Sir Thomas Tresham had a lot of time to kill while in prison for his Catholic faith. Like many of his generation he was fascinated by what they called “conceits”, intriguing visual or verbal puzzles which concealed meanings, whether for frivolous reasons or for deeply serious purposes.
His Triangular Lodge in the park of Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire, is an astonishing puzzle. Its practical purpose was as a base for the warrener who looked after the rabbits which provided fresh meat. Lodges also served as a destination for outings from the main house, and occasionally for “secret house”, when the owner retreated from the main residence while it was spring-cleaned. It could just as easily serve as an unobtrusive location for the illegal celebration of the Catholic Mass.
That would explain not only its triangular shape, but also the complex inscriptions which cover its walls.
Its plan is an equilateral triangle, each side 33 feet long; each face has three pinnacled gables; there are three storeys, each of which has three windows on each of the three walls. The inscription round the frieze contains 33 letters on each side. Inside on each floor, the triangular plan is divided by cross-partitions into hexagonal rooms, which of course create further equilateral triangles.
The inscription above the door translates two ways: Tres testimonium dant can be “There are three who bear record in heaven” [John ch 5, v 7] or “I, Thomas Tresham, bear witness”. The three inscriptions on each gable are verses from the books of Isaiah, Romans and Habakkuk. The innermost room has the acronym “SSSDDS” [Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth]. The numerical inscriptions, many of which are divisible by three, relate to Biblical dates of the Creation and the Flood, and the ages at death of Jesus and his mother, subtracted by the AD date 1593.
The blogger Scriblerus [http://everything2.com/node/1241850] suspects obsessive-compulsive disorder; Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, that austere German scholar, took a more serious view: “…as a testament of faith this building must be viewed with respect”.
Scriblerus comments, “I’ve never known a building so ostentatiously incognito.”
It is a curious building to look at. Buy the guide-book and seek out the puzzles. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
The Triangular Lodge is in the care of English Heritage: see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/rushton-triangular-lodge/. Be aware that there are no facilities, though there are a number of pubs and garden centres nearby. Rushton Hall Hotel http://www.rushtonhall.com/restaurant.asp?id=42&sid=79 is luxurious: afternoon tea starts at £24.00.