A Historic Home in Much Marcle
One of the most interesting yet little known of England’s historic homes is Hellens Manor House in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, now owned by the Munthe family trust. It was not the first building to occupy the site, once home to a group of monks. The house started out as a small castle. The building was converted to a manor house in the 15th century and building continued through the 17th.
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The de Balun family were granted the manor in 1096; the Mortimers came next, then the Audleys in 1301. A nephew of the Audleys, James, moved to the house, paying the rental with some silver spurs. He leased the house to Walter Helyon, from whence the name derives. The Audley family coat of arms is on the house. The family tree is a convoluted one with many branches and is difficult to trace. During the civil War the Catholic family was left penniless till Charles II was restored to the throne, and they could return to their home.
The house is full of paintings and period furniture and decorations.
Elm and oak flooring is found throughout the house. Items belonging to the famous—Mary Tudor, Ann Boleyn, Charles I, the earl of Essex—mix with those of the owners.
In the stone floored hall above the fireplace is the motto of the Prince of Wales. The black prince was a friend of James Audley. A 16th century Flemish tapestry and a medieval stone altar table decorate the stone walled hall. Two chairs in the hall, made of bog oak, were built for the expected visit of Mary Tudor, who never came. The room was once used as a courtroom. From the past a law still applies that, on this property, there is the right to hang someone.
The white drawing room has 17th century panelling painted white. There are angels on the ceiling. It is thought the room may have been used as a chapel. Joshua Reynolds’s portrait “The Laughing Girl” hangs on the wall.
In the staircase hall are 17th century carvings on an overmantel. This part of the house was refurbished in 1641. There is a 17th century cordova leather chair in the hallway. A ring belonging to Charles I is displayed in a case on the stairway.
The music room is decorated with a 17th century Renaissance frieze around the top of the panelling. On the wall is a portrait by Hogarth of Kitty Markham.
Hetty’s (the daughter of John Walwyn) bedroom has sad tales to tell. It was the prison of Hetty, who ran off with a farmhand, then returned to live in the room, imprisoned by her mother. Carved into the window in the room is a message supposedly left by Hetty. It reads, "It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bain (downfall)." Legend says she committed suicide after 30 years imprisonment and her ghost roams the house. John Walwyn, who had returned to the house after the civil war, had two mentally retarded boys who lived out their lives in this room.
A bedroom was prepared for Mary Tudor in case she visited (1526). Her coat of arms is over the fireplace. Although she was in Ludlow Castle nearby for 18 months, she never visited. On the wall is a painting by Tintoretta, “The Resurrection”. The mirror is antique Venetian glass.
The gallery, over the small hall served as a minstrel’s gallery and was also the place where prisoners were held when the hall served as a court. A Catholic chapel was in the attic rooms of the house.
The Cordova room has tooled 17th century leather walls and a carved wood fireplace. On the walls are paintings by Sir Peter Lely. A family priest was hacked to death by Roundheads who invaded the house. A door in the courtyard retains marks of their invasion. The dining room was built in the early 20th century to join the stable block and the early part of the house. A portrait of Charles II by Greenhill hangs here.
In the grounds is a stone trough chiseled out of solid sandstone and a 17th century octagonal dovecote which served as a prison. The gardens are an ongoing project and reflect their original Tudor and Jacobean history. They contain a knot garden, a yew labyrinth, and a woodland walk. The 16th century great barn (Grade Two) is restored. Also of interest are family carriages and an old cider millhouse.
Note: We found this tour one of the most interesting and entertaining of all the guided tours we have been on. The house simply reeks of atmosphere.
Hellens Manor House
½ mile east of Much Marcle, access from B4024, just off A449; 7 miles from Ross on Wye; 3 miles from Ledbury.
Tel. 01531 660504
Open: Wed, Thu, Sun, and BH from Easter-end Sep; shown by one hour guided tour only at 2, 3, and 4 pm. Booking not necessary.
Website: Hellens Manor House
Member of Historic Houses Association