5 08 2013


I finally made it to Braddocks (not far from Thaxted). This is the manor house once owned by the Wisemans that was home to the Jesuit John Gerard in the early 1590s. The priest-hole, in which he remained undetected for three days while searchers battered paneling and plaster off the walls of rooms around him, is still there, although the false hearth that covered the entrance is now a reproduction. When Anne Line was bereft and facing destitution after her husband died (c. early 1594) John Gerard, ‘introduced her to the house where I was staying, and the family gave her board and lodging while I provided her with whatever else she needed (Autobiography, 83f)’. This certainly implies that she lived at Braddocks for some time before she began to look after the Jesuit safe-house in London, but the Wiseman family had another manor house at Northend where she may well have lived with the widowed Jane Wiseman. This is just south of Little Dunmow, and Anne Line’s presence there might account, at least in part, for the tradition that associates her with that part of Essex. The Black Chapel, a ‘peculiar’ controlled by the Wiseman family, is also in the hamlet of Northend and has living space attached.
Entrance to the hide
The hide with steps down to the lower part

I visited Braddocks as part of the group tour on the final day of the Catholic Record Society annual conference, held this year at Downing College Cambridge less than an hour’s drive away. Our guide was the peerless Michael Hodgetts, author of Secret Hiding Places, the go-to book on priest-holes, and contributor (of Intro and notes) to the 2006 edition of Gerard’s The Autobiography of an Elizabethan. The house is now in private hands and not normally open to visitors, but the current owners could not have been more welcoming to our party and seemed delighted with a group that made its way around their home like pilgrims at a shrine, which in a way we were. The priest-hole is accessed through an attic bedroom.

The manor with its outhouses is somewhat reminiscent of Lyford Grange, where Edmund Campion was captured. Braddocks is similarly isolated with flat land all around. Originally with a moat, only part of which survives, it would have been hard for searchers to approach without giving the occupants plenty of time to conceal incriminating evidence such as a priest and his paraphenalia.

Diagram of hide location high up behind the wall of the main chamber
The main chamber – the hide is directly ahead behind the upper part of the wall

Simon Johnson and Hannah Thomas walking through the walled garden



One response

17 07 2016

Fascinating post. I have recently learned of St. Nicholas Owen, and having finished Tony Reynolds’ book about his work, am on an Internet hunt for photographs of existing priest-holes. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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