In June last year we had a fabulous holiday in Powys, where we stayed in a cottage, not too far from the Herefordshire border. In fact it was so good we went back in September! During our first trip we made the most of our National Trust membership and visited many of the places within a reasonable travelling distance. One absolute gem was the Cwmmau Farmhouse. It’s actually one of the properties that the National Trust use for holiday accommodation, but it’s open to the public for one week a year. Luckily we were in the right place at the right time. I’d picked up a leaflet advertising its opening but it didn’t have much information about what we would be seeing.
So we set off on a lovely sunny day (to be fair every day was sunny that fortnight) to visit Cwmmau, not really knowing what to expect.
The farmhouse is situated in the village of Brilley, off the main road between Kington and Hay on Wye. Thankfully it’s signposted as it’s a pretty tortuous route at times with twisty, narrow lanes just what my OH loves (not). When we arrived I could immediately see that Cwmmau was not the small traditional farmhouse I’d envisaged in my head. While it later became a farm, it was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 1620’s, with suitably proportioned rooms to cater for the guests. Architecturally it was a typical 17th century timber-framed, black and white square-panelled building, typical of many still seen in Herefordshire.
The story for me got interesting when we reached the 20th century. In July 1918, William Curzon Herrick, auctioned off the whole of his estate, including Cwmmau, having borrowed too heavily on it. His estate comprised over 3,000 acres of land and 14 farms – which included the entire village of Eardisley (incidentally can highly recommend The Tram Inn at Eardisley for an excellent evening meal). Cwmmau was bought by Gideon Spearman, a local timber merchant. He wasn’t interested in the farming potential, but the mature standing timber that came with the property. Thanks to the war, this was in short supply and Spearman followed the money. Cwmmau was basically used as a warehouse and allowed to fall into ruin. Worse still, Spearman stripped the property of its existing internal fittings and sold off the oak panelling, the staircase and the oak front door, all of which is believed to have gone to America.
In 1934, the now derelict property was bought by a knight in shining armour, one George Menges, a Lloyds underwriter. He, along with his wife, Ianthe and her sister Phyllis Jerrold, undertook the extensive and painstaking restoration of the property. His dedication was such he even sourced old glass to replace the front windows. My interest in the family, was further piqued when I encountered the wall hanging on the main landing.
The hanging entitled ‘Sumer is I cumen in’ was made by Phyllis in 1928. More of her work is found in the Porch Room, where, she drew the mural that was gradually completed by the Menges family from 1935 to 1961. It is drawn with wax crayon directly onto the plaster work with George, Ianthe and others coloring in the borders. It is believed that some of the ‘others’ may well have included the children that were evacuated to Cwmmau during the war.
The Front Bedroom contains a beautifully embroidered bed cover, also by Phyllis. This was a wedding anniversary gift to George and Ianthe, depicting the flowers of Spring, Summer and Autumn on the panels, with an equally sumptious arrangement in the centre. It is rumoured that this central panel was actually woven from flax grown at Cwmmau.
By now I was thoroughly intrigued by Phyllis and I was determined to discover more when I got home. I anticipated that I might find a little information about Phyllis but little did I know what a fascinating family the Jerrold’s would turn out to be. But before that I’ll give you the amazing view that George and Ianthe enjoyed living at Cwmmau.
The Jerrold Family
Phyllis and Ianthe along with Daphne, Hebe and Althea were the five daughters born to Walter Jerrold and is wife Clara. A son, Oliver had died in infancy.
Walter Jerrold hailed from Liverpool, but spent most of his life in London. While he started work as a clerk in a newspaper counting house he went on to become deputy editor of The Observer. In addition he edited classic texts for the newly founded Everyman’s Library; wrote travel books for Blackie and Son’s ‘Beautiful England‘ series; edited children’s books, and, using the name Walter Copeland produced stories for children. His wife Clara, writing under the name Clare Jerrold, was also an author and her work included a three-volume set on the life of Queen Victoria. Little wonder then, that their children should go on to be creative. Phyllis and her twin sister Daphne, both attended the Slade School of Fine Art. They continued to paint and both become book illustrators. Hebe was also a book illustrator and poet, and Althea, the youngest was a writer and poet, if somewhat overshadowed by her elder siblings, particularly Ianthe.
Ianthe was born in 1898, she was the eldest of the Jerrold sisters and published her first book of verse at aged fifteen. Entitled XVI poems it was privately printed by Jessamine Press in 1913. This was the start of her writing career which would result in a substantial body of work.
In 1929 she published The Studio Crime a classic whodunit crime novel. It was hailed by J. B. Priestley as “The best out of a new batch of detective stories.” It’s publication brought her to the attention of the recently formed Detection Club. Also referred to as the London Detection Club, it was founded by Anthony Berkeley in 1928 along with several leading detective novelists including Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie, its first chair was GK Chesterton. Studio Crime resulted in Ianthe’s acceptance to the club in 1930. A place secured with the publication of Dead Man’s Quarry in the same year.
