I went to see Herbert Druce, a few weeks after his 100th birthday, with the thought of recording his long memories of Holy Trinity, Penn, which start in 1922 when he was a 7 year-old choir boy and there was no electricity or water in the church. It will take two or three articles to recount all his memories and I will start with the secret passage. When the Penn and Tylers Green Society started, in about 1980, to collect information about local houses of interest, the then owners of the Old Vicarage next door to the church said that when they first came to the house there was an underground passageway to the church from their cellar which they had blocked up.
This account is confirmed by Herbert Druce, who was told about the underground passage before the last War, by Bert Randall who was Captain of the Tower. Herbert doesn’t know the line of the tunnel, but assumes it had been revealed when Bert Randall was involved in putting a boiler house at the back of the tower. There was no west door in the tower at that time. Herbert himself had been in the Old Vicarage cellar. He was locked in there as a joke when a boy and remembered it was always flooded. He didn’t know anything about an entrance at the time and doesn’t remember seeing one there.
The present Old Vicarage we see today was built in 1825, but stands on the same ground as its many predecessors so the passageway could have been built at any time. Of course, it could have been simply to give a warm, dry passage to the church rather than to allow a Catholic priest secret entry to the church, but we do have to remember that the Reformation was a dangerous time for churchmen. We should also have in mind that the manorial Penn family remained Catholic in sympathy for nearly a century after the Reformation.
On 30 August 1539, Thomas Cromwell was sent a letter reporting that Thomas Grove and William Culverhouse had accused the Vicar of Penn of ‘the utterance by him of certain opprobrious words’. The Vicar’s own confession was enclosed and he had been committed to gaol in Aylesbury. Both the Vicar’s accusers were from well established Penn families and may well have been the two churchwardens. It was an extraordinary event and allows us just a glimpse of the conflict and turmoil that the process of reformation had stirred up in a country parish. One wonders how the confession had been encouraged.
Finally, I was intrigued by a comment from a map dowser, who without any prior briefing, reported that he had found a 3 ft wide passageway entering the Vestry, which is indeed where you would expect it to go to.
© Miles Green March 2015