Archive for the ‘Harvington Hall’ Category

This post continues the Civil war theme of last week with a look at how the musket was used and also what might happen if a person was hit.

Maintaining a constant rate of fire.

As you can see from the previous post, firing the gun was not an easy process. An experienced person might manage just under 3 shots a minute but the rate of fire would most often be about one shot every 30 seconds. In order to maintain a constant volley of fire, groups of musketeers were arranged in ranks. Whilst the person at the front would be firing, the three people behind would be re-loading. As the first person discharged his gun he would retreat to the back of the line and begin re-loading,  the gunner at the front would then fire before returning to the back to load again. In this way the gunners would advance across the battlefield towards the enemy lines – firing more or less continually.

Comparison with the longbow.

Before this period the English longbow was the most feared weapon on the battlefield. It is interesting to note that the longbow has a longer useful range  than the more technologically advanced musket. It is estimated that a longbow could shoot an arrow up to at least 180 yards – compared to 70 to 100 yards for the musket. There is an idea that the musket was used because it was easier and quicker to train someone to use it. Another idea is that the longbow simply fell out of fashion – eventually there were less people who could use them in battle.

The Musket ball and it’s effectiveness.

12 bore musket ball

12 bore musket ball

This is a 12 bore musket ball and it measures about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. The term ‘bore’ comes from the number of balls that can be made from a pound of lead. It is possible to make 12 of these balls from a pound of lead. Sixteen bore shot was also commonly made i.e. 16 smaller balls from a pound of lead.

As stated in the last post test firing has revealed these guns to be much more accurate than expected but what effect did they have ?

It is generally thought that at up to a range of 30 yards the ball would go straight through a man. At a greater range it would still be enough to cause very significant injuries. At this time,  any serious wound would be almost certainly prove to be fatal. In his excellent book about the Civil War, Trevor Royle describes the death of a soldier called Gabriel Ludlow who was  wounded in the battle of Marston Moor

his belly broken and bowels torn, his hip bone broken, all the shivers and the bullet lodged in it’

Of course,  for poor Gabriel and thousands of others like him there was little chance of survival. The wound would have fragments of cloth and dirt driven into it, although not immediately fatal,  it would certainly become septic quite soon – causing a prolonged and painful death to the victim.

Just in case all this hasn’t put you off why not learn to be a Musketeer yourself?

(This is the second of a two part post – see also ‘Musket’



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This post has a Civil War theme – one of our occasional excursions away from the normal Tudor period.  Harvington Hall had a living history weekend at the end of August.  The Hall really comes to life during these occasions as there is always a wide range of re-enactors from a variety of different historical periods (click here to see the diary of events at the Hall – by the way, if you contact the Hall you can ask to be kept informed of future events, some sell out quite quickly )

Ian the deputy Hall manager was demonstrating  the use of this gun for the benefit of Hall visitors and kindly agreed to talk to Tudor Stuff.

Priming the gun

Priming the gun

Ian is holding is a musket of a type used in the English Civil War. This gun has an effective range of 70 to a maximum of 100 yards although it’s accuracy drops off sharply beyond it’s minimum range. It is often said that these weapons were quite innacurate but apparently the gun was much more accurate than expected when tested with live ammunition.

Process of firing the gun.

Firstly, Ian takes the priming flask which contains very fine gunpowder and pours it into the circular flash pan.  This is where the term ‘a flash in the pan’ comes from i.e. the gunpowder in the pan goes off but fails to ignite the powder inside the gun – resulting in a lot of smoke but nothing else.

Loose powder is blown away and then the musket is turned upwards to allow for gunpowder to be poured down the barrel.  A ball is then rolled down the barrel, in practice, an experienced gunner would hold several of these in his mouth and spit them down the barrel – people were unaware of the dangers from lead poisoning at the time!

The next thing is to add some wadding, ideally a bit of cloth but some grass would do just as well in an emergency. This partly serves to keep everything tightly in the barrel but is mainly neccesary because it causes the ball to be ejected more powerfully – thereby increasing accuracy and damage caused.  The scouring stick is then removed, pushed down the barrel so that the powder, ball and wadding sits at the bottom.

