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The ghosts of Hellens Manor….

Sometimes, a glance up at the TV screen captures the attention unexpectedly. This happened when Most Haunted was on, and the episode concerned Hellens Manor, Much Marcle in Herefordshire. Hellens is an ancient manor house set in the heart of one of our most picturesque counties. So I took a look at its website  which told me:-

“In 1096 the Manor was granted to the de Balun family who witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta by King John. Thereafter by marriage, deed and gift it passed through the powerful Mortimer family to the Lords Audleys by 1301, who were created Earls of Gloucester in 1337. A nephew, James, one of the Black Prince’s 12 boon companions, rented the Manor yearly from his uncle the Earl for a pair of silver spurs. He eventually leased it to Walter de Helyon whose family gave their name in time to the house. Their descendants still live here, and Walter’s effigy can be seen in St Bartholomew’s Church. (Further information can be found at muchmarcle.net)

“Among Hellens’ attractions are the haunted rooms prepared for Bloody Mary Tudor and her tutor Fetherstone; the Stone Hall and its great fireplace bearing the Black Prince’s crest and the Minstrel Gallery. More recently, in the 19th century Hellens was owned by the Radcliffe Cooke family. Charles Radcliffe Cooke, born at Hellens, was the local MP. Known as the “Member for Cider” he was a passionate supporter of the farming industry in Herefordshire. He encouraged the growth of the cider industry, and was a great believer in the health-giving properties of cider. Our cider mill dates from his time.”

Health-giving properties of cider? Maybe he’d seen too many of the house ghosts! Facetiousness aside, the house and its grounds are quite wonderful, and I find it hard to believe (living as I do not far away in Gloucester) had not heard of it before. It’s a gem, and well worth a visit. But perhaps not after dark.

Bloody Mary’s Bedchamber
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Three new books about Herefordshire villages….

Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre (HARC)
& Logaston Press
invite you to celebrate the launch of three Parish histories
at 7.30pm on Tuesday 7th November
at HARC, Fir Tree Lane, Rotherwas, Hereford HR2 6LA

With short talks by the authors Refreshments available

Eardisley's Early History and the story of The BaskervillesEardisley’s Early History
and the story of The Baskervilles
Edited by Malcolm Mason
This book details the results of research projects commissioned by Eardisley History Group, including a geophysical survey and archaeological excavation of the castle; a building survey of some of the outlying farms and their barns by Duncan James; an evaluation of the earthwork remains at Bollingham and in The Pitts, an area between The Field and Eardisley Wootton; and an account of the changes in the road pattern in recent centuries, and the various projected routes of the tramway. It also includes new research by Bruce Coplestone-Crow on the Baskerville family

The Story of DilwynThe Story of Dilwyn
by Tony Hobbs & Andrew Stirling-Brown
This book gives an outline history of some of the post Domesday landowners and their families, along with what is known of the castle site and development of the churches at both Dilwyn and Stretford, and the brief appearance Dilwyn made in the Civil War. Much of the book then focuses on the past 150 or so years, giving the history of various properties, the school, and those of the local shops, pubs, businesses and some of the farms, together with much social history on the recent life of the village.

 

History of Lyonshall

A History of Lyonshall
From Prehistory to 1850
by Sarah & John Zaluckyj
This book covers the evidence for both prehistoric man in the parish and for settlement in the Roman period, the building of the Saxon dyke, and the arrival of the Normans. It relates the history of the lords of the castle, some of whom had a role on the national stage, and then, from the 1600s, that of the wider population of the parish. The effects of enclosure as strip fields were amalgamated is detailed. Included are various overseers’ efforts to help the poor, as well as accounts of theft, slander and drunken misbehaviour. The shift of the village centre and the effect industries and the industrial revolution with the coming of the tramway are also explored.

ALL PROFITS GO TO HARC

Black Vaughan of Hergest Court in Herefordshire….

 

Hergest Court, showing water in which the ghost of Black Vaughan is supposedly trapped - photograph from Google

Hergest Court, showing the pool in which the ghost of Black Vaughan is supposedly trapped beneath a stone – photograph from Google.

Thomas Vaughan ap Rosser was born in 1400, and nicknamed ‘Black’ Vaughan because of his black hair; or perhaps because of his black nature. No one knows which. His main residence was Hergest Court, near Kington in Herefordshire, and his wife was Ellen Gethin of Llanbister, Radnorshire. She was, from all accounts, a formidable woman, maybe even prepared to dress as a man in order to take part in an archery contest. Her purpose was not to aim at the target, but at the heart of the cousin who had killed her young brother. True? Who knows?

Thomas Vaughan had interests in the Stafford lordships of Huntington, Brecon and Hay, and in 1461 Edward IV appointed him receiver of Brecon, Hay, and Huntington during the minority of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Thomas supported Edward in the Wars of the Roses, but while marching toward Banbury in 1469, to aid the Yorkist cause at the Battle of Edgecote, he was captured by the Lancastrians.

Battle of Edgecote - from YouTube link below

You can see an interesting animation of the Battle of Edgecote here  – from which the above illustration is taken.

