Scotney Castle, Kent. The secret place of Catholic priest during the English Reformation

scotney castleScotney Castle in Kent. Photograph by Brian Snelson
Although this one of the most picturesque sites of National Trust (according to some guide books) is proudly called “the castle”, it certainly bears relation to manors than castles. In the 14th century, when the castle was built, the local landholders, seized with panic of potential French raids during the Hundred Year War, by all mean tried to achieve the royal grant for the fortification (or crenellation) of their peaceful estates. Roger Ashburnham, the then conservator of the peace in Kent and Sussex and the owner of the castle, was not the odd one out and strengthened his property by adding some protective features including four round towers. Unfortunately the only one tower has remained till nowadays, but in its glorious days Scotney castle looked like a mini-version of neighbouring Bodiam castle.

In 19th century Edward Hussey, the family of whom purchased Scotney castle a few decades earlier, decided to move into the estate. By that time the medieval fortification had grown pretty shabby, but Edward was not in hurry to reconstruct it, since he resolved to fulfil another option. He was fond of having had come in the fashion of landscape design the so-called “Picturesque style” and was about to laid out this sort of garden in his land. The concept of this style was to introduce into gardens the elements of natural wildness and roughness, avoiding the exquisite symmetry of proportions of previous Renaissance and Baroque styles. Edward Hussey came to conclusion that dilapidated Scotney castle would suit his picturesque garden perfectly, so it was carefully destroyed even more. On the cliff, above all this romantic disorder the master of medieval style architecture created a neo-Tudor house that became known as the new Scotney castle. The quarry, from where was taken the stone for the new castle and which lately was turned into the Quarry garden, keeps the echo of those ancient times when primordial monsters inhabited the planet. The dinosaurs’ print fossilized into the surface of the quarry is said to be at least about a hundred years old.
scotney castleThe old and "new" Scotney castles in Kent. Photograph by Tony Hobbs

Another local curiosity, called the “priest hole” is kept in the building of Scotney castle (the old one). It derives from the gruesome period in British history when Catholicism was persecuted and everyone involved in it automatically was equalled to a traitor and was strictly punished (and this is probably even an understatement, because “normally” they were martyred to death). But notwithstanding the horrors of the stakes, racks and gallows many Brits, at their own risk, couldn’t reject their believes and secretly celebrated mass in their dwellings. For this reason a lot of the houses throughout Britain were provided with thoroughly hidden nooks and crannies where Catholic priests could cram themselves with all their church accessories in case of the local authorities’ raids. For more than three centuries before the Husseys acquired Scotney castle, it had been under the possession of the Darren family, who were fervent Catholics. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I Thomas Darell and his wife contrived to keep in secret under their roof Jesuit priest Richard Blount for the entire 7 years! The story tells that when the conspiracy was discovered the missionary concealed himself in the castle’s “priest hole” for ten days without having had been found, and only when Blount’s refuge was nearly pinpointed he miraculously managed to escape from his persecutors. This Jesuit seemed to be the lucky one, because the subsequent 15 years he spent undetected in someone else’s house in London, never was caught by the priests hunters and died a natural death.

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