These two titles, along with Let Him Lie (1940) and There May be Danger (1948) were classic Golden Age crime mysteries, but Ianthe wrote in a variety of genres ranging from romantic fiction to psychological thrillers. Her last published book was My Twin and I in 1966. Ianthe Jerrold died in 1977, twelve years after her husband George.
- XVI Poems (1913)
- Young Richard Mast. A Study of Temperament (1923)
- Hangingstone Farm (1924)
- Uncle Sabine (1925)
- Midsummer Night and other poems (1927)
- Studio Crime (1929)
- Dead Man’s Quarry (1930)
- Summers Day (1933)
- Seaside Comedy (1934)
- The Dogs do Bark (1936)
- Life Begins Early (1937)
- Rainbow in the Morning (1938)
- Let Him Lie 1940
- The Stones Await Us (1945)
- Love in London (1947)
- There May be Danger (1948)
- Coming of Age (1950)
- Transit of Saturn (1952)
- Love and the Dark Crystal (1955)
- Narrow Bed etc (1957)
- My Angel (1960)
- My Twin and I (1966)
A number of Ianthe’s books have been republished by Dean Street Press, a publisher devoted to producing, uncovering, and revitalizing good books. They have an extensive catalogue of Golden Age Crime fiction.
Currently available via Amazon (click on image for non affiliated buying link)
Description “He is dead. It is quite impossible that he should have killed himself. He has been murdered. About half an hour ago. By a long knife passed under the left shoulder-blade into the heart.”On a fog-bound London night, a soirée is taking place in the studio of artist Laurence Newtree. The guests include an eminent psychiatrist, a wealthy philanthropist and an observant young friend of Newtree’s, John Christmas. Before the evening is over, Newtree’s neighbour is found stabbed to death in what appears to be an impossible crime. But a mysterious man in a fez has been spotted in the fog asking for highly unlikely directions…The resourceful John Christmas takes on the case, unofficially, leading to an ingenious solution no one could have expected, least of all Inspector Hembrow of Scotland Yard.
Description “the murderer was also riding a bicycle… why, if we can trace it, we shall have the murderer!” On a cycling holiday in the idyllic Wales-Herefordshire border countryside, Nora and her friends make a gruesome discovery – the body of their missing comrade at the bottom of a quarry. But an apparently accidental fall turns out to have been murder – for the man was shot in the head.Fortunately John Christmas, last seen in The Studio Crime (1929), is on hand with his redoubtable forensic assistant, Sydenham Rampson. Between them they shed light on an intricate pattern of crimes… and uncover a most formidable foe.
Murder begins with the death of a kitten…
Artist Jeanie Halliday is thrilled to move into a country cottage of her own, next door to the home of her dear childhood friend Agnes. But the countryside idyll isn’t quite what she might have expected: Agnes is suddenly and unaccountably unfriendly for one thing; and then the neighbours are a little peculiar – old Mr Fone, obsessed with burial mounds; the scandalous Hugh Barchard; and an estranged mother taken to brandishing pistols around.
Soon after the feline victim is found, a shot is heard – the corpse of Robert Molyneux, Agnes’s husband, is discovered with a bullet in his brain. Was Molyneux a meddler in sacred places, a secret lothario… or simply a man who knew too much? And how does the unfortunate cat fit in? It will fall to Jeanie to assist the local police superintendent and fit the pieces of a baffling mystery.
Amid the danger of World War Two’s London, Kate Mayhew is returning from another hopeless round of the theatrical agents. She is about to take a job in munitions when a poster about a missing child prompts her to help the war effort in a very different way. Obsessed with finding out what has happened to young Sidney Brentwood, Kate journeys to rural Wales where the boy was last seen.
Aided by land-girl Aminta and the dashing young archaeologist Colin Kemp, Kate stumbles upon clandestine activities unknown to the War Office. The mystery of Sidney’s disappearance is the key to a plot that may vitally endanger the security of Great Britain itself. Kate must both solve the conundrum, and act before it’s too late.
Anyone interested in Golden Age mysteries might want to take a look at The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards, the current president of the Detection Club.
The main aim of detective stories is to entertain, but the best cast a light on human behaviour, and display both literary ambition and accomplishment. Even unpretentious detective stories, written for unashamedly commercial reasons, can give us clues to the past, and give us insight into a long-vanished world that, for all its imperfections, continues to fascinate. This book, written by award-winning crime writer and president of the Detection Club, Martin Edwards, serves as a companion to the British Library’s internationally acclaimed series of Crime Classics. Long-forgotten stories republished in the series have won a devoted new readership, with several titles entering the bestseller charts and sales outstripping those of highly acclaimed contemporary thrillers.
So who knew, when we decided to visit a ‘little’ old farmhouse, how interesting it would actually turn out to be. If only I’d realised it would turn into a blog feature I might have taken more photographs of the interior and exterior, but as it was, it was Phyllis that originally caught my eye.