The Tale Of A Hidden House That Once Hid A King

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It’s something of a puzzle. When you first encounter Moseley Old Hall with its Staffordshire brickwork you feel sure you are looking at a Victorian building. And what’s more, rather than saying historic country manor, its looks suggest something urban and industrial, as if this might have been the home of some nineteenth century mill or mine owner.

Take another look from a different angle:

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Now consider the side elevation coming up next. There’s an important clue here that all is not what it seems (a bit like Peter Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s Contract):

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Yes, here beside the house we have a restored knot garden of the 1600s. So what’s going on?

Time to put on the reading specs, and study the next three images:

http://www.historywebsite.co.uk/articles/oldhouses/oldhouses2.htm

Fig. 1

Source: Allan Fea Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

Now look at the photos again, and you have it. Moseley Old Hall, a timbered building of 1600 has been encased in a brick skin. This apparently happened in the 1860s, presumably as the easiest means of preserving the building. These drawings date from around 1850 before the cladding operation. Even though I have stared at the evidence, I still find it hard to accept that these are the same building. It’s like a variation on a ‘spot the differences’ puzzle. But just look at the placement of windows, eaves and bays. They are all pretty much the same whether in brick or half-timbering.

And now for the hiding of a king – and the year of 1651 when the house in timbered form played its part in British history, and sheltered Charles II after his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd.

You can download the whole story in a free book at the following  link: Allan Fea The Flight of the King 1908  But the gist of the tale is this.

Moseley Old Hall is on the outskirts of Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands, and around 30 miles north of Worcester. After his army was crushed, Charles fled with a group of officers, and was guided to the Boscobel estate, not far from Moseley, by Colonel Charles Gifford who owned Boscobel. His properties there were in the care of servants, the five Penderel brothers.  This area on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border was a Catholic stronghold, and therefore most families were supporters of the king, although not necessarily brave enough to help a fugitive monarch. The stakes were far too high. Death being the likeliest outcome.

The cavalier officers who had been accompanying Charles left him in hiding at White Ladies Priory on the Boscobel estate, and carried on to Newport in Shropshire. It was thought the king would be safer travelling alone, and it was left to the Penderel brothers to effect the monarch’s disguise and scout out an escape route. The king wanted to get to London, but the roads east out of Boscobel were blocked and Cromwell’s militias were everywhere. He decided instead to head west into Wales where he had strong support.

Being over six feet tall, way above average height at the time, Charles was something of a challenge when it came to disguises. The Penderels cut his hair short, gave him coarse labourer’s gear, patched stockings, and a ‘greasy’ tall hat to wear. The shoes had to be cut to fit the king’s feet. These last were to cause the monarch much agony and multiple lacerations. Finally, after some lessons in local dialect and labourer gait, he was mounted on a farm horse. This beast was also to cause him much grief, and almost did for him when it stumbled. After that Charles had to walk cross-country tortured by the ill-fitting shoes.

The attempt to cross the River Severn into Wales failed. The crossings were all guarded, and Charles was forced to return to White Ladies. This was extremely dangerous. There were soldiers searching the woods all round, and Charles had to spend one whole day hiding inside an oak tree (the now famous Boscobel Oak). Meanwhile the Penderels were out searching the district for safer quarters.

So it was that Moseley Old Hall came to provide a safe haven. At the time it was lived in by Thomas Whitgreave and his widowed mother. Thomas was a Royalist but had not fought at Worcester due to ill health. Other occupants of the house were Father John Huddleston, a Benedictine priest, and his three pupils, who included two of Whitgreave’s nephews. The hall also had a priest hole, a relic of the earlier Catholic persecutions.

Charles was brought exhausted, and with bleeding feet to the hall where Father Huddleston set about tending to the king, and giving him fresh clothing and sustenance before showing him to a  comfortable bed. Meanwhile everyone else in the house was charged to keep a look out for the militias. (Can’t you see glimpses of those fearful faces peeping from every window around the hall?)

Thomas Whitgreave describes what happened next:

“In the afternoon [the King] reposing himself on his bed in the parlour chamber and inclineing to sleep, as I was watching at the window, one of the neighbours I saw come running in, who told the maid soldiers were comeing to search, who thereupon presentlie came running to the staires head, and cried, ‘Soldiers, soldiers are coming,’ which his majestie hearing presentlie started out of his bedd and run to his privacie, where I secured him the best I could, and then leaving him, went forth into the street to meet the soldiers who were comeing to search, who as soon as they saw and knew who I was were readie to pull mee to pieces, and take me away with them, saying I was come from the Worcester fight; but after much dispute with them, and by the neighbours being informed of their false information that I was not there, being very ill a great while, they let mee goe; but till I saw them clearly all gone forth of the town I returned not; but as soon as they were, I returned to release him (the King) and did acquaint him with my stay, which hee thought long, and then hee began to bee very chearful again.

“In the interim, whilst I was disputing with the soldiers, one of them called Southall came in the ffould and asked a smith, as hee was shooing horses there, if he could tell where the King was, and he should have a thousand pounds for his payns… This Southall is a great priest-catcher.”

After this episode the king no longer felt safe at Moseley. Another refuge had to be found and the means to get him there safely. It was at midnight, one week after the defeat at Worcester, that Thomas Whitgreave led Charles into the orchard of Moseley Old Hall where it had been arranged that Colonel John Lane would meet him with horses, and thence escort him to his home of Bentley Hall near Walsall.

This next stage of the escape was safely accomplished. Over the following weeks, and using various stratagems and much subterfuge, Charles dodged his enemies. Many attempts to find a boat and passage to France proved fruitless as he moved through Devon and along the south coast. There were even days when he hid at Stonehenge. Finally, on the 15th October, after six weeks on the run, he set sail from Brighton for France. It would be another nine years before he returned to claim his throne.

Now for more views of Moseley Old Hall. Another visit will be required before I can show you the interior. When we went on Sunday the weather was far too glorious to go indoors. So please enjoy a stroll around the gardens while imagining a battle-weary king with very sore feet arriving here secretly one September night. Look out, too, for Cromwell’s militia!

 

I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk