The historic homes that come with hidden secrets

The extraordinary story of a country manor near Okehampton in West Devon surfaced recently after its new owners discovered a secret wall to the side of its main hall. And it was no small affair; as you can see from the picture below, it’s basically a mammoth sash window-cum-partition that slides into the floor, in much the same way a car window retracts into the bodywork.

Their first find for the the couple was a formal garden hidden by half a century of shrubbery and tree growth but it wasn’t until holding a party one day that the secret wall was discovered. The wall dividing a small living room and the house’s main hall appeared to be normal but a large hook on the wall below the ceiling and floorboards either side that could be lifted up easily captured their guest’s attention. After much heaving the wall was lifted off its mooring and promptly slipped under the ground.

The purpose of the wall (in the early 20th century) was to allow family members to sit in the smaller lounge while unmarried men and women entertained each other in the main hall, albeit under the beady eye of a chaperone.
The house, which was built in 1906 in the Arts and Crafts style, was a living museum when the Marshes bought it. Owned by the same reclusive couple for half a century, it was untouched by modern life and needed both its electrics and plumbing upgrading – not to mention the “ramshackle” garden.

Combe Trenchard is not for sale – at the moment, anyway – but there is a rich vein of property on the market across the UK that does harbour architectural secrets like the the Marsh’s. First up is a house in Hamilton Terrace, St John’s Wood in London which has a secret wine cellar while the mansion that comes with The Blair Estate in Dalry, Ayrshire has a secret door linking the lounge and dining room together, Cluedo-style.

There’s another large country house for sale near Godalming with a secret garden, and perhaps best of all is Wentworth House, for sale at £5.95m in Richmond, Surrey with a secret passage that runs from the house, under the garden and down to the river. It’s closed off by could easily be openend, the agent says.

And lastly, make of what you will of the secret passage within Frensham Manor, a Grade II listed manor house in Rolvenden, near Cranbrook in Kent. Its secret passageway leads from the second bedroom past the house’s great chimney and vaulted dining room to the attached annexe accommodation. Whatever was that for?

by Nigel Lewis –