Mapledurham House (near Reading) was the last home Mamma (Mrs Augusta Smith) would inhabit. She and her unmarried children moved here in 1834. The first family event was to be a wedding uniting Fanny Smith with the Rev. Richard Seymour. The night before the wedding was spent, however, fanning the flames of a fire!
Mary, Lady Smith, saved the house by alerting everyone to smoke. Emma Austen‘s diary relates the story.
Working on my Pinterest boards (you can find us by searching Emma Austen, if you’d like!), and responding to a comment about my little Mapledurham House thimble, I searched once again for pictures to post – and found this article from The Telegraph, published in 2011.
According to Damien Thompson, Mapledurham was a “safe house for fugitive priests”. “Mapledurham House kept a genuine secret during the Tudor persecution and … its current owners, John and Lady Anne Eyston, are still making discoveries. The most recent priest hole, for example, lay undiscovered until 2002 — though it’s in such an inaccessible upper bedroom that it can’t accommodate crowds of tourists. The hole is hidden underneath a sliding hearth, and it might better be described as an elaborate escape shaft. ‘Family legend had it that there was a priest hole in the bedroom fireplace – but we didn’t realise that for years we were looking at the wrong fireplace, not the hidden original…’.”
Now if only I knew which bedroom Mary shared with Eliza. It was next door to a “large sitting room up stairs”. A crack in the hearth, and smoldering embers, caused the “insufferable smoke,” which woke Mary at four in the morning. Emma ends the diary entry, “The floor of the room & a picture were much burnt & the wall & ceiling smoked the house a good deal injured by fire. Sir John Seymour arrived.” Richard Seymour’s diary recounts that his “beloved” Fanny woke him at “4 1/2 AM the house being on fire Two hours of the deepest anxiety followed…” Surely not the start to their wedding day the couple had envisioned!
Maybe it was a Priest Hole rather than a “crack in the hearth”….
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