Society Visit to Moseley Old Hall

The society’s final day out in 2018 was a visit to a local treasure, Moseley Old Hall located in Fordhouses, north of Wolverhamptonin the United Kingdom. It is famous as one of the resting places of Charles II of England during his escape to France following defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. It is now a National Trust property and described by them in their literature “At first glance Moseley Old Hall appears to be a charming but perhaps unremarkable house”. On entering the property the visitor realises that this house is far from being unremarkable. Indeed it is steeped in history and has been superbly maintained by the Trust.

Front of house

Side View and below painting showing aerial view of house and surrounding area

The estate was owned by a Cordsall family until it was purchased by Henry Pitt of Bushby, one of the Merchants of the Staple, in 1583. He constructed the Hall around 1600 (the exact date is unknown). Originally known as 'Mr Pitt's new Hall at Moseley', it was a half-timbered building located in remote woodland. When Henry died in 1602, the Hall was inherited by Alice Pitt, his daughter, who later married Thomas Whitgreave from Bridgeford, Staffordshire, whose family came from the nearby Whitgreave.

After the final battle of the English Civil War, the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, King Charles II escapedand was on the run from Parliamentarians. Charles arrived at the back door of Moseley Old Hall in the early morning of 8 September, after the journey from Boscobel House (below).

Boscobel House was created around 1632, when landowner John Giffard of White Ladies Prioryconverted a timber-framed farmhouse, built sometime in the 16th century on the lands of White Ladies Priory, into a hunting lodge.

The priory and its estate, including the farmhouse site, had been leased from the Crown by William Skeffington of Wolverhampton at the Dissolution of the Monasteriesabout a century earlier. It passed into the Giffard family because Skeffington left it to his widow, Joan, and she subsequently married Edward Giffard, son of Sir John Giffard (died 1556) of Chillington Hall. The reversion was sold to William Whorwood in 1540, which made him theeffective owner, but one of the early lessees must have paid off Whorwood, because it was later passed on to Edward Giffard's heir, John. The society visited here about 10 years ago.

He arrived cold and wet, disguised in workman's clothing and ill-fitting shoes that had made his feet bleed. He was welcomed by Thomas Whitgreave, the owner of the house, Alice Whitgreave, Thomas's mother, and John Huddleston, the Catholic priest of the house. They gave Charles dry clothes, food, and a proper bed (his first since Worcester on 3 September).

Back Door through which Charles entered the house

Charles was hidden in the priest-holeon the afternoon of 8 September while a confrontation between Whitgreave and parliamentarians took place outside the Hall.

Priest hole at Moseley Old Hall

A priest holeis a hiding place for a priestbuilt into many of the principal Catholichouses of Englandduring the period when Catholics were persecuted by law in England. When Queen Elizabeth Icame to the throne in 1558, there were several Catholic plots designed to remove herand severe measures were taken against Catholic priests. Many great houses had a priest hole built so that the presence of a priest could be concealed when searches were made of the building. They were cleverly concealed in walls, under floors, behind wainscoting and other locations and were often successful in concealing their occupant.

Many priest holes (priest closets) were designed by the Jesuit lay brother Nicholas Owen who spent much of his life building priest holes to protect the lives of persecuted priests. After the Gunpowder Plot, Owen himself was captured, taken to the Tower of Londonand tortured to death on the rack. He was canonised as a martyr by Pope Paul VIin 1970.

The chapel at Moseley Old Hall

He later rested on a four-poster bed in the Hall. He left the house two days later, having planned out the rest of his escape. He was accompanied by the family's Catholic priest John Huddleston who cleaned and bandaged the King's feet.

The four poster bed in the King’s bedroom

The family residence moved to Moseley Court around the 1820s, which was a new Regency-style house built for George Whitgreave. Few structural changes were made to the Hall until around 1870, when the outer walls of the building were replaced by bricks, and casements replaced the Elizabethan windows. Around that time, a first floor corridor was constructed. Descendants of the Whitgreave family owned the house until 1925, at which point the estate was sold. The house was subsequently used as a farmhouse, and fell into disrepair. It was purchased by Will Wiggin from Bloxwichin 1940, who started to repair the house, but the Second World Warinterrupted the repair work, which Will Wiggin was unable to complete before his death.