The match is a piece of cord impregnated with saltpetre which once set alight burns with a steady glow. Ian blows on this to make sure it is alight and then threads it into the ‘serpentine’, so called because it looks like a snake. This mechanism will plunge the lighted cord into the gunpowder in the flash pan – this causes the gunpowder in the barrel to ignite – ejecting the ball from the gun at an estimated speed of around 300 metres per second.

As mentioned above, these guns are more accurate than many would expect, however, there most effective use was probaly when fired into a crowd of opposing soldiers. The next post will say a little more about tactics as well as discussing the injuries these weapons would have caused.

PS Many thanks to Ian Fletcher at Harvington Hall for help in putting the post together.

Don’t forget the second part of this post ‘ The Musket – use in battle and a dreadful injury’



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On a busy day Harvington Hall attracts many visitors. As well as enjoying the history of the Hall it is a wonderfully peaceful and restful place. Someone once remarked that as soon as you cross the moat it can feel as if time has stood still here. If you have even a bit of imagination it is easy to sit quietly in the Hall and think about the people who once lived here.

I like to know everything that happens here

I like to know everything that happens here

Sometimes I like to try and see in my mind’s eye what it must have looked like. A lot of posts on Tudor Stuff have focused upon the big players on the Tudor stage, King Henry and his wives, Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Cromwell or Shakespeare. Otherwise, we talk about religion, persecution, torture – events that still have echoes today.
What about the ordinary folk though? I suspect that for the common people life (usually) went on, untroubled by events at court.  What would it be like to talk to these people? – what would they tell us about their lives?

Let’s go back to 1608 and meet Susan, a lady’s maid.

Susan in the herb garden

I am Lady’s maid to Mistress Abigail Packington.  She is married to the Master of the House, Humphrey Packington and she comes from a fine family in Derbyshire, the Sacheverell family.

My day begins early, before the sun is up. I make sure that my mistress has her clothes laid out to wear and that she has water to wash with. Mistress Packington says her prayers every morning before breakfast and I go with her to the little chapel in the house. The Master and Mistress like to keep to the old religion and so do I.

After breakfast, I go about my duties. I have to look after the Mistress’ things and  her own chamber. I make it my business to know what is going around the house and the mistress likes me to tell her what is going on. All of the servants have to look up to me and as I am responsible for helping the Mistress with her clothes and personal things I get to talk to her quite a lot – especially when the master is away on business. My clothes are quite nice too – I have a proper pair of shoes, an underskirt and a nice dress. I carry a lot of keys too – I know where the jewellery is and I am trusted by the Mistress.

I am trusted with things that the other servants don’t hear about too.

I was one of the first to hear that Mistress Abigail was pregnant, I was there this summer when the baby was born – a little baby girl. I was there at her Christening and at her funeral, poor little thing. That was hard on the Mistress.

Abigail Sacheverall

Abigail Sacheverall (1630)

I know about things that happen here too, things that other folk don’t know and have no business knowing.  I see the Priests that come here and I hear them say the Mass – poor things they are too! Some of them are so young; and they are so brave – especially when everyone knows what dreadful things will happen to them if they are caught by the priest hunters. There are so many treacherous people around these days, spies that would betray us – but they will never hear anything from me!

That is all from Susan right now but over the next few weeks I will try to introduce you to a few more of the people around the Hall.


PS – Historical note: The character ‘Susan’ is completely fictional. The above account  is a creative mixture of fact and imagination.

On the 23rd of June 1608 there is a record of the christening and burial of ‘Mistress Abigail Packington’ daughter of Humphrey and Abigail.


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Harvington Hall is well known for it’s wall paintings (see link) which were completed in the 1600’s. Until 1936 these paintings had lain forgotten beneath a layer of whitewash although they have since been uncovered and can be seen by visitors to the Hall. The largest of these paintings(above) is of a mermaid and this image is today’s subject.

The Mermaid passage.

