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A trip to Hellens

There is a very interesting old house about 15 minutes from me, which dates back in part to the Norman Conquest, though much of the remaining fabric of the building dates from when one of the owners in the Tudor period married into money and was able to afford to do it up.

Hellens Manor

Unusually for such a historic house, it’s been in the same family for the last 800 years or so. It’s now owned by a Family Trust, presumably to avoid issues with inheritance tax etc. The family don’t technically live there any more, at least not full-time, but they still have an apartment there, and the house is still very much used. It’s nothing like a sterile National Trust property, primped and preened to be at its best. Hellens is delightfully shabby, clearly has serious damp problems, and is stuffed full of family portraits and photos. There were fresh towels in the bedrooms at the foot of the four-poster beds, I caught sight of an ironing board in a service corridor, and the toilets for public use are clearly in the house laundry – there was a load of washing still in the tumble drier!

There is a team of needlewomen from NADFAS (national association of decorative and fine arts, I think) who are very gradually renovating and replacing some of the textiles in the house. There is a pair of crewel-work curtains in the drawing room that they completed a few years ago after over 4000 hours of sewing, and they’ve recently made a set of chair covers for the dining room.

I like to visit Hellens every few years to see how they’re getting on with the renovation and the garden – it really puts my issues with maintaining my cottage into perspective! The opening hours are quite restricted, and you can only visit as part of a guided tour. The story you get varies according to which of the guides is giving it, and what bits of the history have most captured their imagination. They all though cover the story of the unfortunate daughter of the house who eloped with the stable boy, and on her return was locked in her bedroom for the next thirty years!

Since it was a Bank Holiday today, I was off work, and Hellens was open in the afternoon. The sun came out, and I decided to pay a visit. It was well worth making the effort. It’s as shabby and interesting as I remembered from my previous visits, and the NADFAS needlework really was exquisite.