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The feature below was added to my website on 27 November 2013, and was last updated in June 2018.

The Tumbledown Cottage
Willersley, Herefordshire

Over the past thirty years, I must have made scores of journeys by road from South Wales to the Midlands and back. My favourite route has always been to follow the A438 from Brecon, crossing the River Wye at Glasbury, crossing the border into Herefordshire at Rhydspence and continuing through the villages of Whitney-on-Wye, Winforton, Willersley, Kinnersley, and Sarnesfield, eventually reaching Birmingham via Leominster, Bromyard and Worcester.
Every time I take this route I’ve been intrigued by the sight of a tumbledown old cottage on the roadside at Willersley, just before the junction between the A438 and the A4111. The dilapidated state of the building always drew my attention, but even more intriguing was that on several occasions, when driving past at dusk or in the evening, I had spotted through one of the windows a bare light bulb suspended from the ceiling. And the light bulb was switched on! How spooky was that! Surely no one could be living there?
Back in March 1997, I stopped the car and took the two photographs shown below.

Old Crow, 1997
Photography by John Ball – March 1997
(Images scanned from colour prints taken with a Sigma SA-300 35mm single lens reflex camera)
Old Crow, 1997

The cottage appears to have been in a similar state of delapidation twelve years later, when I took the two photographs below. However, closer examination shows that the window frames had deteriorated over the intervening years, and some tiles had been lost from the dormer roof.

Old Crow, 2009
Photography by John Ball – 2nd April 2009
(taken with a Nikon D50 digital SLR)
Old Crow, 2009

As time passed by, the cottage became more and more ruinous and eventually a metal barrier was erected around the front of the building, presumably to protect any curious passers by.

Old Crow, 2013
Above: The metal barrier erected along the front of the cottage.
(Photography by John Ball – 12 October 2013)

When I drove past the old cottage in October 2013 while en route to Hereford, I noticed a red car parked down the side of the cottage, suggesting it may still be inhabited. But I was shocked and saddened to see how much the cottage had deteriorated since my earlier visits. Two sections of brick wall and one of the front windows at the west end of the cottage had gone. The stone tiles around the dormer were disappearing fast, and the dormer itself seemed to be about to fall. Its window frame had gone. I pledged that before the cottage collapsed completely I would try to uncover some of its history.

Establishing the name
The first step was to identify the name of the cottage. A large scale Ordnance Survey map published in 1974 provided the answer.1 It named the cottage The Old Crow, located at grid reference: SO3134147426, a short distance away from Old Crow Farm. But why was it named The Old Crow? Had it once been a pub, perhaps?

OS map Old Crow
Above: This Ordnance Survey map, published in 1974, identifies the cottage as The Old Crow.1

The age of the building
An online search revealed that the Old Crow Cottage has been Grade II Listed since October 1967.2 The Heritage Protection entry on the English Heritage website states "This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest" and includes the following description:

House. C17, altered mid-C19. Timber-framed with painted brick infill on rubble base and stone-tiled roof laid in diminishing courses. T-plan; main range of two and a half framed bays aligned roughly north/south with rubble chimney and brick stack on west side. Cross-wing of two framed bays adjoins north end and has an external chimney at its west end. Single storey and attic. Framing: two and three panels from sill to wall-plate with short straight braces in some upper corners. Collar and tie-beam trusses with struts. East front elevation: windows are C19 casements. Main range has a 2-light window and a small hipped-roofed oriel window on the ground floor and a gabled dormer with a 2-light window (one light blocked). Main entrance in half-bay adjoining cross-wing and has a C19 ledged and battened door. Cross-wing gable end has a 2-light ground floor and attic window. Attic lights at south gable end of main range. Lean-to outshut at north end.
[Description dated 16 Oct 1967 and attributed to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (of England)]

The description of the architectural features is interesting, but more relevant is the dating of the building to the seventeenth century.

Early references
A collection of old documents and papers known as the Herrick Manuscripts, covering dates from 1277 to 1932 and held by the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office, includes a bundle containing "Title deeds to a messuage called "The Old Crow" (previously the Queen's Head) and 66a of land in Eardisley and Brewardine, Herefordshire. Purchased by Thomas Perry esq, Wolverhampton from William Palmer in 1843." 3
So The Old Crow had previously been known as the Queen's Head. Clearly the property was an inn or public house even before it was named The Old Crow.

