Allow me to preface all of this by saying that during my childhood, the Whitaker side of my family [who married a Dunscomb, also of England] were fire and brimstone Southern Baptists. I remember when Kennedy was elelcted president. We Southern Baptists thought that civilization had come to an end. Imagine my surprise to learn that some of my earliest ancestors owned British estates with large houses that had secret hiding places to hide Catholic Priests.

The Holme – The Whitaker Ancestral Estate in Burnley, Lancashire, England

Richard Whitaker was knighted in 1327 by King Edward III. He owned a 40-room estate called The Holme. The Whitaker family owned The Holme from 1431-1959. Holme Hall [as well as other of the Whitaker estates] is mentioned in the book Secret Chambers and Hiding Places.

Image result for Secret Chambers and Hiding Places

‘It was originally a 40-room manor house…and as the seat of the Whitaker family from the 15th century. The first Whitaker to arrive at The Holme was believed to be Richard de Whitacre, who arrived in Cliviger in 1340 from “High Whiteacre” at Padliham. … Originally built of wood, the center and eastern wing were rebuilt by 1603. The west remaned of wood until 1717 and had one or more private closets for the concealment of priests, the family have continued as recusants until the end of Elizabeth’s reign, if not later.” More Here




“During the deadly feuds which existed in the Middle Ages, when no man was secure from spies and traitors even within the walls of his own house, it is no matter of wonder that the castles and mansions of the powerful and wealthy were usually provided with some precaution in the event of a sudden surprise—viz. a secret means of concealment or escape that could be used at a moment’s notice; but the majority of secret chambers and hiding-places in our ancient buildings owe their origin to religious persecution, particularly during the reign of Elizabeth, when the most stringent laws and oppressive burdens were inflicted upon all persons who professed the tenets of the Church of Rome.

“In the first years of the virgin Queen’s reign all who clung to the older forms of the Catholic faith were mercifully connived at, so long as they solemnised their own religious rites within their private dwelling-houses; but after the Roman Catholic rising in the north and numerous other Popish plots, the utmost severity of the law was enforced, particularly against seminarists, whose chief object was, as was generally believed, to stir up their disciples in England against the Protestant Queen. An Act was passed prohibiting a member of the Church of Rome from celebrating the rites of his religion on pain of forfeiture for the first offence, a year’s imprisonment for the second, and imprisonment for life for the third.[1] All those who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy were called “recusants” and were guilty of high treason. A law was also enacted which provided that if any Papist should convert a Protestant to the Church of Rome, both should suffer death, as for high treason.

“[Footnote 1: In December, 1591, a priest was hanged before the door of a house in Gray’s Inn Fields for having there said Mass the month previously.]

“The sanguinary laws against seminary priests and “recusants” were enforced with the greatest severity after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. These were revived for a period in Charles II.’s reign, when Oates’s plot worked up a fanatical hatred against all professors of the ancient faith. In the mansions of the old Roman Catholic families we often find an apartment in a secluded part of the house or garret in the roof named “the chapel,” where religious rites could be performed with the utmost privacy, and close handy was usually an artfully contrived hiding-place, not only for the officiating priest to slip into in case of emergency, but also where the vestments, sacred vessels, and altar furniture could be put away at a moment’s notice.” Read More Here

Tonight, I was watching Father Brown Mysteries. Season 2, Episode 1 is about the secret chambers in British estates. That reminded me of the my own family and their secret chambers.

Oddly enough, another of my ancestors, Reverend William Whitaker was a noted protestant:

Reverend William Whitaker and Susan Whitaker

Birthdate: December 1547 (48)
Birthplace: Holme, Burnley, Lancaster Co., United Kingdom
Death: December 4, 1595 (47)
Holme, Lancaster, England, United Kingdom
Place of Burial: Trinity College,Cambridge,England
Immediate Family:
Son of Richard Thomas Whitaker and Elizabeth Whitaker

Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge University, MASTER OF ST JOHN, CAMBRIDGE, Theologian and Academic, Master of St. Johns College Cambridge
Reverend William Whitaker was vehemently Protestant and against the Catholic Church, and he wrote an important document that supported a study of the scriptures. His ancestors were recusants and had supported the Catholic Church and are believed to have hidden Catholic priests in closets at the Holme. “His [William’s] work, Disputatio de Sacra Scriptura contra hujus temporis papistas, inprimis Robertum Bellarminum, or Disputations on Holy Scripture, remains one of the premier volumes on the doctrine of Scripture, often under-appreciated, little read, but standing like a titan amongst the volumes of the English Reformed Churchman. One of the premier issues that divided and still divides informed Protestants from Roman Catholics is the question of the place of Scripture. Reformed Churchmmen like Whittaker, then like now, declared that the Scriptures alone are the rule of faith and practice whereas Roman Catholics assert co-equal veneration and co-authoritative roles between Scripture, traditions held by the Church and other unwritten issues. This debate is not new. William Whitaker forcefully and brilliantly championed the Protestant, Reformed and Anglican position in 1588. ” Wikipedia

A Robert Whitaker was one of Reverend William Whitaker’s descendants and is also one of my ancestors. He married Margaret Lisle Whitaker. An interesting fact is that Margaret’s parents were both killed because of their protestant beliefs.  Margaret’s father was instrumental in ousting King Charles and when Charles II reclaimed the throne, he fled to Switzerland where he was murdered. Margaret’s mother was the last lady in England to be beheaded. She was executed because she had harbored protestants.

Margaret Whitaker [Daughter of Sir Sir John Lisle (Descendant of King Edward III) and  Alice Beconsawe Lisle (1617 – 1685)

[Note: Alice Beconsawe Lisle was sympathetic with the religious dissenters. Her husband Sir John Lisle was an ant-Royalist who played a part in the de-throning of King Charles. Because Alice harbored fugitives of the  Monmouth Rebellion at the Battle of Sedgemoor, she was beheaded. She was the last female to be beheaded in England. Dame Alice was a daughter of Sir White Beconshaw of Moyles Court at Ellingham in Hampshire and his wife Edith Bond, daughter and co-heiress of William Bond of Blackmanston in Steeple, Dorset. She had a younger sister, Elizabeth, who married Sir Thomas Tipping of Wheatfield Park in Stoke Talmage in Oxfordshire. Alice became the second wife of Sir John Lisle (1610 – 11 August 1664), and bore him seven children.[1] Lisle was an English lawyer and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1640 and 1659. He supported the Parliamentarian cause in the English Civil War and was one of the regicides of King Charles I of England.[3] Fearing for his life after the Restoration he fled to Switzerland, but was assassinated by an agent of the crown in Lausanne in 1664.” Wikipedia]

“He [John Lisle] advocated violent measures on the king’s removal to the north, and obtained some of the plunder arising from the sale of the crown property. To the fund opened on 9 April 1642 for the “speedy reducing of the rebels” in Ireland, Lisle contributed _600. In December 1647, when the king was confined in the Isle of Wight, Lisle was selected as one of the commissioners to carry to him the four bills which were to divest him of all sovereignty. He spoke in the House of Commons on 28 Sept 1648 in favor of rescinding the recent vote, that no one proposition in regard to the personal treaty with the king should be binding if the treaty broke off upon another; and again, some days later, urged a discontinuance of the negotiation with Charles. He took a prominent part in the king’s trial. He was appointed on 8 Feb 1648/9 one of the commissioners of the great seal, and was placed on the council of state. He was a violent anti-royalist, and active promoter of the King’s trial, and drafted the sentence. He was present in Westminster Hall, 27 Jan 1648/9, when the sentence was pronounced, though he did not sign the death-warrant.[3]” More Here 

John Lisle’s Estate was at Northcourt Manor and Westcourt


Sunken Rose Garden at Northcourt

Northcourt Kitchen Garden Gate

Northcourt Garden

Northcourt Countryside

Northcourt Garden Building

The above image is of Westcourt

 The Regicide’s Widow tells Alice Lisle’s story:

