During an email conversation in 2014, the previous owner of the house I live in, Mr John Whyte gave me some information that I thought I would look further into. John used to live at Croftfoot House in the 1950’s and 1960’s and told me, “The fireplace in my parents bedroom could be moved to allow a person to go in behind it. I was told this was a priest hole. My father sealed it in case we injured ourselves. Living at Croftfoot House was wonderful. No child could ask for anything better.“
This intrigued me, as the bedroom in question, is now my own! (I moved to Croftfoot in Summer 2012). It is pictured in the main part of the house on the upper left. Wanting to put our own stamp on the house, my wife and I decided to
redecorate and the master bedroom was the first to get some attention. The house is 285 years old so as you can imagine, it has plenty of old features, (and if I’m honest some things that certainly need attention). We started by stripping back the bedroom walls, to find old lattice work in the walls. The idea was to insert modern insulation in the walls, making the upstairs a lot cosier. Whilst doing this, we found the old fireplace John had been talking about and indeed the concrete that his father had sealed up all those years ago. There was the alleged priesthole!
With enough space to put my arm in, there was a 2 foot wide gap running full height all the way along the gable. Shining a torch in, I could clearly see how a person could have entered that void.
Priest holes were not uncommon and were used to hideaway priests in the centuries following reformation. Many Catholic families took steps to provide hiding places in their homes where Mass could be held in secret and also a place for a priest to hideaway if ’priest-hunters’ came knocking.
The effectiveness of priest holes was demonstrated by their success in baffling the exhaustive searches of the “pursuivants” (priest-hunters). Search-parties would bring with them skilled carpenters and masons and try every possible expedient, usually involving the physical tearing down of panelling and pulling up of floors. It was common for a rigorous search to last a week, and for the “pursuivants” to go away empty handed, while the person of the search was hidden the whole time within a wall’s thickness of his pursuers. He might be half-starved, cramped, sore with prolonged confinement, and almost afraid to breathe lest the least sound should throw suspicion upon the particular spot where he was immured. Sometimes a priest could die from starvation or by lack of oxygen as was a case reported in England in the 1940’s where a 300 year old priest was found in the wall, still in his clergy clothes!
Thankfully, my priest hole in the wall was empty. (Just as well as I sleep about 5 yards from it!). This may all sound a little creepy, but it’s not. The house has such a peaceful feeling. In another part of the house, a second fireplace revealed a little cotton bobbin behind it, with a small blessing attached. I carefully put it back inside the fireplace, up on the inside lintol, where it likely has been for centuries. The words were intended for this house only, and it will stay that way. Before the wall was sealed, a copy of Blantyre Project book and a hand written letter from myself was put into the cavity, for future generations.