19th Century newspaper references
From the early 19th century until the first detailed census in 1841, we can trace the history of The Old Crow through references in local newspapers, particularly The Hereford Journal, searchable online on the British Newspaper Archive website.4 The narrative which follows is based solely on such references.
Acres, Roods, and Perches5
The traditional British units of land area
1 acre = 4 roods
1 rood = 40 perches.

In a newspaper item from 200 years ago (below left) The Crow Inn was described as an "old-established public house". Its occupant at the time was a Mr James Matthews, and the property included 66 acres 1 rood and 20 perches of "exceedingly good Arable, Meadow, and Pasture Land". It is likely that this 66 acres of land included part of the nearby Old Crow Farm, because two years later, in August 1815 (below right), the Hereford Journal gave notice of the sale by auction of The Old Crow Inn, Fold and Garden, containing 2 roods 5 perches, and the adjoining Crow Meadow (3 roods 5 perches) and Crow Pleck (1 acre 2 roods). This land area amounts to less than three acres of the 66 acres mentioned previously.
The occupant is again identified as Mr Mathews [sic], whose tenancy appears to be soon to expire.

Below: Auction notices in the Hereford Journal dated 23 June 1813 (left) and 30 August 1815 (right).
Hereford Journal 23 Jun 1813Hereford Journal 30 Aug 1815

Notice that in the 1815 sale, a Mr William Palmer of Pencoyd Court near Ross [on Wye] is one of the contacts for applications and further particulars. Could this be the same William Palmer who was named as the vendor in the Herrick Manuscripts when the property changed hands in 1843?

Nearly a decade later, in 1824, the Old Crow was again put up for sale, this time by private contract. Sixty seven acres of land are included, making it unclear whether the sale refers to The Old Crow Inn, Old Crow Farm, or both. As before, details of the sale appeared in the Hereford Journal

Below: Auction notice in the Hereford Journal dated 2 June 1824.
Hereford Journal 2 Jun 1824

On this occasion, too, 67 acres of land are being sold as well as the Old Crow, and the property is occupied by a Mrs Elizabeth Davies. It is again unclear whether the inn or the farm or both are involved. Applications and requests for particulars are to be sent to a Mr Walter Palmer of Pencoyd. Presumably he is a close relative of William Palmer referred to earlier.

Four years later, in 1828, the Hereford Journal reported that the Old Crow (inn, farm or both), including 67 acres of land, was available for letting.

Below: Letting notice in the Hereford Journal dated 23 January 1828.
Hereford Journal 23 Jan 1828

The present occupant is not named, but applications are to be sent to a Mr Palmer of Bollitree near Ross [on Wye]. Is this Walter Palmer or William Palmer?

In 1831, The Old Crow public house, together with almost 67 acres of land, was advertised for sale by private contract.

Below: Notice of sale in the Hereford Journal dated 17 August 1831.
Hereford Journal 17 Aug 1831

The Old Crow was occupied by a Mrs Alice Davies, who may or may not be related to Mrs Elizabeth Davies, the occupant back in 1824.
Below: Notice of sale in the Hereford Journal dated 5 May 1841.
Hereford Journal 5 May 1841

A decade later, in 1841, the Hereford Journal advertised the sale by auction of The Old Crow public house, complete with outbuildings, garden and orchard comprising about threequarters of an acre. The sale also includes (separately) a freehold cottage and garden, which seems to have adjoined the public house. It appears that the building we see now, in the 21st century, once comprised two residences: a public house and a cottage.

According to the notice (right), The Old Crow was occupied by a "—— Phillpots", whom we can identify from the 1841 census taken the following month (see next section).
19th Century census references
It is possible to build up a picture of the occupancy of The Old Crow from 1841 onwards, decade by decade, using census returns. The following narrative is based largely on census data, but with occasional newspaper references where relevant.

