The date and place of Nicholas Owen’s birth are unknown, but the latter was probably near Oxford. Two of his brothers were priests and a third a London printer who openly championed the innocence of Campion when he was on trial. In 1582, Nicholas was in prison for his Faith and on his release joined the Society as a Brother. For the next 18 years he was employed in the construction of secret hiding places in Catholic centres all over England, as he was an excellent carpenter, stonemason and architect. Of ‘Little John’, as Nicholas was called, it was said that no one did more for English Catholics than he, since his hiding places enabled hundreds of Catholics to avoid capture.
Since he knew the hiding places of most of the priests working in England, it was certain he would be cruelly tortured if he was ever caught. He was, on 23 January, 1605, and was taken to the Tower of London for interrogation. As he continued to be silent, the severity of his torture was increased until, on 2 March, he died on the rack.
Vert (green) on a fess indented lower side argent (silver) between trowel dexter and hammer sinister in chief and in between wall with door argent (silver) three crosses of the field.
The House crest, displaying a trowel and a hammer, remind us that God can be served in many ways, even in the ordinary day-to-day tasks. As an architect, carpenter and mason, Owen used his tools to build hiding places (represented by the wall and door) for priests. Owen was responsible for saving the lives of numbers of Catholics.
The motto, ‘Unless the Lord builds’, reminds us of our need for God at all times. The three crosses bring to mind two events in Nicholas’ life. Firstly, he was arrested three times and, secondly, while in prison the second time he was suspended by the wrists for three hours.