Once upon a time a little girl went to visit an old moated manor house in an obscure corner of Worcestershire, called Harvington Hall. The house creaked and groaned with a history dating back to the Middle Ages. Secret hiding places called Priest Holes dotted the house in strange corners.
The little girl came from Australia and she had never seen anything so old… so mysterious… and she began to imagine a world of people who may have lived in this old house called the Thornton family.
The house became Seven Ways and the cast of imaginary inhabitants lived on with the little girl as she grew up. Over the years she scribbled stories, sketched illustrations, drew family trees, floor plans and breathed life into the imaginary world of the Thorntons and their home.
The story became lost in the bottom of the drawer and forgotten until one day she dislocated her shoulder in a skiing accident and left alone in a ski lodge all by herself she began to write… and in no time at all she had written A BOOK. The little girl had become a writer and the BOOK became BY THE SWORD, the first in a trilogy of books set in the years of Oliver Cromwell's rule (1650-1660) - THE GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN.
My grandfather lived in the little village of Clent in the north of Worcestershire and he knew and loved Worcestershire with a passion. So on one of those rare visits to England in 1970 he took me to Harvington Hall, which had always interested him (this painting was done by my step-grandmother in 1938 and it hangs in my study). Harvington Hall’s history dates back to Saxon times but the house itself is largely a late middle ages construct. In Tudor times it was owned by the Packington family and in the 17th century it fell into the hands of the Throckmortons (Throckmorton = Thornton… stream of consciousness!). The Packingtons and Throckmortons appear to have retained Catholic sympathies. Hence the Priest Holes… My favourite is the one concealed behind a pivoting beam in ‘Dr Dodd’s Library’. In 1970 an exploring chid could actually go into it. It’s in this priest hole that Kate and Nell hide Giles in By the Sword.
I should add that while just about every old house in Worcestershire claims to have sheltered Charles II after the Battle of Worcester, there is no evidence he ever set foot in Harvington Hall—an oversight of history that I corrected in By the Sword.
Of course Seven Ways is not an exact replica of Harvington Hall, but it’s similar enough to be recognisable. These days it is well loved and, although not a National Trust property, it has an active group looking after it, so if you happen to find yourself passing through the village of Chaddesley Corbett on your way to Kidderminster… do drop in. It is worth a visit!
And it has just been re- released and is on sale until the end of September.