1841 Census
1841 Census for Willersley
Parish of Eardisley
[Ref: HO107/423 Folio 20 Page 13]

The census record shows that a Thomas Philpots [sic] and his family were resident in Willersley on the night of 30 June 1841.
Thomas's occupation was "Inn Keeper", the only innkeeper in Willersley. Combined with information from the Hereford Journal a few weeks earlier the census confirms that Thomas Philpotts was landlord of The Old Crow Inn.
Thomas was about 55 years old and his wife Catherine about ten years younger. Seven children (three sons and four daughters) are recorded on the census, with ages varying from 20 down to two years. Every member of the family is shown as being born in Herefordshire.

1851 Census for Willersley, Parish of Eardisley7 [Ref: HO107/2492 Folio 20 Page 17]
1851 Census

The 1851 census records provide more detail than the previous census. Thomas Phillpots [sic] and his family are still there, but they have renamed their home the "Traveller's Rest".
Thomas (now 66) describes himself as a "Horse Keeper" while his wife Catherine (55) is a "Cider Shop Keeper". It appears The Old Crow Inn has metamorphosed into a cider shop! Thomas and Catherine Phillpotts have only three of their children still at home: 18-year-old William, described as an invalid; 14-year-old Elizabeth, and Jane, aged 12.
The 1851 census also gives more precise birthplaces: Thomas was born at Almeley, Catherine at Brilley, and the children at Eardisley
Just down the road, on the next page of the census, a John Powell, victualler, is running a previously unmentioned pub, named The New Crow! Subsequent censuses show no sign of the New Crow, so the business must have been a transitory one.

Hereford Times 29 Oct 1853

Two years after the census, tragedy struck the Philpotts family with the death of their eldest son Thomas, aged 33, on 22 October 1853. Seven days later, the death was announced in the Hereford Times, but unfortunately the Old Crow was wrongly named the "Crown Inn"!8

Hereford Journal 10 Oct 1860 However, the Philpotts also enjoyed happy moments. On 13 February 1855, their daughter Emma married in Hereford to George Williams, carpenter and joiner. The marriage was reported in the Hereford Journal the following day.8

Hereford Journal 10 Oct 1860 But on 24 September 1860, six months before the next census, Thomas Philpotts himself died, aged 78, at home in Willersley. The Hereford Journal reported his death and described Thomas as "universally respected".8

1861 Census for Willersley, Parish of Eardisley9 [Ref: RG9/4227 Folio 31 Page 25]
1861 Census

The 1861 census shows Thomas's 66-year-old widow Catherine Philpotts, "Public House Keeper", running the business. The property is not identified by name in this census.
Catherine has four children living with her: William (26), described as a Horse Keeper, Elizabeth (23), Jane (22), and her married daughter Emma Williams (36). Catherine also has two young grandchildren living there.
The same 1861 Census page shows another public house in Willersley, "The Wharf House", run by a 55-year-old widow Sarah Lloyd.10 Was this formerly known as The New Crow?

Hereford Times 3 Aug 1861

Unlike the 1851 census, the 1861 census makes no mention of William Phillpotts being an invalid. Perhaps the item (right) from The Hereford Times in August 1861 explains why!10 W. Philpot of Willersley [surely this is 'our' William Philpotts] writes a testimonial explaining why he wholeheartedly recommends Professor Barrett's remarkable herbal medicine and ointment, which apparently effected a cure of his chronically ulcerated leg. W. Philpot describes the ulcer as "a large running wound—as large as the top of a tea cup—which discharged a half pint of matter daily".

Right: Hereford Times, Saturday 3 August 1861

1871 Census for Willersley, Parish of Eardisley11 [Ref: RG10/2720 Folio 46 Page 22]
1871 Census

The 1871 census shows the Phillpotts household headed by William, aged 37, single, and described as a "Beerhouse Keeper". His mother must have died in the ten years leading up to this census. William was accompanied by a housekeeper, his 15-year-old niece Lucy Phillpotts. The property is not identified by name in this census, suggesting that whether it was an inn or a cottage, it may no longer have been known as The Old Crow.
The household enumerated next to William Philpotts was that of John Powell and his wife Sarah. This is the same John Powell who, twenty years earlier, had been running the New Crow. But in 1871 he describes himself as a butcher.
There is no sign of The Wharf House in this census.

