Hellens Manor, also known as Hellens House or simply Hellens and located in the village of Much Marcle in Herefordshire is one of the oldest dwellings in England, primarily composed of Tudor, Jacobean, and Georgian architecture, but the foundations date from the 12th century, with some elements older still.
Earl Harold Godwinson was Lord of Merkelan, (Much Marcle) which included Hellens, from 1057 until his death as king at the battle of Hastings. Thereafter the manor was gifted by William the Conqueror to his Standard Bearer Walter de Lacey. He awarded the Tythes to the monastic houses of Sainte Marie de Cormeilles and to Sainte Marie de Lyre in France. The whole was worth £30, an impressive sum for a Domesday Book village. By 1096 the manor had been granted to the de Balun family. The de Baluns were later to witness the signing of the Magna Carta.
Hellens, or Heliun,as it was then called, is first specifically mentioned in 1180, by which time the de Baluns had been created Lords of the Manor. in 1275 Sir Walter de Balun married Lord Roger Mortimer's sister Yseult (Isolde), and when Walter died she married Sir Hugh Audley. Their effigies can be seen in the parish church. Both of them, with Yseult's brother Roger, his mistress, Isabella queen of England, and the future Edward III, her son, are reputed (Gloucester Records office) to have waited in the great hall at Hellens for the Great Seal of England! Delivered to them by William le Blount, on the 26th of November in 1326, the Seal had been reclaimed from the king Edward II, then imprisoned in Monmouth Castle. Mortimer and the queen are considered to have arranged for the brutal murder of the king in Berkeley Castle.
In 1337 Hugh Audley was created Earl of Gloucester, through virtue of his marriage to Margaret de Clare, granddaughter of Edward the first, and widow of Piers Gaveston, the king's favourite. Hugh Audley died in 1347, and ownership of the Manor passed to his nephew, Sir James Audley, hero of the Froissart Chronicles, warrior at Crecy and Poitiers, boon companion to Edward the Black Prince, and a founding knight of the Garter.
Sir James, living and fighting in France, leased the Manor to Walter de Helyon, who passed it on to his daughter Joaana when she married Richard Walwyn. Their son bought the Lordship of the manor in about 1403, and the property remained named after his grandfather. A rare wooden effigy of Walter de Helyon lies in Much Marcle's parish church, St Bartholomews. Helyon's descendants have resided at the manor nearly continuously since first taking occupancy.
Hellens is a living monument to much of England's history. It contains numerous antiques, including books, furniture, paintings and other decorations. There are items associated with Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor (Mary 1st), Elizabeth I, Charles I and II, Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton (another family relation) and of the house's inhabitants over the centuries. Among other items, a pardon for Richard Walwyn from Elizabeth I is displayed.
On one of the window panes of 'Hetty Walwyn's Room', named for Mehitabel, an 18th century occupant confined there by her mother until her death after a failed elopement, is an inscription attributed to her which reads "It is a part of virtue to abstain from what we love if it will prove our bane". this was scratched into a windowpane with a diamond ring. Local legend states that Walwyn was imprisoned for over thirty years, starting in her 20s, until she eventually committed suicide. Her ghost reputedly still haunts the room.
Another ghost attributed to the house is that of a family priest supposedly killed by Roundheads who were searching the house for its Catholic owner. His ghost is said to walk in a bedroom close to Hetty Walwyn's, that was prepared for the visit of Queen Bloody Mary (Mary Tudor).
The gardens follow Tudor style architecture  and Jacobean patterns, and include a walled knot garden, a yew labyrinth, a Physic Garden, and a 17th century octagonal dovecote . There is also a woodland and pond walk and an old cider mill, used every autumn at Big Apple weekend to make perry and cider. The stables contain the old Derby coach, andwhich contains family coaches, including a Derby coach. The cider mill is used for its original purpose each autumn.
There are also restored 16th century Tythe and Wain Barns, and Georgian Stables now remodelled for residential use. All these buildings are used for a variety of events, and can also be rented for use as a theatre with 150 seats, as a recording venue, or for weddings or conferences for up to 100 participants.
The house continued in the Walwyn family, and when William Noble, High Sheriff of Herefordshire, married into the family he added their name to his own. The house passed to a great-nephew Edward Walwyn, and his descendant Ely married into the Cooke family. Charles Walwyn Radcliffe Cooke (1840-1911) was born at Hellens, supported another local man, Hugh Weston, to develop his cider business, became a distinguished MP, and wrote a memoir, Four Years in Parliament with Hard Labour, which is still amusing today. In 1930 Blanche Walwyn Cooke sold the house to Lady Helena Gleichen, Queen Victoria's great-niece, friend of Axel Munthe, and a cousin to Hilda, Axel's wife, who by strange coincidence was also related to the Walwyns, the Cookes, and to the Whartons. When Helena Gleichen left Hellens, the old house finally passed, " partly by inheritance, partly by device, and partly by purchase" ( as had been said of a previous owner) to Hilda Pennington Mellor Munthe.
Axel and Hilda's son Malcolm was another unsung hero of the Second World War, fighting as part of SOE (Special Operations Executive). his book Sweet is War became a best-seller, and he spent much of his later life restoring the house, and another family property, Southside House in London, to historic showpiece condition. He wrote a history of Hellen's, which, updated and corrected, is on sale in the shop today!
Hellens still serves partly as a family home, but also as a centre for many cultural activities, owned and administered by the Pennington-Mellor-Munthe Charity Trust. ( Chairman: Adam, Malcolm Munthe's son), and working, as does its sister house Southside House, with the local communities. The Trust supports the distinguished Ledbury Poetry Festival (chief Patron, the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy), as well as Hellens May Music where musicians of international reputation come to play, relax, and teach gifted young students. The trust, and the family, support initiatives for vulnerable adolescents with their Back-to-the -Wild programmes, a Forest Schools initiative for local primary and secondary schools, and many other activities, forming a key part of the cultural life of Herefordshire.