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A fundraising campaign has been launched to purchase one of England’s grandest recusant homes to put it back into church hands.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and former MP Ann Widdecombe have pledged their support for a bid to buy Sawston Hall, near Cambridge, which has been put on the market for £4.75 million.
The Grade-I listed Tudor mansion has three priest holes, some of which were built by St Nicholas Owen, who died under torture in 1606 having helped to conceal priests during the reign of Elizabeth I. He was canonised as one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales and another of that group, St Robert Rigby, is also closely associated with Sawston.
The sixteenth-century house has five bedrooms, four reception rooms and a chapel and is set in 57 acres of land.
It was the family seat of the Huddlestone family for 500 years – in 1553 John Huddlestone had sheltered the future Mary I – but left the family’s hands in the 1980s.
It is owned currently by Stephen Coates, a hedge fund manager, who lives there with his family.
The campaign group, Save Sawston Hall, who want to buy the house, say they would transform it into a Catholic Heritage Centre and open it up for retreats and to the general public.
It has contacted prominent Catholics including the former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Bishop of East Anglia, Alan Hopes, is due to visit next week.
Spokesman Brian Plunkett said: “The house is … going to be a place for education, for understanding, for pilgrimage and rest. I’ve knocked on many, many doors and most of them are opening.”