Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Snobs' Tunnel

Ever heard of one of these? There's one at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire which I visited again recently. 'My' house *g* If only! As I type this, I realise I'm not certain where to put the apostrophe in snobs tunnel (should it be snob's or snobs'? I'm guessing the latter - more than one snob must have lived at Hanbury over the years ;0))

A snobs' tunnel sounds like something the aristocracy would have used, but it was actually the opposite - a specially constructed tunnel which allowed servants to move around without being seen by their masters.

At Hanbury, the snobs' tunnel goes under the Cedar Walk so servants could walk between the main house and areas of the garden (such as the ice-house) unobserved.

Here's the entrance...

...and the exit viewed from the rear of the house. You can see the tunnel in the centre of the picture just behind the bush.

Seems an astonishing amount of effort and expense just to keep servants out of sight!

Hanbury Hall was home to the Vernon family. Edward Vernon purchased Hanbury in 1631, but it was his grandson Thomas Vernon who began serious rebuilding after he inherited in 1679. The architect was possibly a local master stonemason William Rudhall. The rebuilding was completed in 1701 and if you look at the entrance front, you can see Hanbury has many key features of a William & Mary house:

Two stories with dormer windows in the attic
Side Pavilions
A central triangular pediment
A cupola (viewing tower)
Family coat of arms (above entrance door)
Corinthian pilasters either side of the entrance.
Hanbury Hall contains the Thornhill Murals in the entrance hall and staircase. When Sir George Vernon left Hanbury to the National Trust on his death in 1940, these murals saved the house for the nation - the National Trust recognised their value and took on the house for future generations to enjoy. The murals, depicting scenes from Greek mythology, were painted by Sir James Thornhill, a master painter whose fame was sealed by his work on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Thomas Vernon wanted a beautiful garden to go with his new house and in 1700 he commissioned George London to design it. London had been apprenticed to John Rose, the Royal gardener at St. James' Park who had in turn been trained at Versailles. It's likely that this connection inspired London to create a Baroque-style garden like that at Hanbury Hall.

The avenues and parterre at Hanbury are perfect examples of this. Much of London's design was swept away in the 1770s by Emma Vernon, who favoured the more natural landscapes of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the pioneer of the picturesque movement, but in the 1990s, the National Trust began a project to restore the gardens, based on an estate survey of 1730. The restoration is on-going with the focus on the re-planting of park features such as the Semicircle and the avenues.

Along with the snobs' tunnel, the ice-house, the mushroom house, the soon-to-be-restored dairy, magnificent 18th century orangery (above) and orchard are all worth well worth visiting.

I also learned details of a fascinating family story from the 18th century. The outline is definitely something I'd consider using in a novel and it just goes to show that fact is always stranger than fiction.

And I can't help wondering, for the purposes of fiction, what intriguing scenes might have taken place in that dimly-lit snobs' tunnel ... ;0)


  1. I was in charge of a cub-scout group, together with other adults in the late 1970's. We took several cubs on an outing to Hanbury Hall and set up a tented camp close to a copse in the grounds. Not only is there the 'snob's tunnel you discuss in this article, but within the copse is yet another tunnel. The Cubs aged between 6 years and 11 years found this feature on the first day we gave them their heads. Variously they found a submarine, a tunnel, a warship as well as different explanations for the number of cubs, let loose. Hanbury Hall is the safest place we ever had the pleasure to use as a camp site, far enough from roads and modern distractions. Nothing beats the first realisation that my kid as a cub displayed when he was told he could go somewhere without Mom and Dad being present.

  2. How interesting! thank you Keith