I spent the first two years of my life in a little village, some 16 miles from Hereford, called Much Marcle. These days Marcle is best known for the incredible success story that is Westons Cider, but back in the twelfth century, the foundations were laid for a house that, over the centuries, has seen more than its fair share of history. Not bad for a manor house in a sleepy little backwater of rural Herefordshire.
Hellens (said to be named after the de Helyon family who were early owners of the property) has changed hands many times over the centuries. Early inhabitants were witnesses to the signing of the Magna Carta. Much later, in the sixteenth century, owner Richard Walwyn was knighted by Mary Tudor. She dubbed him (for reasons probably best left to her) Knight of the Carpet. Elizabeth I forgave him when she came to the throne. Sadly this didn’t stop him from dying bankrupt and, by 1619, Hellens was reported to be in ruins.
Over the next century, Hellens enjoyed mixed fortune and not a little tragedy. During the Civil War, the Walwyns fought on the King’s side. The opposing Parliamentarian forces stormed Hellens, where the family priest was acting as caretaker. They found his hiding place, dragged him out and stabbed him repeatedly with their halberds, until the poor man resembled a porcupine. He died in the room where Mary Tudor is supposed to have stayed – Bloody Mary’s Chamber. When I was there, a woman on the same tour reported feeling a distinct cold spot near the fireplace and many unwitting tourists have reported being chased out of there by a figure resembling a Catholic monk.
Also, at this time, a body was allegedly buried under the floorboards, where it remains to this day. The corpse is that of Sir Henry Lingen, killed in battle at Ledbury (three miles way). Does Sir Henry walk the house at dead of night? And where, precisely, is his body? No one – as yet – knows because it has never been found.
But the hapless priest certainly isn’t the only ghost to wander the rooms of Hellens. Around 1700, someone scratched a message on a window pane in a room now known as ‘Hetty’s Room’. It reads: ‘It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it should prove our bane.’ This sorrowful little homily was etched using a diamond ring, but who did it?
Hetty Walwyn, daughter of the house, eloped with a local lad called John Piercel, but he abandoned her and, with nowhere else to go, she was forced to return home and throw herself on the mercy of her family. But there was little mercy for Hetty. Her mother marched her up to her bedroom and locked her in. Poor Hetty was to be denied human companionship for the next 30 years, until she died, still incarcerated in that one room. The only way she could communicate was by pulling a cord which rang a solitary bell. Visitors can still do this – and a more mournful, lonely sound you could hardly imagine. Needless to say, there was no way anyone could reply to her. Interestingly, her faithless lover may have repented, for high on the outside of the window, his name – John Piercel – is scratched, along with the date – 1702. Poor Hetty haunts the room to this day. If you visit, maybe you’ll hear her weeping…softly…just behind you.
Over the next 200 years, ownership of the house changed frequently until Hilda Pennington Mellor, became its new chatelaine in 1945. She married the philanthropist and scientist, Axel Munthe who was physician to the Queen of Sweden. Axel Munthe is most famous for writing bestselling book, The Story of San Michele, about his adventures in restoring a house on Capri, which had been built on the foundations of Emperor Tiberias’s villa. Professionally, he worked tirelessly through outbreaks of cholera and typhus – not to mention earthquakes – tending to the sick, during the years he worked in Italy. He refused to take any money for his services from the poor and even established a hospice for elderly, destitute people in a castle outside Rome.
Today, the descendants of Hilda and Axel still call Hellens home, and the house plays a major role in village life in a variety of ways. This carries on a long tradition. My mother remembered attending the Coronation Ball there in 1953. Much Marcle, Hellens and cider are so inextricably entwined that it was decided that, at midnight, the fountain in the forecourt would flow, not with water, but with cider. Unfortunately, no one thought to warn the family spaniel whose habit it was to drink from that fountain. Not only that, the celebrations started rather earlier than anticipated. As a result, the poor dog was intoxicated by four that afternoon!
This was only the beginning of a chapter of disasters that threatened to scupper the entire event and which are hilariously recounted in Malcolm Munthe’s enthralling book, Hellens – The Story of a Herefordshire Manor. Somehow, the guests – my mother included – did get their cider, the health of the new Queen was drunk and everyone talked about the wonderful masque for months to come.
Hellens is full of atmosphere – and all the better for being a little faded, a little worn and not a little frayed around the edges. It hasn’t been ‘tarted’ up for the tourists. It’s an honest house – a family home, with a big heart, that has been around for nearly a thousand years. Parts of it bear the scars of battle – relics of the Civil War and a World War II bomb, carelessly discarded following an enemy raid on Birmingham.
As you walk its creaking corridors, descend the steep, narrow staircase and marvel at the faded elegance of its rooms, you get a real sense of presence, of a home well loved and well lived in. And, as such, this has to be one of my favourite haunts (in all senses of the word).
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We are the Thirteen and we are one
4 Yarborough Drive looked like any other late 19th century English townhouse. Alice Lorrimer feels safe and welcomed there, but soon discovers all is not as it appears to be. One of her housemates flees the house in terror. Another disappears and never returns. Then there are the sounds of a woman wailing, strange shadows and mists, and the appearance of the long-dead Josiah Underwood who founded a coven there many years earlier. The house is infested with his evil, and Alice and her friends are about to discover who the Thirteen really are.
When death’s darkest veil draws over you, then shall shadows weep
The Darkest Veil is available from:
About The Author
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. In addition to The Darkest Veil, Cat’s novels include The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.
Her novellas include Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife
She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.
You can connect with Cat here:
The Darkest Veil by Catherine Cavendish.
That there was something welcoming about the house is quickly dispelled in Catherine Cavendish’s latest book–a novella that yet feels and reads like so much more and in fact shows that Ms Cavendish is every bit a master of the shorter genre as she is of a full blown novel. As ever, the time settings are carefully observed and evoked, moving seamlessly from the 1970s to the present day. The ordinariness of bedsit land and life is a perfect foil for the depth and scale of lurking horror in Yarborough Drive. It is often said that the evil men do live after them and it was never truer than of this house. In fact as Alice Lorrimer and her new friends soon find out it’s never left. But will it be to their cost or not? Can they save more than themselves in this gripping, page-turning chiller? The race is certainly on as they start unravelling the past. And the reader is led skilfully down paths where sighs of relief are breathed. But let’s not forget one vital thing. This is Catherine Cavendish’s world and a scary one it is. A must for Halloween.