The Lancastrians took Thomas to Pontefract and beheaded him. His body was returned to Kington, to the church of St Mary, on the hill above the village. In due course Ellen joined him there, and their alabaster effigies still adorn their tomb.

Thomas 'Black' Vaughan and his wife, Ellen Gethin - The Terrible

Thomas ‘Black’ Vaughan and his wife, Ellen Gethin, known as ‘The Terrible’.

There is some doubt about which Thomas Vaughan is actually meant in this story. Maybe Black Vaughan died actually during the Battle of Edgecote, and wasn’t captured or executed in Pontefract. Indeed, some sources claim that the Thomas Vaughan of this story was the traitor, Sir Thomas, who in early 1483 turned upon the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in the attempt by the Woodvilles to deny Richard his rights by seizing the person of the boy king, Edward V, and having him crowned. Thus they, not Richard, would be in charge of the realm. This Sir Thomas was indeed executed at Pontefract. And rightly so.

Death was not the end of Black Vaughan, for he began to make his presence felt again, overturning farm wagons in broad daylight, and frightening women as they rode to market. He could even take on the form of a huge fly in order to torment horses. Once, as a bull, he entered the church during a service.

St Mary's Church, Kington, Herefordshire

St Mary’s Church, Kington, Herefordshire

In the 19th century, Kilvert was told the following story by a local man. “Twelve or thirteen ancient parsons assembled in the court of Hergest, and drew a circle, inside which they all stood with books and lighted candles, praying. The ghost was very resolute, and came among the parsons roaring like a bull. ‘Why so fierce, Mr Vaughan?’ asked one of the parsons mildly. ‘Fierce I was a man, fiercer still as a devil’, roared Vaughan, and all the candles were blown out except one, held by a very small, weak parson (also, says legend, named Vaughan). He hid the candle in his boots and so kept it alight, all the time praying hard until at length the violent spirit was quelled, and ‘brought down so small and humble that they shut him up in a snuff box’. The ghost made one humble petition—’Do not bury me beneath water’. But the parson immediately had him enclosed in a stone box, and buried him under the bed of the brooks and Hergest thenceforth was at peace.”

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles

After that, so it is said, Hergest Court was haunted by a black dog that appeared every time a member of the Vaughan family was to die. (Don’t these entities always do that?) Conan Doyle visited the court, and used the black dog as a model for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

 

Blanche Mortimer – The Grandison Monument

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In the chancel of the church of St Bartholomew,  Much Marcle, Herefordshire can be found one of the most beautiful tombs chests in England, that of Blanche Mortimer, Lady Grandison.  I happened by chance on this lovely monument  some years ago.  I stood there entranced, unwilling to leave.  Blanche’s tomb has been described by Nikolaus Pevsner as follows “The head is strikingly beautiful, eyes closed and lips slightly parted.  Beautiful hands with long fingers..moreover the most surprising demonstration of realism in the way of her long skirt hangs down over the tomb chest”.   Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches describes the monument as “An image as lovely as any bequeathed by a medieval church….the effigy might be the original for Sleeping Beauty’.    English Heritage describe it as one of the finest of its date in England.

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Close up of the attention to detail in the tightly buttoned sleeves of Blanche’s gown.

Blanche was born around 1316, dying in 1347 and  was the youngest daughter of the lst  Earl of March, Roger Mortimer who rebelled against King Edward ll.  He and Queen Isabella were lovers and probably arranged the murder of Edward.   Roger, was eventually overthrown by Edward’s son, Edward III and executed, but that is another story.    Blanche was married to Peter Grandison.   He is not buried besides her but lies in Hereford Cathedral.  Little is knows of their relationship but the meticulous  care, craftsmanship and attention to detailed  lavished on the design  and building of the tomb would indicate that Peter Grandison loved and missed his wife. And there, atop her tomb, lies Blanche to this day.  Her face, serene and lovely, her long gown hanging down gracefully in folds over the front of the tomb chest and her hands, beautifully carved, hold her rosary, although alas her little dog is missing his head.

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The tomb chest with its displays of the  Mortimer blue and gold  heraldic badge and the Grandison badge of blue, red and gold.

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Blanche’s husband, Peter Grandison’s  tomb in Hereford Cathedral

But that is not the end of the story for Blanche.  For  while the monument was being restored, Blanche’s lead coffin was found resting within the tomb chest.    This was most unusual as it has been thought that tomb chest monuments were built on top of or nearby where the dedicatee had been buried beneath the church floor or in a vault.  It is now known, through this discovery that some coffins were  placed inside the tomb chest itself.  After the restoration was completed, led by sculpture conservator Michael Eastham, the coffin was returned to the tomb chest with new steel supports to provide future protection.  The lead coffin was briefly examined but the decision was made not to disturb it.

 

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Blanche’s lead coffin

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Blanche’s effigy prior to replacement on top of the tomb chest.

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St Bartholomew’s very own ‘Sleeping Beauty’

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Blanche’s effigy after renovation..her little dog, although damaged,  still lying at her feet..

And so we leave Blanche and her little dog..serene and lovely..truly St Bartholomew’s very own sleeping beauty.

 

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