by Alison Stuart
This is a love story… an enduring love story between a little girl and an old house…
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 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.
Many years passed and one day the writer mentioned it to her lovely publisher (Escape Publishing) and her publisher thought it was a good story and they had an idea to make three interwoven stories—the Guardians of the Crown series. The rest is history…
I have lived a somewhat peripatetic life. I was born in Kenya and have lived most of my life in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself an Australian to my bones (Aussie Oi!), but I get the strangest sensation when I return to a particular corner of England—the Midlands and, more specifically, a band that runs along the southern edges of Birmingham from Worcestershire to Warwickshire. That is where my family origins are strongest and whenever I return there I know I am coming home.
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 1969 he took me to Harvington Hall, which had always interested him (this painting by my step-grandmother done in 1938 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 1969 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!
From award-winning author Alison Stuart comes a stirring historical trilogy about soldiers, spies, and the strong women that love them.