Mr Whitgreave’s Room and Study

The Wiggin family transferred the ownership of the Hall and an acre of land to the National Trust in 1962, and it was opened to the public in 1963. The Hall was nearly empty of furniture at the time; most of the furniture and pictures in the Hall have been subsequently lent or given to the Trust. In 1981 the roof and brickwork were repaired, and the bargeboardsand finialswere replaced.[1]It is now fully restored, and furnished with donated period furniture. The original four-poster bed used by Charles stands in the King's room.

The ground hall includes an entrance hall, a parlour, and a brew-house. The first floor hosts Mr Whitgreave's room and the King's Room, along with the dressing room, study and a corridor. The second floor contains the chapel, ante-room, bedroom, main attic and garrett.

The Kitchen (Above and below)

The Main Hall

A letter of thanks written by King Charles to Mrs Lane from Paris in 1652

The garden features a 17th-century-style (recreated) enclosed garden containing period plants. It has an herb garden, topiary, a fruit orchard, an arbour, a walled garden, and a 'knot' garden.

The knot garden taken from the King’s bedroom

The house is a real treasure and the society enjoyed its visit followed by lunch at a nearby hostelry, The Newbridge at Tettenhall. In the book, which the National Trust produce, written by Susie Stubbs and indeed told to us by the guides as we went around the house, several sayings were mentioned and their origins and I would like to share them with you.

A square meal-The Tudors ate from hard-baked square bread known as a ‘Trencher’. By the time the King came to Moseley these were made of wood. When a good meal had been eaten, all that remained would be the square wooden trencher.

Cutting corners – Tudor cooks realised they could get more pies for their pastry if they rounded the corners.

Power to your elbow – You needed a strong elbow to drink from bombards and other vessels of the 17thcentury, as they would be rested on the forearm with a firm grasp of the handle

Sitting on your assets – The chair table in one of the rooms had a concealed, lockable compartment – the perfect place to keep important documents pertaining to your property.

Top dog and underdog – The large saw pit where timber would be cut for the community would be straddled by beams and held in place at each end by dog irons. If a large timber was being cut along the length of the pit, the man on the top guiding the saw was the ‘top dog’ while the man underneath was the ‘under dog’

Crossing the threshold – Thresh was a mixture of herbs and reeds used to cover floors, helping to keep them warm and add a sweeter smell in the room. The wooden bar across the door at floor level was designed to hold the threshings in place.

Goodnight, sleep tight don’t let the bedbugs bite – Truckle beds were common in the 16thand 17thcenturies. They were stored under the main bed and pulled out at night for children or servants to sleep on. Mattresses varied, tending to be stuffed with whatever material was available (wool, feathers, rags and even moss); these stacked on top of the straw one, with ropes beneath pulled tight using a thick wooden wedge known as a ‘bed bug’ for comfort.

Burning the candle at both ends – The iron holders on the fireplace once held rushlights, a type of candle made by soaking the dried pith of the rush plant in animal fat and allowing it to harden. If extra light was needed, the rushlight would be lit at both ends.

Worth your salt – The salt cellar was carefully placed on the table depending on who was coming to dinner. Those placed above the salt were higher in the social ranking, and so worthy of the highly valuable Tudor seasoning.

Turning the tables – In this period the main table consisted of a frame and detachable board and has inspired many sayings and expressions. This board was rough on one side, where meals would be taken, and smooth and polished on the other, for display (you take the rough with the smooth). They were often removed to form a makeshift bed for visitors, hence bed and board. The head of the household was the only one to sit in a chair with arms, and so he was known as the Chairman of the Board. If he held a meeting with servants or estate workers, they all sat around for a board meeting and, if gaming or gambling was allowed, the players would be expected to keep their hands in view, thus staying above board.

And finally a Frog in the throat – In medieval times one of the old folk cures for a sore throat or a cough was to dangle a little yellow frog head first into the throat. The frog would give out some stringy saliva, which the patient had to swallow slowly. The frog would often struggle and its feet might aggravate the soreness, and so making the patient hoarse.

And on that delightful note I will end my story of our visit to Moseley Old Hall. I trust that if you were there on the day it has evoked memories of your visit but if you were unable to be with us I trust that have felt as if you had been there on the day. Our next trip will be in 2019 so please look out for the details and try to join us.

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