Hellens Manor, Ledbury
Description: The original hall was built in approximately 1250 but it was heavily modernized in Tudor times to the building we see today. The inner courtyard dates from 1290. The house was last modernized during the reign of Charles the 1st (the Staircase Hall and Music Room was added at this time).
The Manor at Much Marcle was started by French Monks in the 11th Century. They were sent here from Carmeilles by William the Conqueror to educate the locals. There is a legend of a secret tunnel under Hellens that may contain treasure hidden by the monks when they faced hostile Britons (after WW2 Malcolm Munthe tried to find it – even using table tipping to try and find the location of the tunnel from the ghosts of Hellens).
17th September 1275 De Balun’s younger brother Walter de Balun took over the manor. Walter married Yseult Mortimer the sister of Roger Mortimer. When Walter died Yseult claimed Hellens as her own, as did Walter’s brother Reginald causing conflict. Roger Mortimer often visited the manor and Yseult remarried his good friend Hugh Audley. The manor was now known as ‘Much Marcle Audley’.
Hugh set up a Baron Court there in 1301 and gallows were set up in the grounds. 13th March 1306 Sir John de Balun was executed (hung) at Hellens for ‘felony’.
The King granted Sir John’s part of the manor to Lord Roger Mortimer. At this time the manor was often called ”Helionhome’ or ‘Helinham Castle’ after the Seneschal de Helion who looked after it.
Yseult carried out many modifications her front door, ‘Mortimer’s Door’ still remains today.
Lady Katherine Audley, the widow of Hugh’s cousin came to live at the manor. Her son Tom died there in 1307, his wife Eve fell in love with Yseult’s son James Audley and bore him two ‘bastard’ sons – Peter and James.
On the day of Edward 2nd’s Coronation the pressure became too much for Lady Katherine and she went missing and ended up living as a recluse in Ledbury.
Yseult’s second son Hugh, married Piero Gaveston’s widow, the king’s niece, Margaret of Gloucester and so he became, Hugh Audley, Earl of Gloucester.
15th March 1322 – Battle of Boroughbridge, Hugh Audley and Roger Mortimer were captured. Hugh was free within weeks but Roger was taken to the Tower of London. Queen Isabella and Yseult famously helped him escape and flee to France. In 1325 Hugh Audley died a broken man stripped of all his dignities as a peer.
Roger and Queen Isabella fell in love and plotted to overthrow the crown. By 1329 Roger was virtually King of England (Edward 3rd was still a young boy). He captured Edward 2nd and took him to Berkley Castle where he was interrogated and butchered. Roger killed the King’s Uncle, Kent. He and Isabella went to Nottingham where Edward 3rd and Lord Salisbury broke into the Queen’s bedroom and found Mortimer in a cave below the castle – Roger was taken to London and hung.
In 1333 Hugh and Yseult’s son James died in Gascony. Although the manor was officially owned by Hugh it was to be James’s for life, the annual rent was fixed at a pair of gilt spurs to be paid each Easter.
James was very close friends with Edward third’s son, the Black Prince. In 1344 James was Sir James and one of the first Knights of the Garter. In 1346 James fought with the Black Prince at Crecy, on his return the Prince stayed at Hellens (his crest is on the fireplace in the stone hall) and ate at the stone table in the hall (used to be an altar). They returned to France where James was the Prince’s right hand man and ‘Hero of Poitiers’. James died in a subsequent attack and the Black Prince organized his funeral.
The Earl of Gloucester’s Daughter, wife of Lord Stafford took over Hellens but never lived there. She gave it to her Granddaughter as a present on her marriage to John de Helion (it was at this point it became known as ‘Helions’ or ‘Hellens’.)
Johanna gave it to her son Thomas Walwyn in 1399. His daughter Margaret was governess to the Princes in the Tower. Walwyn refused Henry 8th’s knighthood and had to pay a huge fine.
Richard Walwyn inherited the estate. In approx 1525 Princess Mary (Mary Tudor) visited Hellens. When she was queen they prepared a room specially for her (it’s still there today) but she never returned.
Richard’s wife Dorothy died and he remarried. He also took in a monk who was homeless in new Protestant Britain.
