Ordsall Hall in Lancashire is one of the finest examples of Elizabethan half-timbered buildings
still in existence. It is also reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in England. Due in most
part to the novel of Harrison Ainsworth it is also believed to have a strong connection to the Gunpowder
Plot, and like many buildings around England, is claimed as the place where the plot was originally
conceived by Catesby and Fawkes.
In his romantic novel of Guy Fawkes, which many people have unfortunately accepted as authentic
history, Ainsworth introduces us to one Viviana Radclyffe, the sole representative of her family at
Ordsall during the absence of her father, Sir William Radclyffe, who is away attending a meeting of
Catholic gentry at Holt in Cheshire. Viviana is represented as a fair maiden of eighteen, whom Catesby
comes in secrecy to woo, and at Ordsall encounters Guy Fawkes, who has come to secure the support of the
Radclyffes in the Plot. When the hall is raided by pursuivants, come to arrest the Roman Catholic priest
in hiding at the Hall, Viviana, Catesby, Fawkes, and the priest are all rescued by the timely
intervention of Humphrey Chetham, who conducts them by a secret passage running beneath the moat to a
summer house in the grounds, and thence through Old Trafford to Chat Moss. Humphrey Chetham is portrayed
as in love with Viviana, but differences of religious faith make their marriage impossible, and the
story closes with Humphrey left solitary, his life 'tinged by the blighting of his early
affection ... true to his love, he died unmarried'.
The story is of course complete fiction, and while there may have been ties between the Catesby and
Radclyffe families, either directly or through common familes such as the Widdrington's, there is no evidence
to suggest that the Radclyffe's were linked to the Plot, nor did they have a connection to Guy Fawkes.
Verdict: False. Firstly Fawkes and Catesby did not conceive the plot together, the former was
brought in as the fifth conspirator with the help of Thomas Wintour. Both Wintour and Fawkes in their
confessions indicate that they discussed the plot while still in the Low Countries. There is no evidence
to show that Guy Fawkes even ventured north of London from the time he was recruited.