Could I install a hidden passageway in my home?

Hidden Passageway Stories: Hiding Priests and Book Thieves

What deeds has this secret room seen?
What deeds has this secret room seen?
Jeremy Hardie/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Throughout history, hidden passageways have been used to help people hide and escape. One of the oldest usages of a hidden passageway involved Catholic clergymen in the time of Elizabeth I. During her reign, practicing Catholicism was a crime, so wealthy families built priest holes to hide their priests. Secret rooms and passageways were also used to hide fugitive slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad. In more recent history, Anne Frank became a symbol of all Jews forced to hide during the Holocaust with the publication of her diary, which detailed life in a secret room.

Sometimes your desire to hide and escape is a bit simpler, though. Balfour Castle, a home in Scotland constructed in 1848, has a hidden passageway that the family used when unwanted visitors arrived. If family members didn't want to speak to the person at the door, the butler could honestly say that the family was not at home [source: Undiscovered Scotland].

But while these simple and sometimes heroic hidden passageway stories show us the benefits of secret passageways, it's worth mentioning that hidden passageways have also been a popular place for conducting and covering up crime. One horrifying example was brought to light in 2008, when it was revealed that an Austrian man had built an underground dungeon, accessible by a coded hidden passage, in which he imprisoned his daughter. The dungeon allowed no sunlight to reach the woman or the children that the man fathered with her [source: Pancevski].

Another hidden passageway criminal was John Darwin of Hartlepool, England. Darwin was tens of thousands of pounds in debt and figured the only way out was to fake his death in a canoeing accident so that his wife could collect the life insurance. For five years, he lived in a secret room in the family home, crawling nightly through an 18-inch wide secret passageway hidden by a wardrobe to be with his wife [source: Norfolk]. Although Darwin stayed hidden from friends and family for years and was planning to escape to Panama, in 2007 he turned himself in because he missed his sons.

Last, let's take the case of the missing books. In a monastery in Alsace, more than 1,000 antique books mysteriously disappeared out of a locked library. The nuns and the monks changed the locks but the books, many of them extremely rare, kept disappearing. Eventually the police found that there was a hidden passageway into the library, and they set up closed-circuit cameras to nab the book thief. That's how they caught Stanislas Gosse, who had found a map of the hidden way into the library. To enter, Gosse scaled the walls of the monastery and a steep staircase to reach a secret room adjacent to the library. Gosse claimed that his was a crime of passion; he just loved the books so much and felt no one was appreciating them in their current location [source: Webster].

So it's your call. Would a home hidden passageway be a way to keep your valuables safe and your children entertained, or would it be a haven for drug smuggling and crime? While you think it over, take a look at the stories and links below.

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More Great Links


  • "Balfour Castle." Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide. (June 30, 2008)
  • Bracey-Gibbon, Jonathan. "Now you see it." The Sunday Times. May 14, 2006.
  • Bremner, Charles. "Bookworm used secret passage to steal tomes." The Times. May 24, 2002.
  • Casey, Laura. "Our den? It's right behind the fireplace." Oakland Tribune. Jan. 20, 2007. (July 3, 2008)
  • "Celebrities & Ghosts." The Seelbach Hilton Louisville. (June 30, 2008)
  • Creative Home Engineering. (June 30, 2008)
  • Henley, Jon. "The mystery of the hilltop monastery, the locked room and the missing manuscripts." The Guardian. May 24, 2002. (June 30, 2008),,4420440-103681,00.html
  • Norfolk, Andrew. "Secret passage in next door hideaway used to see wife." The Times. Dec. 8, 2007.
  • Owen, Richard. "Hidden papal path becomes tourist trap." The Times. Aug. 14, 2003.
  • Pancevski, Bojan. "Austria: incest father has sex assault conviction." The Times. April 29, 2008. (June 30, 2008)
  • Quinn, Catherine. "Hidden extras: The age-old appeal of houses with secret passageways." The Independent. Jan. 10, 2007. (June 30, 2008) ageold-appeal-of-houses-with-secret-passageways-431429.html
  • Summers-Sparks, Matthew. "Eight Rooms, Well, Nine, but That's Their Secret." New York Times. Oct. 5, 2006. (June 30, 2008) s%20Topics/Subjects/H/Homeowner%20Resources/Home%20Safety&oref=slogin
  • Sylvester, Melvin. "The African-American: A Journey from Slavery to Freedom." Long Island University. (June 30, 2008)
  • "The Big Secret." CNBC On the Money. (June 30, 2008)
  • "The History of The Priest Hole." The Priest Hole Eating House. (June 30, 2008)
  • Webster, Paul. "Mystery at the monastery ends as CCTV reveals chamber of secrets' daring thief." The Guardian. June 19, 2003. (June 30, 2008)