The Harvington mermaid lies above a doorway on the first floor and can best be seen as one leaves the great chamber. The picture shows a two tailed mermaid sitting on a scallop shell. Around the mermaid are two smaller mermaids as well as an intricate scrolling design including what appear to be fountains of water as well as vases and fruit.

The Mermaid - above a bedroom door at Harvington Hall

The Mermaid – above a bedroom door at Harvington Hall

The image of fruit on the mermaids head suggests (to me) a cornucopia – an image associated with female fertility. The picture is in a style knownas ‘arabesque’ – popular in the Elizabethan period and there is an idea that it may have been completed by a Flemish or German artist.

The mermaid is in reasonable condition but was clearly once part of a larger design which is fading into the walls around it. The worst damage to the mermaid (the plain & nearly circular patch left of centre) was caused where a hole was cut to allow access for a flue pipe from a stove in the room beyond.


Mermaid legends are of ancient origin and often have similar themes. A mermaid is pretty much always seen as a seductive and tempting figure. In the same way that the sea can be both beautiful and dangerous – stories often tell of mermaids trying to lure people with their beauty – often with tragic consequences. It is also common for there to be terrible consequences if a mermaids advances are spurned.

Mary Queen of Scots - 'dolphin' used as a slur against her

Mary Queen of Scots – ‘mermaid’ used as an insult.

In Elizabethan times, the mermaid came to be a euphemism for a prostitute ( I have been told that German people still recognise this connection, unknown in modern English people). This was used as a slur against Mary Queen of Scots and Shakespeare is commonly thought to have refered to this in ‘The Midsummer Nights Dream’

‘Thou rememberest

Since once I sat upon a promontory,

And heard a mermaid on a Dolphin’s back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,

That the rude sea grew civil at her song;

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,

To hear the sea-maid’s music.’

In the extract above the ‘mermaid’ represents Mary Queen of Scots, the Dolphin is the ‘Dauphin’- the French Prince she was married to and the ‘certain stars’ are noble supporters who rallied to her hopeless cause.


The above image shows a mermaid with a crown and the initials M.R. which stands for Maria Regina (Mary Queen of Scots) The mermaid in the 16th cent was a symbol of prostititution, and this mermaid wearing a crown is a slur on Mary Queen of Scots after she married James Hepburn Earl of Bothwell, as a great whore. The symbol below with the Hare, is the Insignia of Lord Bothwell with his Initials J (I) H= James Hepburn his proper name (this information is taken from a comment made by W. Adams on 21.01.2019, as it improves the post I added it here, see comments below for context)

(See articles here & here for fuller discussion of this)


I always wondered why Harvington had a painting which was suggestive of such a sensual theme, it hardly seems to fit with the rest of the Hall given it’s strongly Catholic background. This website which discusses Mermaids in Irish Church art gave me cause to think.

The author confirms the association between the mermaid and sin and tempation but concludes with the suggestion that the image of a mermaid was used to divide the secular part of the church from the sacred areas. At Harvington, the mermaid is roughly situated at the point where one leaves the family areas of the house and moves upstairs to areas where Priests would have stopped and masses were held. Is it possible that this image was used here for a similar purpose? (* See below *)

A modern mermaid.

Porpoise - (click image)

Porpoise – (click image)

I thought I would include the reason that I got thinking about mermaids in the first place. I have just come back from a holiday in Yorkshire, one day we took a walk out to the cliffs at Flamborough head.

Whilst walking I looked out over a cliff and saw a dead poropise on the rocks below. There is a suggestion that the mermaid myth may be built upon mis-interpretations of sightings such as this.

This sighting was confirmed by the local wildlife experts as being a dead porpoise but It is easy to imagine how one might catch a glimpse of such a creature and ‘see’ a mermaid – especially if one had been rised to believe in such creatures.

The Mermaid by James Edward Creamer (Click image)

The Mermaid by James Edward Creamer (Click image)

The mermaid image continues to inspire people – just try putting ‘mermaid’ as a search term on flickr – this is my favourite (above). I was however suprised (& a little pleased!) to find that the mermaid can still cause some offence.

The Starbucks Mermaid.

