They were the sixteenth-century equivalents of the safe room - a space where the owners could hide a visitor in the event of an attack.
The difference was that the attackers were government priest hunters. Threatened by Catholic plots, Elizabeth I took the extreme measure of criminalising Catholicism, making it an offence to harbour a priest.
Many people, though, defied the law by creating priest holes in their homes - hiding places, often tiny, in which one or two men could hide, often for days at a time.
And these priest holes still exist, in the form of underground tunnels, spaces in the eaves or behind false walls.
We look at five houses with these Tudor safe rooms.
Looking like something out of Harry Potter, Le Breton farm is the oldest house in Lee on the Solent. The original building dates back to 1315, and was constructed for Gilbertus Le Bret Le Brutus as his temporary manor house. The priest hole was built by the Second Earl of Southampton; to get into it' you'll need to climb up inside the large and elaborate chimney stack in the centre of the house. The four-bedroom home is up for sale for £650,000 through agent Morris Dibben.
Horsham, West Sussex
This delightful three-bedroom cottage is on the historic Causeway, and has plenty of history of its own, with original beams, sash windows, a cellar and a lovely stone-walled garden. The priest hole is tucked away under the stone slates of the second floor. There are four reception rooms, including a book-lined sitting room; agents Knight Frank are looking for offers over £700,000.
The priest hole hidden in the drawing room of this seven-bedroom manor house is just one of many historic features, including exposed timbers, open fireplaces, vaulted ceilings and a cellar. These days, it's a rather safer place to live than when it was built in the sixteenth century, sitting in the middle of four acres and protected by a gated driveway. Agents Aspire Country Homes are looking for £2,750,000.
You'll need to hunt for the priest hole yourself at Conigree Court: nobody's sure quite where it is. The original seventeenth century cottage has long been swallowed up, with most of the property dating to 1897. And there are all sorts of other historic connections, though most are equally vague: Roman origins, an escape tunnel along with the priest hole, and a murder in 1645. The house comes with several other buildings; all in, the estate costs £2,250,000 from agent John Goodwin.
Appley Bridge, Wigan
The exterior of this semi-detached cottage gives little clue to the historic interior - and agents Arnold and Phillips say restoring it will be 'a real labour of love'. But as well as the priest hole in the attic, it has an escape tunnel, now sealed off, leading to the river nearby. Other features include beamed ceilings and traditional fireplaces; the owners are looking for offers over £250,000.
British stately homes you can stay in
British stately homes you can stay in
An estate that has been home to powerful figures going back almost 900 years, Somerleyton Hall was opened for stays for the first time in 2015. Two floors were completely refurbished to make 12 bedrooms, all with stunning views of the surrounding parkland. Guests have exclusive use of the main house including the historic library with its extensive collection of books and artefacts from past generations, and the multiple drawing rooms where afternoon tea or a glass of wine can be enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. The three dining rooms, including the ballroom, can be used for banquet dinners. Exclusive use for two nights costs from £15,000, including dinners and breakfasts.
Once home to Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France, and a training ground for British and American forces during the Second World War, Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire is steeped in history. The breathtaking Grade I listed 17th century stately home is set in 90 acres of gardens adorned with historic statues and lush parkland. Stay overnight at Hartwell House from £230 per room (two sharing), including breakfast and use of the spa with Pride of Britain Hotels.
Once the home of Henry VIII’s last and luckiest wife Katherine Parr, this medieval stronghold is steeped in history. Stay in one of 11 self-catering properties dotted around the grounds, from a converted paper mill with exposed stone and original beams to a former engine room. Sudeley Castle Country Cottages are located on the edge of the estate. The small complex of Cotswold stone cottages is set around a central courtyard with landscaped gardens. The cottages are available from £350 a week.
Ever since George III set the tradition of allowing loyal servants to live at Hampton Court by grace and favour, the palace has been a thriving community. You too can discover the secret life of the palace once the daily visitors have gone home by staying in The Georgian House. This imposing building just north of the palace was originally a kitchen built in 1719 for George, Prince of Wales. Later it became two houses, for the Clerk of Works and the Gardener. You can stay in the eastern house, with a private walled garden, handsome rooms and a fine view over the palace roofs. The Georgian House sleeps eight people and is available from £831 for four nights.
A listed historic monument with grounds designed by Capability Brown, Warwick Castle remained under the stewardship of the Earls of Warwick and later the Greville Family as a private home until 1978. The stately home offers stays in two Tower Suites: The Rose Suite and The Peacock Suite. Through mullioned windows they offer views of the Castle Courtyard, the town of Warwick and the surrounding countryside towards Stratford upon Avon. The suites feature an opulent, draped four-poster bedroom and bespoke wooden furniture. Stays cost from £500 per night, including champagne, breakfast and entrance to Warwick Castle.
The ancestral home of Sir Hugh Blackett, the 12th Baronet, and Lady Blackett, Matfen Hall seamlessly blends a wealth of history with the ease of contemporary living. Relax in style in one of the 53 elegant bedrooms, individually decorated in traditional and modern styles. The golf estate is located in the heart of the splendid grounds surrounding the Hall, and includes a 27-hole course, par 3 course and driving range. Double or twin rooms cost from £175 per night.
The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle features the stylish and sophisticated Astor Wing, with its 19 bedrooms available for castle breaks. The rooms provide luxury and comfort while retaining the classic and historic influences of their surroundings. The Astor Wing is only accessible to private guests, allowing you the opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet, unique atmosphere and exceptional setting. A stay in a double room costs from £175 per night.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's summer residence was designed by Prince Albert himself to resemble an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Osborne House was opened to the public in 1904 and today you can stay at the seaside palace at No 1 and 2 Sovereign's Gate. The two holiday cottages are within Sovereign's Gate which was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as the formal entrance to Osborne. Today it remains the entrance by which members of the royal family enter the Estate. Stays cost from £681 per week.
Dundas Castle was built in 1818 by renowned Scottish architect William Burn and is the ancestral home of Sir Jack and Lady Lydia Stewart-Clark who reside in their own wing within the castle walls. The stately home features original paintings, fine linens and precious family heirlooms on show, with guests invited to share in the opulence of the castle by staying in one of the 17 bedrooms. The medieval Stag Chamber for a Scottish banquet and the Georgian Croquet Room for an opulent dinner offer unforgettable dining experiences at the castle. Prices for accommodation are available upon request.
Quintessential English stately home Hedsor House has an illustrious past and was famously home of the Dowager Princess of Wales, mother of George III, regularly welcoming kings, queens and royal children from nearby Windsor Castle. Today you can enjoy exclusive hire of the property for up to 22 people for £5,450. The luxurious bedrooms are nestled on the first and second floors, providing a beautiful blend of period style and modern facilities. In the morning, guests can relax with breakfast in the oak-panelled Library before embarking on a day of fun and country pursuits.
Famed for the setting of TV series Downton Abbey, historic Highclere Castle is set amidst 1,000 acres of picturesque parkland. The Carnarvon family has lived in the Victorian castle since 1679. The first Earl of Carnarvon built the formalised entry to Highclere Park, London Lodge, in 1793, which is now available to book for those looking to stay at Downton Abbey itself. London Lodge is situated to the north of the estate, with paths and tracks taking guests back through the parkland towards Dunsmere Lake, The Temple of Diana and expansive views of the Castle. Stays at the lodge cost from £350 per night.