“Rebellion, persecution and injustice in Restoration England are the themes of this colourful and passionate book about the last woman to be beheaded in England. Lady Alice Lisle was the last remaining link with the hated regicides, the men who signed Charles I’s death warrant, and when she gave shelter to a clergyman who had been involved in the popular uprising known as Monmouth’s Rebellion, Judge Jeffreys, the ‘Hanging Judge’, showed no mercy. “The Regicide’s Widow” recreates a disturbing period of British history through the characters of Lady Alice Lisle and Judge Jeffreys, a period when fairness, justice and truth were cast aside in the interests of political power and conformity. It is a truly Machiavellian story of statecraft, with government and judiciary involved in a ruthless display of might. In the end this display worked against them, for while it did not lead to direct revolt, the effects were so harsh and memories so vivid that the people of the West were among the most energetic supporters of the Glorious Revolution which three years after the Bloody Assize brought James’ rule to an end.” Amazon

“By about 1660 after the King Charles II had been restored to the throne, John was forced to flee to Switzerland in fear of his life. Alice was left behind in England, pregnant with their youngest daughter Anne.  About this time, all of John’s holdings were seized by the crown, with the majority going to James, the king’s brother and to John Lisle’s younger brother William who remained a royalist.  Thank goodness Moyles Court belonged to Alice, but her fortunes had definitely declined.  She still had seven unmarried children to raise….

“In 1664 when Alice was 47, her husband was assassinated in Switzerland, shot in the back by an Irish royalist.  She was left an outcast from family as well as society, and ridiculed for her religion.  According to the excellent and well researched book titled “The Regicide’s Widow”: “Moyles Court became one of the many refuges of these Nonconformist nomads [displaced ministers], and Alice Lisle undoubtedly risked prosecution for those she sheltered.”  There was a reported gathering of 200 Presbyterians there in 1669.

“So how did Alice end up sheltering the rebel John Hicks and get convicted of treason? Alice knew of Hicks as a nonconformist minister, most recently from Portsmouth.  Through a succession of restrictive laws and political maneuvering, the religious bigotry in England increased through the 1670s and 80s.  The mood and whim of those in power seemed to oscillate between leniency and oppressive persecution. I’m sure that Hicks wasn’t the only minister who was relentlessly targeted, tracked and fined for preaching to gatherings of nonconformists.  But the timing and location was such that on 24 Jun 1685,  Hicks was on hand to join rebel forces of the crown contender James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.  He probably hoped that he would receive better treatment and liberties under a different monarch.   The next day Hicks committed the treasonable offense of trying to persuade Monmouth’s English prisoners of war  to change their allegiance.

Their cause was short lived, for the rebel forces were quickly defeated by James II’s troops, with many rebels fleeing.  After a concentrated manhunt, Monmouth and his chiefs were captured and beheaded, although some of his rebels remained at large.  This is when Hicks and his companions Nelthorp and Dunne sought shelter at Moyles Court.  Their arrival was betrayed by their guide, and Alice was arrested as well as the fugitives and jailed at Salisbury pending trial.

PictureGrave of Alice (Beconshawe) Lisle in Ellingham, Hampshire


I am fortunate that one of my great aunts researched my family’s genealogical record. Her grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher.

Rev. Milton John Whitaker (1832-1908)

Whitaker, Milton John (Rev.) 1832-1908

My Dunscomb ancestors were Quakers and one of them was killed at the Isle of Wight. His wife brought their sons to America and joined the Quakers in Philadelphia. I find it interesting that after a lifetime in the South, I have managed to live my final years near Philadelphia.

I am not sure why it matters who our ancestors are, but somehow, I do care. I am posting this information for any of my family who are interested in our heritage. I am also posting this information for other Whitakers who are seeking some of the research that I have discovered. The Internet has vastly changed the nature of genealogical research. Researchers must be careful, but if they are cautious, they can find tomes of information about their families by simply searching through Google. I am thankful to my great aunt who helped me begin my research, and I am also thankful to my distant relatives who have helped me reconnect with my family’s story.

©Jacki Kellum August 20, 2017