Secret room discovered whilst laying telephone cables
How the installation of new technology revealed the mysteries of tHe dowager of downton’s residence.
Byfleet manor has added a new piece of history to its chronicle as the home of violet crawley, dowager countess of grantham, played by dame maggie smith in the hugely successful itv series, downton abbey. situated in 24 acres of surrey countryside, Byfleet manor is a now private home owned by Julie Hutton who describes herself as having the honour of being its current caretaker.
the manor is listed in the doomsday Book and a palace has existed on the site since the 13th century. it was a residence of Queen anne of denmark, wife of James i, who had the manor rebuilt in grand style in 1617. it was a favourite haunt of the poet geoffrey chaucer and was visited by the diarist John evelyn in the 1660s.
so when it comes to updating the house with today’s technology, sensitivity in preserving the charm and character of its heritage is crucial. when Pall mall and midland’s based telecommunications provider ardencom worked with partner orchard ict to install new lines, it was a very challenging project. dave Harris, md for orchard ict spent several days exploring the nooks and crannies of the house.
a small part of the original palace remains adjoining the manor house and alterations over the years have concealed many secrets. in fact, during his exploratory adventure, david lifted a couple of floorboards with the idea of hiding wires and cables. to his astonishment, he discovered a hidden room between floors, around 7ft square with no doors, but fully wallpapered with a bricked up window. the secret room has never been documented anywhere and its function remains a mystery.
whether the room was a priest hole, a hideout for the soldiers or someone’s lover is unknown. But the manor has a long history of royal connections that include King edward i who used it as a jousting venue and edward ii who installed his favourite mistress, only to oust her again by granting the manor to his new wife. Henry viii also used it as a hunting lodge.
Julie Hutton, owner of the house says, “during wwii, canadian soldiers used the house as accommodation, an ammunition store and the roof was a look out for the approach of german soldiers. one elderly gentleman visited us as a result of recognising the house after watching downton abbey. He said he spent most of the war on our roof.”
the Basement also has an unexplained secret. there are four wooden steps ascending to meet the wall. what lies beyond the wall is a mystery and because of the way the house is built, no one can work out where the other side of the wall is in relation to the staircase. Julie who has lived at Byfleet manor for the past twelve years says, ”i do everything i can to be sympathetic to the character of the house but i would like to get the wallpaper in the secret room dated to see if we can discover its original use. there is also believed to be a tunnel to the ruins of newark abbey at Pyrford, but no one has yet been brave enough to explore it.”
Byfleet manor serves downton teas in bone china cups on a silver platter (by prior arrangement only) and you can book private tours of the manor house and gardens. you can even call on the Kune Kune pigs in the grounds, who are always glad to receive visitors. Byfleet manor is also available for functions such as wedding receptions and private dining.
visit: www.byfleetmanor.com for more information.