The approach to some historic mansions is dignified, even imposing, with lodges and gravel drives or avenues of oaks and limes. Harvington is more casual. You reach it up a narrow lane from the village pub, twisting past cottages and houses, a field full of sheep and an ancient quarry, now used for parking tractors. There is a laurel hedge and glimpses of a sheet of water. Then suddenly you emerge into an open space with a church and stables at the far side. Before you, across a lawn, is a great pile of red-brick chimneys and gables, rising from a moat overhung by trees.
To the left is the main Elizabethan building; to the right the North Tower, also originally Elizabethan but reconstructed about 1756 with Georgian staircase and windows. Between them is the low central part, with the gateway and a single tall chimney. The lawn is more or less on the site of the Elizabethan Bowling Green. On the far side of the island are two other buildings: a camouflaged Catholic chapel of 1743 and the Elizabethan Malt House, which has recently been restored and adapted as a visitor centre, with an exhibition of life on the estate.
The priest-hides were built in the time of Humphrey Pakington, at the end of the 16th Century, when it was high treason for a Catholic priest to be in England. The hiding places at Harvington are the finest surviving series in England, and four of them, all sited round the Great Staircase, show the trademarks of the master builder of such places, Nicholas Owen, who was at work from 1588 onwards. Owen was servant to Father Henry Garnet, the Jesuit superior in England, who during the 1590s built up a network of houses throughout the country to which incoming priests could be directed and where they could find disguises, chapels and priest holes. The centre of this operation for Worcestershire and the Welsh Marches was Hindlip House, the home of Humphrey’s friend Thomas Habington, where the Jesuit Edward Oldcorne arrived in 1590.It was there that Garnet, Owen and Oldcorne were all captured in 1606, just after the Gunpowder Plot. Owen was starved out of one of his own hides on the fourth day of a twelve day search, during which he and a companion, Ralph Ashley, had nothing to eat but one apple between them. He died under torture in the Tower; Garnet, Oldcorne and Ashley were all hanged, drawn and quartered. Although Hindlip was demolished in 1814, descriptions of the hides there show a striking similarity to those that survive at Harvington.
The Hall has small, but charming, walled gardens running down to the moat. Humphrey Pakington was a keen gardener himself, and the herb garden in the south-east angle of the moat has been restored and replanted. The moat attracts many water-fowl to the island, on the west side of which is the Georgian Chapel, built by the Throckmortons in 1743 and now restored with 18th century altar, rails and organ. From the courtyard a gate in the brick and sandstone wall leads into the South Garden. On the far side of a round lawn are the Malt House (now attractively restored as a Visitor Centre) and the Georgian Chapel. Halfway along the garden wall to the right, another gap leads into the North Garden, an expanse of turf fringed with trees and narrowing to a point at the northernmost tip of the island. There is a path all round the edge of the moat, beginning at the south bridge outside the Brewhouse and continuing behind the Malt House and the Georgian Chapel to the wash-house and damson tree in the North Garden. On the west side the moat broadens out into a small lake with waterfowl and good coarse fishing.
The moat was originally the second of a chain of five pools constructed in the 13th century in a fashion common in the forests of Arden and Feckenham. Apart from the moat itself the topmost (Gallows Pool) and the third (Upper Pond) still hold water. The fourth and fifth (Middle Pond and Harvington Pond) are now only marshy depressions along the brook which flows down to the village and so into the Stour. A few yards north-west of the moat is the sandstone quarry used in the construction of the Hall. In the 18th century it was known as the Dog Kennel, and holes for the rafters of lean-to buildings show that shelters of some kind formerly existed there.
The Malt House, which is of sandstone below and brick and timber above, still has its 18th-century malting-kiln, part of the malting-floor, lime-ash areas and the wooden hoist for raising sacks of barley. The Hall was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant to restore the Malt House and create a Visitor and Education Centre there. The new visitor centre is now open and displays include a description of life on the estate that once surrounded the Hall. The old kiln and drying floor are brought to life and a new audio-visual display introduces the ‘Maltster’, Randall Bagnall, whose tales bring the Hall alive for everyone, but in particular, for those who have difficulty with the stairs and cannot see the whole house for themselves. On the first floor of the Malt House amusing interactive games tell the story of the Hall’s 700 year history. There is disabled access to the gardens, ground floor of the Hall and Malt House Visitor Centre, shop and restaurant. Visitors who find the stairs difficult may like to watch the a video about the Hall and Malt House on the ground floor of the Malt House Visitor Centre. Assistance dogs are welcome. Guided Tours £7.00 per person (minimum 20)
Location : Harvington Hall, Harvington, Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY10 4LR
Transport: Kidderminster (National Rail) then bus . Bus Routes : 133 stops 7 minutes away.
Opening Times : Wednesday to Sunday 11:30 to 17:00.
Tickets Whole Property: Adults £8.50; Seniors £7.50; Children (5 - 16) £5.50.
Tickets Gardens and Malt House: Adults £3.50; Seniors £2.50; Children (5 - 16) £1.50.
Tel: 01562 777846