I stated above that (apart from the Germans) I didn’t think anyone would still associate the mermaid with anything lewd. Apparently there is a Christian group in the US who have campaigned for a boycott of Starbucks because of their use of the two-tailed mermaid! (See also)

As they say in Yorkshire – ‘theres nowt as queer as folk’

(* of course – it may be that the mermaid is there because it was fashionable at the time & the Hall inhabitants just liked it – it is possible to over-do the search for deeper symbolic meanings!)

PS Thanks to Lee Durkee for drawing my attention to this image of a mermaid feeding her young – from the Royal collection.

PPS See also ‘How many breasts does a mermaid have‘ by Lee Durkee



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Bedroom at Harvington - a hide is directly above this room

Bedroom at Harvington - a hide is directly above this room

Across the UK there are said to be around a hundred old houses which still have a Priest hole.  Harvington Hall is famous for it’s seven hides – more than any surviving house. Several of these hides can be seen by visitors to the Hall today. Visitors who don’t suffer from claustrophobia (and who are also fairly thin!) are allowed to enter one of the hides when accompanied by a guide.

You can see the entrance to the staircase hide in this post (well sort of, you have to come to the Hall to really see where it is!). This time I thought it would be good to let you see inside the biggest hide at the Hall, but I can’t show you the entrance – again, come to the Hall and someone will be happy to show you this.

Grafitti in the Attic - written 114 years & 8 days ago!

Grafitti in the Attic - 114 years & 3 days old!

A hide in the ceiling space.

In an earlier post I used this picture (very top of this post) of a bedroom at Harvington Hall. What I didn’t mention at the time was that anyone standing in this room would be very close to a hiding place – so close that they could be overheard by anyone in the hide. The room has an unusually high ceiling, and it may be that it’s height is intended to disguise the fact that just above is the largest hide in the house.

A disorientating jumble of beams

A disorientating jumble of beams

The attic, a disorientating place to be.

Entered through a secret passage in one of the bedrooms, the rooftop hide is by far the biggest hide at the Hall. As soon as you enter the attic space you are confronted by a jumble of beams – it is quite easy to become disorientated as to your whereabouts in relation to the Hall below. Of course, this confusion served the purpose of the hide builder perfectly.

The end of the roof space?

The end of the roof space?

The rooftop hide (in common with several other such hides at Harvington) is assumed to be the work of Nicholas Owen, the master builder of such places. At one point there is a false hide, intended to confuse searchers and recognised as a trademark of Owen’s. At the end of the building one comes to a wall, at about chest height there is an entrance to a large space beyond. At one time this entrance had hinges and a bolt, any searcher coming across this may well have assumed that they had reached the end of the building. In John Gerards autobiography he describes a similar hide in a house in London which was ‘built in a secret gable in the roof’ and that he had occasion to use during a search in July 1599.

Searchers gone & the hide opens to reveal a large space beyond

Searchers gone & the hide opens to reveal a large space beyond

A search at Harvington?

There is no record of Harvington ever having been searched – which is perhaps a little strange because the owner of the Hall, Humphrey Packington was known to the authorities as someone sympathetic to the outlawed catholic cause. Like a lot of the stories about Harvington Hall, the truth is only partly known and to a great extent the Hall keeps it’s secrets to itself – I feel quite sure that the original builders would be quite satisfied with this.

The Colditz connection.

One story about this hide is that the Hall was visited a few years back by people who had been held as prisoners of war at Colditz castle. There is a famous story that they built a glider in the attic of the castle, planning to use this in an escape attempt ( click here for more about this story). Apparently, these visitors were shocked to learn of the similarities between their hide and the one at Harvington. Many of the techniques developed to disguise the entrance to the Colditz hide had been thought up over 300 years earlier by whoever built the hide at Harvington.

Priests bedroom - imagine the ceiling has vanished & this is what you might see?

Priests bedroom - imagine the ceiling has vanished & this is what you might see?

(PS Important note – the panel shown on the picture above, entitled ‘the end of the roof space’ does not exist. I made this in Photoshop as a representation of how this may have looked.)



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