Majestic limestone manors dot the rolling countryside of Northamptonshire, home to handsome views and surprising rural retreats – perfect for a family trip. But all is not as it seems within this quaint landscape.
Start your voyage of mysterious discovery in the small village of Rushton. Tucked away on a lonely country lane sits a beautiful but bizarre building that is an intricate riddle – a maze of secret codes guaranteed to pique the curiosity of young Sherlocks.
Rushton Triangular Lodge was built by a wealthy heir called Thomas Tresham, a devout Catholic politician for whom three was most definitely the magic number. It is the most eccentric building to look at – a visual thrill that demands you walk around it again and again. As the name suggests, it’s triangular-shaped and there’s so much detail that it almost needs an aerial view to take it all in.
Completed in 1596, it’s a celebration of the Holy Trinity; God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Three sides, three storeys, three gables, and windows in rows of three. The building is even 33 feet wide – the age at which Christ was said to have died on the cross. There are three Latin texts (each 33 letters long) running around the building.
Tresham was a devout Catholic living under Queen Elizabeth I’s Protestant reign and his beliefs cost him liberty and money. He designed the lodge while he was in prison for his dogmas and he lost a large part of his fortune paying off fines.
Despite its rebellious ciphers, thankfully the Triangular Lodge survived persecution to feed our imagination and curiosity today.
This is just your first stop on your tour of this puzzling county. The hidden symbolism continues to intrigue at the home of another notable Northamptonshire family. Canons Ashby near Daventry was built in 1556 and was home to devout Protestants, the Drydens.
With its formal gardens, rolling vistas and fancy topiary it has all the hallmarks of your textbook stately home and is now a National Trust property. The interior is laden with dark wood panelling, Jacobean family portraits, tapestries and coats of arms.
But that’s not the mystery here; there is another panelled room covered in dozens of crests of local families and enigmatic symbols. Once, this servants’ room was painted white, concealing the icons, but now they’ve been revealed they are the source of constant speculation and scrutiny. They say things such as: “Do not eat of those things with a black tail” (good advice). There is speculation the room was used as an early masonic lodge; the signs on the lower rows are representative of tools and symbols used in freemasonry.
Another recently unearthed secret is a hidden chamber, concealed above the door for 400 years. The space is floorboarded and the walls have been plastered from the inside to create a space that could hide a person – but it wouldn’t have been a hole to hide priests, because the Drydens were Puritans. Was this a room of Protestant fundamentalism or just Elizabethan creativity?
We’ll probably never know for certain, but the guessing is half the fun. Who knew that Northamptonshire had so many secrets?
How to get there
The lodge is a mile west of Rushton, on an unclassified road, and a mile from Desborough on the A6. Trains run to Kettering (five miles away).
You can reach Canons Ashby from the M40 J11, or the M1 J16. From the M1, take the A45 (Daventry) and at Weedon crossroads turn left on to the A5, then follow the brown signs.
Find Out More
Rushton Triangular Lodge
Rushton NN14 1RP
Open until 3 November 2013, then reopens in spring 2014. Closed Mon and Tues; open Weds-Sun, 11am-5pm. Adults £3.30, children £2.
Near Daventry, NN11 3SD
Open every day except Thurs till October, 11am-5pm. Opening times in winter vary. Adults £7.90, children £3.95.
Canons Ashby tearooms
Staverton Road, Daventry NN11 4NL