Coughton Court in Warwickshire has been the ancestral home of the Throckmortons, an influential English Catholic family, since the Middle Ages. The oldest parts of the existing building date from the 14th century.
At some time during the anti-Catholic persecutions of the late 16th century in England, a hidden space known as a priest hole was constructed between the floors of the turreted tower on the right of this photograph. [Read full story about the hidden "priest hole"]
The secret room was designed as a place for Catholic priests to hide from search parties enforcing the anti-Catholic laws enacted by England's Queen Elizabeth I.
The English heritage charity National Trust, which now owns Coughton Court, keeps this room open to the public. The secret entry to the priest hole is now exposed beneath a transparent cover. But, the room is at the top of a flight of spiral stairs, and many visitors to the historic house are unable to make the climb.
Hidden in plain sight
Tricking the trickster
But the priest could be hiding in a second secret space (shown here in blue and light blue) below a trap door in the upper priest hole.
A hiding place
Historians think the priest hole at Coughton Court was built late in the 16th century by Nicholas Owen, a celebrated English Catholic spy, artificer and escape artist who is thought to have built more than 20 priest holes in the country houses of Catholic families around England.
A nefarious position
More than 100 priests and other Catholics killed during the persecutions are today regarded as martyrs by the Catholic Church. One such person was Nicholas Owen, who constructed the priest hole at Coughton Court. He was captured in 1606 and died during torture in the Tower of London.
The 3D scans of the building and the hidden priest hole will now be used to help visitors understand the secret space – even if they are not able to make the climb to the towers of the gatehouse. The researchers hope to expand the project to investigate other priest holes in country houses around England.