TODAY Hindlip H all, which lies between Worcester and Droitwich and conveniently about a mile from the M5, is the technology bristling headquarters of West Mercia Police.

But it wasn’t always like that. For centuries an impressive country house stood on the site and in the autumn of 1965, the whole lot nearly burnt down.

On October 18 that year a fire broke out in the roof of what was then the HQ of Worcestershire Constabulary and it was all hands to the pump, literally. More than 50 firefighters battled to prevent the flames breaking down into the top floor of the historic building – which would almost certainly have led to its destruction – while police and civilian staff, with Chief Constable Sir John Willison to the fore, combined to rescue as many files and records as possible. Remember those were the days when everything was on paper.

Worcestershire’s chief fire officer Gerald Eastham said later: “Those of us who were under the roof for one and three quarter hours, facing the problem of two large water tanks likely to come crashing down, were determined not to abandon the top floor because we knew the fire would spread at second floor level and go throughout the building.”

The eventual cost of the fire was around £50,000 (more than £1m today) but through some astute accounting the re-building figure included alterations to the Hall needed to cater for its impending role as the centre of the newly created West Mercia police force due to take over the patch in 1967.

In fact Hindlip Hall wasn’t the original name of the property on the site. That was Hindlip House, which was built in the second half of the 1500s by John Habington. This magnificent Elizabethan country mansion was described as “the most famous house in England for the entertainment of priests”. However “entertainment” was code for the property being a safe haven for harbouring fugitive Catholic priests, called “treacherous Popish trash” by the authorities, and had nothing to do with drinking or dancing or any other non-priestly activities.

Between 1590 and 1606, its most renowned period, Hindlip House had as many as 11 priest holes, ingenious secret corners where priests could be concealed from their pursuers for days or weeks on end.

A reed through a hole in a chimney or an outer wall was often their sole source of ventilation and there was a concealed tube so they could be fed “broths and warm drinks”.

Hindlip House was eventually pulled down in 1814 to make way for Hindlip Hall, which became the heart of the 1,600-acre estate of the Hindlip family. The Hall was bought by Worcestershire County Council just after the Second World War to use as the headquarters of Worcestershire Constabulary, as it needed to relocate from its cramped base in Castle Street, Worcester.

1 An illustration of the front of Hindlip House in 1813, just before it was pulled down. It had a “Queen’s Room” where Elizabeth I once stayed.

2 A secret tunnel used as a 16th century escape route for priests was uncovered during extensions to Hindlip Hall in 1976

3 Unveiling a war memorial at Hindlip Hall in 1951 to Worcestershire Constabulary officers who died in the two world wars. On the right is the force’s chief constable Capt JE Lloyd-Williams.

4 Police officers rescue equipment during the 1965 fire. The tall figure on the right of the group is Worcestershire’s Chief Constable Sir John Willison. (the first of the images above)

5 Firefighters tackle the blaze in the roof to prevent it spreading to lower floors

6 Flames and smoke can be seen rising from the roof of Hinldip Hall as police officers dash to rescue documents.

7 Rescued items were hastily stored in the club room of the police headquarters