Richard’s son was Dick, Dick’s son was Ely. Dick died of worry trying to raise money to satisfy the new Lady Walwyn and Ely took over the estate. In 1602 Ely married Anne Cooke (her father’s coat of arms is in the Cordova room) in 1603 their son, Fulke Walwyn was born. In 1616 Ely died and Hellens was in a state of disrepair. Fulke moved in with his godfather Sir Walter Pye. In 1619 Fulke married Margaret Pye (she was pregnant at the time) and returned to Hellens. The baby was John Walwyn. They restored the house, putting in the Staircase Hall and Cordova Room (which was Fulke and Margaret’s bedroom). The caretaker at the time was an old monk. The house today is very similar to how it was then.
During the civil war John Lingen had his leg shattered in battle nearby and was brought into Hellens where he died. It’s thought he’s buried in a secret tomb inside Hellens. Many rooms have deep chambers between the floorboards and beams below – is his one legged body still buried in one of these chambers?
There was a secret Cavalier HQ at Hellens, however, the roundheads got in and cornered the monk in Bloody Mary’s Bedroom where he was killed – again it’s not known where Margaret and Fulke buried the monk.
In 1649 John Walwyn took over Hellens. WhenFulke died the great gates were closed never to be reopened. ‘Fulkes Farewell’. John married but she died 2 years later. She left him 2 daughters Frances and Bridget. John’s second wife was Mary Winnington who gave birth to Margaret and twin boys Thomas and Fulke who were described as ‘idiots from birth’. One of the twins died aged 12.
At the end of 17th century Hetty Walwyn (thought to be Bridget though there is some confusion over this, she’s known as Hetty or Hettabel Walwyn)ran off with a young man who was beneath her socially it didn’t last. By the time she was 20 he’d either died or deserted her and she was forced to return home where she was branded a social disgrace and unmarriagable and locked in her room for 30 years. She used a diamond ring to engrave on a window-pane ‘It is part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bane’ – it’s still there today. On the outside is scratched John Pearcel 1702 – we don’t know who he is. In a book about Hellens it is also speculated that Hetty was Bridget and it’s said she went mad.
Margaret’s Scottish husband a man called Nobel took over Hellens, their son William ‘Walwyn’ died unmarried. So his sister was given the estate and they changed their name to Walwyn. They had no sons so the Pytts family and then the James family took over by marriage.
There was a fire in the South wing in 1789 and it was rebuilt as only two storeys by Edward ‘Walwyn’ James. He died in 1831 and 2 distant heirs to the Walwyn estate clained Hellens there was a big lawsuit and it was used as farm buildings.
In the first half of the 20th Century the house was owned by Lady Helena Gleichen she was a painter and had a very cosmopolitan group of friends – this was something of a renaissance for Hellens. In World War 2 Helena started the first Home Guard.
During the War Helena died of Heart Trouble , her friend Nina also died in her sleep shortly after.
Hilda Pennington Mellor Munthe took over the estate with her husband Axel Munthe. They had two sons Malcolm and Peter, Malcolm’s son Adam now owns Hellens.
– The resident’s of Hellens have always lived with its ghosts.
– The ghost of a monk (see below related incidents) is often seen in here and visitors staying in Bloody Mary’s room often complain of having their sleep interrupted by an elderly gentleman in a dark hooded gown who stumbles into the room as if by mistake. Whilst staying in this room during the Hay festival Simon Callow saw the ghost of the monk.
– Back in the ’40’s Malcolm Munthe tried table tipping to get in touch with the spirit of the monk in order to find the secret tunnel – the only definite answers he could get were that he did haunt that room and other areas in the house but nothing about the tunnel.
– In the ’20’s a guest left after only one night later complaining of being disturbed several times by a ‘dotty old member of the family who had escaped from his keeper’ – it was widely thought at the time he’d seen the Monk.
– Nick has been woken to see the ghost of who he believes to be Hetty standing by his bed. He describes her as small and says that she was as clear and real as any other human. Recently they have been experiencing poltergeist activity up here. China cups fly off the shelves, things are moved in the kitchen and pictures fly off the walls and cooking pots are thrown to the floor.
– The ghost of a man, thought to be Sir Philip Musgrave (his portrait hangs at Hellens) has been seen in the music room.
– Adam’s grandson recently spoke of seeing a little girl in what sounds like Victorian clothing here – he’s only two.
First Broadcast: 6th September 2005