Much Marcle is a village in Herefordshire, once under the lordship of Harold Godwinson before his death at Hastings. The local church, St Bartholemews, features an amazing yew tree in it's graveyard. Certified as at least 1500 years old but estimated to be older still, it would have stood as a young tree during Harold's tenure when an Anglo Saxon chapel would have stood there. The yew is so big that various seats have been installed inside it, currently there are a set of wooden benches for visitors to rest on and soak in the cool air within.
A few years ago the tree was trimmed of it's dead wood, this work took a whole week and filled three trucks with debris. Now held up with an assortment of poles and bars the great yew of St Bartholemew will grow long into the next century.
A short walk from the church is the Prior's Walk, a grand driveway that leads to the manor house of Hellen's Hall. This must be one of the very oldest houses still in continual habitation, with walls dating back to the 1200s. The aforementioned Harold Godwinson had his Anglo Saxon style hall on the site but nothing remains of this first dwelling now. Changing from the old “hall” to the Norman style “manor” after the Conquest, William himself granted the manor to his personal standard bearer Walter de Lacy. Over the centuries various occupants have held the manor with the devious Roger Mortimer and his mistress Queen Isabella meeting there with her son the future Edward III to receive the Royal Seal after it was taken from Edward II, victim of their murder plot.
One may wander why the grand front gates are not used, remaining chained and locked with grass all around. The Walwyn family owned the manor during the 1600s, even holding their own Baronial Court inside the hall with a specially constructed gallery for the accused to stand in. They declared for the King during the Civil War and when news of Charles I being surrounded in battle reached Hellens, Fulke Walwyn rode forth through the gates with a retinue of fellow cavaliers, itching to fight for their monarch. Unfortunately the day was lost before Fulke could even unsheath his sabre and, trapped in the chaos of the rout, he was unable to return home, instead hiding out in Hereford. The great gates, slammed shut behind him, have remained like that for the next four centuries.
There are many more strange stories and curious features inside the hall which I will return to when it is open again, for now I was happy to walk around it and through it's beautiful meadow which stretches out for several acres, with a modern stone circle constructed near it's end. Much Marcle has the unfortunate stigma of being the birthplace of the notorious serial killer Fred West, in fact he killed then buried his first wife and his girlfriend who was carrying their child, in a field next to Hellens Hall. To walk though this beautiful and peaceful village in the borderlands of England though, one would never suspect it, and as time goes on the memory of the crimes of this beast will fade.
The giant yew at St Bartholemews
The giant yew at St Bartholemews
Seating inside the giant yew
St Bartholemews Church, Much Marcle
Stone circle in the meadow near Hellens Hall
The gates of Hellens Hall - firmly shut for 400 years since the exit of Fulke Walwyn
Megalith in the meadow