene of a daring escape during the third English Civil War.
Hidden rooms for fleeing Royalists
Few large houses in 17th-century England seemed to lack at least one secret room or hidden hidey-hole. These were turbulent times, and having somewhere to hide should your enemies catch up with you was deemed prudent by most major landowners.
The secret room at Chastleton was above the front porch and accessed via a hidden door in the master bedroom. Compared to many hidden rooms and priest holes, it was fairly spacious. There was room for a bed, chair and dresser, although no window, which would have given away the room's presence from outside.
Captain Arthur Jones flees the Battle of Worcester
Captain Arthur Jones fled to his home at Chastleton after the Parliamentarians defeated the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
He has been pursued by Parliamentary cavalry for over 30 miles and arrived home only minutes before the cavalry arrived. There was just enough time to stable his tired horse, greet his wife Sarah and hide in the secret room.
When Sarah opened the door to the Parliamentary soldiers, she told them that her husband hadn't arrived home. However, Arthur's exhausted horse in the stables suggested otherwise and the soldiers demanded to search the house.
Sarah allowed this, claiming she had nothing to hide but no doubt inwardly praying that they would not find the entrance concealed behind a false cupboard in the master bedroom.
The soldier's search ended in failure but took them so long that the exhausted soldiers decided to stay the night in Chastleton House before riding out to continue their search in the morning.
To Sarah's consternation, they chose the best bedroom in the house, the master bedroom which adjoined Arthur's hiding place!
Drunken soldiers and a stealthy getaway
When Sarah realised that the soldiers intended to stay, she wisely plied them with rich food and strong drink (and according to some versions of the story, laudanum!) to make them drowsy.
Once she was sure that the soldiers were sound asleep, Sarah crept into the bedroom and carefully released her husband and the pair tip-toed downstairs and out to the stable.
Captain Arthur's horse was exhausted and, in any case, would have raised suspicion if it had been found to be missing. Instead, Captain Arthur opted to steal one of the soldier's horses and made good his escape long before the soldiers were stirring.
In the morning, the soldiers apparently accepted Sarah's explanation that a local horse thief had made off with their horse!
A Gunpowder Plot connection
In an earlier incarnation, Chastleton house was owned by one of the "principal papists" involved in the 1605 plot to blow up the houses of parliament.
Robert Catesby inherited the house at Chastleton from his grandmother, but by 1601 he was struggling to pay the fines he had incurred for his role in the Essex Rebellion of that year. Desperate for cash, he was forced to sell Chastleton house to Walter Jones, grandfather to Captain Arthur Jones.
The house was in a very poor state of repair at the time of the sale, so Walter Jones chose to have it demolished and a new house built in its place, which can still be seen today.
After the gunpowder plot was discovered in November 1605, one would think Robert Catesby would have appreciated having a secret room to hide in!