Leslie Brooks takes us to the "hills of the north" which encompass some of the most famous strongholds of England wherein dwelt many families whose adherence to Catholicism stood the test of time and battle.
PEliE TOWERS strung across the North of England in defence of the border with Scotland became the core of many country houses built on for accommodation in peaceful times. Some are the ancestral homes of families whose adherence to Catholicism has been as sturdy and long-lasting as the thick-walled towers.
At Callaly Castle in Northumberland the pele tower was built in the year of Agincourt by the Claverings — an ancient family of whom two had served with the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.
Claverings lived at Callaly from the thirteenth century until 1876. A chapel in the house had been in continuous use and there is a space within a chimney-breast which may have been used to hide the hunted priests of penal times.
Late in the seventeenth century Bishop John Leyland confirmed 290 persons at Callaly and in mid-eighteenth century Ralph Peter Clavering built a new chapel with direct access for Catholics in the neighbourhood.
When Edward John Clavering died in 1876 an only daughter was left who married into the notably Catholic Bedingfeld family of Oxburgh in Norfolk (pictured and described in the Catholic Herald of November 11 last year). Callaly was sold to the neighbouring family of Browne of ancient origin but no longer Catholic. The church of St Mary's. Whittingham was then built to continue the ministrations within the locality which Callaly had provided through the centuries.
Further west, but still in the debatable land of the Border another tower, the pele tower at Sizergh Castle, nr Kendal has stood for six-anda-half centuries as firm as the Faith held by the Stricklands whose ancestral home incorporates the ancient tower.
The Stricklands of Sizergh have always had a tradition of service to King and country: but under imposition of the new religion by Elizabeth and James the First they were forced into disobedience and suffered the consequences.
Under the Puritan Commonwealth stricter enforcement of the penal laws 'reduced their estates even further by composition payments and sequestrations of their landholdings.
Loyalty to James the Second led Sir Thomas Strickland with wife and children into exile with the monarch at the French Court. His son Walter, however, was allowed to return to England. Arrangements had been devised by which their steward had kept the family estate in trust and Walter, living quietly at Sizergh was eventually able to marry as soon as what was left* of the estate was restored.
Through the junior line of Walter's second son, Jarrarcl, descended Sir Gerard Strickland GCMG Prime Minister of Malta as the first and last Baron Strickland of Sizergh. His daughter Mabel played her notable part in the defence of Malta during the 1939-45 war.
At Hoghton Tower in Lancashire, the de Hoghtons have lost their tower and, for a period, they lost the Faith. Saxon Hoghtons lived on land still owned by the family and from Norman times they had dwelt on the banks of the River Darwen until the great mansion was built around the Tower on the hill in the days of Elizabeth the First.
It was at Hoghton Tower that James the First is said to have dubbed the great joint of meat "Sir Loin". In the fourteenth year of his reign "the wisest fool in Christendom" was being lavishly entertained by Sir Richard Hoghton. At that time, the house had been fifty years completed, completed but never lived in by the builder the Right Worshipful Thomas Hoghton.
Thomas "for conscience sake" exiled himself from the native land which had outlawed the ancient Faith. His son, Thomas, who accompanied him was ordained abroad and, returning to England as a priest, was immediately arrested and thrown into Salford gaol where he eventually died. Thomas, in the Low Countries was able to renew friendship with his boyhood companion from neighbouring Rossall Manor. William (later Cardinal) Allen. Thomas's brother Richard meanwhile had looked after the estate and gave shelter, among other priests to Edmund Campion, whose papers, left behind, were discovered and led to Richard's imprisonment.
In the absence of the head of the family, opportunity had been taken to abduct the eldest son, while still a minor, for brain-washing in a Protestant household: a usual but effective • practice which often eliminated Catholicism in the line of a prominent family. Henry Wriothelesy, patron of Shakespeare, succeeding as Third Earl of Southampton at the age of eight was taken into the household of Lord Burghley away from his parents who were both devout practising Catholics.
During the civil wars. in which the mansion lost its tower, the Hoghton line supported first King and then Parliament. For the next hundred years or so the rafters of the great Hall of the Right Worshipful Thomas which had sheltered priests and martyrs rang with Puritan outpourings to crowded congregations.
In early eighteenth century Hoghton Tower is listed as a Presbyterian Chapel. For that religion and in parliamentary service the Fifth Baronet, Sir Henry Hoghton gave most of his ninety years of life. He married three times and died in 1768 without issue. The house was eventually abandoned and slowly decayed until Sir Henry, ninth Baronet, assumed the ancient name of de Hoghton and began restoration which was completed by his brother Sir Charles in 1901.
Within 40 years, the Faith was restored to Hoghton Tower by the twelfth Baronet, Sir Cuthbert who had become a Catholic while reading History at Oxford. His widow, The Dowager Lady de Hoghton now happily remarried lives at the Tower and works hard to ensure that the glories of the great mansion are fully displayed to visitors. Her son, Bernard, a Knight of Malta is the fourteenth Baronet.
Callaly Castle — Whittingham, Northumberland, opens at weekends through the summer and on bank holidays (except Easter).
Sizergh Castle — Kendal, Cumbria (National Trust) opens April to September.
Hoghton Tower — Five miles east of Preston opens at weekends from Easter to end of October. Special terms for parties at any time in the week and for receptions.