Westport House is currently undergoing phase one of a restoration project that is expected to be completed in February 2022. It will see much-needed conservation work carried out to the Georgian-era home to help protect the contents and stories of the house for many more generations to enjoy.
It has always been one of the legends of Westport House that there was a secret room or passageway in the Library. Ever since I started working in Westport House in 2016, I have been fascinated with this and have spent many of my spare moments looking for any signs of or clues to where it may have been – I have even rifled through the old letters and papers of the house trying to find any reference to the secret room but to no avail.
In June 2020, the caretakers looking after the house at the time came across the necessary clue. They came across an anomaly in the wooden slats behind one of the bookcases in the Library and, upon further inspection, discovered a vertical plank of wood with a little notch on it. There was just enough space for a finger to get a grip on it and with that, they were able to lift it out to reveal the secret room. A small space behind the bookcase measuring approximately 20 inches deep, 55 inches wide and 80 inches high. What a glorious find!
When the House was built in 1730, the Library would have functioned as the Waiting Room for guests to the house – it was tradition that the Lord and Lady would greet their guests in this room about 30 minutes after the visitors arrived to the house. After a fire in 1826 in the South wing of the house (the location of the original double height Library) destroyed a vast number of valuable books and a Joshua Reynolds painting ,the library was then moved to the then Waiting room where it remains today.
In this little Secret Room, there is some wallpaper still evident – I asked David Skinner, the wallpaper specialist, about it and he was totally fascinated by it, saying he would date it as circa 18th century.
Inside the Secret Room, there are nails on the wall which have labels on them such as House, Labour, Timber, Delphi amongst others (see below) – we are surmising that this little room was used to hide the Earl’s accounts and would have also stored weapons and ammunition in the event of a robbery or maybe keeping them out the sight of the children of the house.
The is one label called Crott Park – if anyone knows more about this, I would love to hear any theories – it must have been a place or another house maybe – all speculations are welcome. Please share your thoughts below.
There are many stories of the House that we will never know the full extent of and this little secret space is definitely one of them – another fascinating story to add to the many we already have.
Copy and photos with thanks to Kathryn Connolly, Supervisor at Westport House and Mind The Gap Productions.
If you’re an avid reader of these blogs, you will know that we started Phase 1 of this restoration project on Westport House earlier in 2021. It is the first phase of a restoration project that is expected to be completed in early 2022. The restoration project is estimated to cost in the region of €5 million and is fully funded by the Hughes family. It will see much needed conservation work carried out to the Georgian-era home to help prepare it for the larger €75m development project announced earlier this summer.