Hellens Manor, Hellens House or simply Hellens is one of the oldest dwellings in England, and a living monument to much of England’s history. It remains a living home, and not a museum, although it contains a wealth of period furnishings, artifacts, paintings and decorations.
It is primarily composed of Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian architecture, but the foundations date from the 12th century with traces of even deeper history. Hellens’ story connects through its residents with many key events in England’s history:
Earl Harold Godwinson, later King Harold II, Hellens’ first recorded owner
The de Balun family who witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta
Isolde Mortimer, whose brother Roger Mortimer ordered the murder of the defeated King Edward II and the delivery of the Great Seal of England to Isabella of France and the future King Edward III at Hellens
James Audley, hero of the Froissart Chronicles and boon companion to Edward the Black Prince
Richard Walwyn who prepared the bed chamber at Hellens for a visit from Queen Mary Tudor
The monk, killed by Roundheads during the Civil War who were searching the house for its Catholic owner.
Hetty Walwyn, imprisoned by her mother after a failed elopement.
Charles Walwyn Radcliffe Cooke, known as the MP for Cider, he encouraged Hugh Weston to develop his cider business.
Helena Gleichan, painter and great-niece of Queen Victoria, who stored paintings from the Tate Gallery in the Stone Hall at Hellens during the second world war.
Axel Munthe, author of The Story of San Michele, an autobiographical account of his life and work as physician and psychiatrist.
THE ARTS SOCIETY (NADFAS)
For the past twenty years, a group of NADFAS heritage volunteers (now The Arts Society), have generously donated their time and expertise to help conserve the historic fabrics and hangings in Hellens. On close inspection so many of the textiles in the house have been carefully stitched to prolong their life. Alongside conservation tasks, the group have also undertaken two original design projects: the music room curtains and a set of 10 dining rooms chair covers.
In 2011 NADFAS completed a pair of beautiful, hand-embroidered Crewel worked curtains to replace the existing threadbare brocades in the Music Room. Their design is based upon a traditional tree of life pattern, incorporating crests and imagery from within Hellens walls. Each member of the group created their own signature motif all of which have been cleverly woven into the design –look for dragonflies, bumblebees, hedgehogs and butterflies to mention just a few! The curtains took over 4741 hours to complete. In the spring of 2017, the group completed a set of needlepoint seat covers for the chairs in the White Dining Room, inspired by the Tudor panelling of the room and a 17th century herbal found in Hetty’s room.
More recent projects include the conservation of an 18th century folding screen, due to be completed by the 2019 season, as well as an ambitious ‘Hellens Bayeux’ crewelwork frieze. The nine and a half metre long embroidery will illustrate the evolution of this ancient house through the ages and when completed will hang in the atmospheric minstrels gallery (definitely worth a return visit in 2021!)