[Did you miss us on Tuesday? I had reserved that day to tell you more about Love and Larceny, then promptly got busy writing! My apologies! I hope you’ll enjoy today’s post twice as much. J]
I don’t know about you, but secret rooms have always intrigued me. When I was young, I even wrote a story about children who discovered a secret room in their attic and made it their home. But young ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century might have come across secret rooms more often, for the British and the American elite had a surprisingly large number of reasons to construct the things!
- To Know More Than You Should—You remember the old movies that included spooky castles and paintings with moving eyes? Well, it turns out those aren’t so far-fetched! Hosts did really want to keep an eye on their guests. Take Singer Castle, for example. Built by Frederick Bourne, head of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, in the early 1900s on the appropriately named Dark Island in the St. Lawrence River, the mansion features a library with grates for spying on the occupants.
- To Hide Something You Cared About—Let’s face it—misers are downright stingy, to the point where some thought it best to hide their jewels, their rare books, and even their wine. Stair treads, window seats, bookcases and the like have been used to hide the entrances to secret treasure rooms.
- Someone You Cared About—A priest’s hole is another common literary gambit. In fact, secret rooms were built in many a Catholic home in England during the sixteen century to hide priests and families persecuted during the reign of Elizabeth I. The spaces were designed to allow someone to hide for a short period of time, but those doing the hunting figured that out and tried to wait them out. Some of the spaces were cramped, damp, and filthy by the time the poor priest could leave, and some actually died while hiding! Harvington Hall, Worcestershire, boasts several such holes or “hides.”
- To Sneak Off to Special Spots—Sometimes you just have to escape. Secret passageways have been built in a number of stately homes, but perhaps none so charming as the ones supposedly beneath Brighton Pavilion. It seemed the Prince Regent wanted to be able to visit his horses in the stables without getting wet in the rain, so he had a passage built underground.
- To Have a Special Place All Your Own—Secret gardens and secret grottoes abound in tales from England, the most famous of which may be Frances Hodgson Burnett. For example, Dewstow Gardens contain a number of grottoes and ferneries waiting to be discovered.
- To Romance That Special Someone—Parents and other scheming
Me? If I was to build a secret room in my house, I think I would line it with bookshelves and all my favorite stories and give it a comfy chair and a window looking out onto Mt. Rainier.
Where’s a carpenter when you need one?