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 few weeks ago, 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 an old Catholic monk.
Also, at this time, a body was secretly 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.
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?
|Dr Axel Munthe|
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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|Laden with fruit - an apple tree in Hellens' grounds|