1881 Census for Willersley, Parish of Eardisley12 [Ref: RG11/2608 Folio 27 Page 22]
1881 Census

The trail of The Old Crow Inn runs cold with the 1881 census. Old Crow Farm is identified (see above), but not the Old Crow Inn. Moreover, there appear to be no public houses, inns, beerhouses, or even cider shops in Willersley in 1881. One assumes The Old Crow was either being used solely as a residence or it was uninhabited.
John Powell, butcher, and his wife Sarah are still present in Willersley, enumerated next to a Davies household headed by Alfred Davies, a "machinist" from London. It is possible they were the occupants of the Old Crow (cottage). But for the first time in at least forty years, there were no Phillpotts in Willersley.

1891, 1901 & 1911 Censuses for Willersley, Parish of Eardisley13, 14, 15
[Refs: RG12/2075 Folio 20 Page 13; RG13/2497 Folio 17 Page 3; RG14/15832 Schedule 84]

The 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses fail to name The Old Crow Inn or Old Crow Cottage, so it is not possible to identify the property with any certainty in these censuses. Nor are any public houses identifiable. The 1901 census refers to Willersley Cottage, and the 1911 to The Cottage, Willersley. It is possible that this is the property previously known as The Old Crow. If so, its heads of household in these two censuses were: in 1901 Sarah Powell (widow of the butcher, John Powell); in 1911 Elizabeth Llewellyn (80-year-old widow).
John Powell (butcher) and his wife Sarah were living in an unnamed property in Willersley in 1891. This may or may not be the property later identified as Willersley Cottage.

Occupancy of The Old Crow in later years
To maintain the privacy of living individuals, many records from 1913 onwards are not yet accessible to the public, making it more difficult to trace the occupancy of The Old Crow over the past 100 years. However, searching the internet for recent references is always worth a try. Indeed, while hunting for mentions of the Old Crow cottage on the internet, the following recent postings on photography forums came to light:

  • In 2009, a forum member reported that two brothers lived at the cottage, both well into their seventies.16 One lived in the cottage itself, the other in an old caravan in the orchard behind the property.
  • Two years later, a member of another forum, intending to take some shots of the cottage, was confronted by a man described as quite smart, middle aged and wearing a jacket and tie.17 He said he was fed up with people nosing about and taking pictures of his home. He, or at least his car, was still there when I drove past the cottage in early October 2013.
  • In response, a fellow forum member wrote: "Of all the times I stopped there I never saw signs of life except for the cats. I would love to meet the owner because I am intrigued by the history and how this place got into the state of delapidation it is in." 18

The identities of these occupants of the Old Crow remained a mystery until the end of November 2013 when I was contacted by a second cousin of the brothers who had lived there.19 The relative was prompted to contact me following her discovery of my Blog on the "Tumbledown Cottage", which I'd posted online in October 2013.
Apparently, the three brothers were known locally as the "Penny Boys", Penny being their surname. They had all lived together at the Old Crow, none of them ever marrying. After the first brother (Philip) died, one of the surviving brothers (David) lived in the cottage, while the other (John) lived in a caravan in the orchard at the back of the cottage.

Tragedy strikes Old Crow Cottage
On Tuesday, 22nd October 2013, just ten days after my last visit to Old Crow Cottage, a serious road traffic accident occurred outside the cottage. The incident was reported in the Hereford Times:20

Hereford Times 4:15pm Tuesday 22nd October 2013

Emergency services called to the A438
near Crowe Farm

by Paul Rogers

A car and a lorry have been involved in a crash at Willersley. Emergency services, including an air ambulance, were called to the A438, near Crowe Farm, just after 2.55pm. One person ended up being trapped in their vehicle and is being treated by paramedics. The road, which is near the A4111 junction, has been closed by police.
and later the same day... 21
Hereford Times 8:29pm Tuesday 22nd October 2013

Willersley crash update – man confirmed dead at the scene

A man has died after his car was in collision with a lorry on the A438 at Willersley.
Two ambulance crews, a BASICS emergency doctor from MARS (Mercia Accident Rescue Service), a paramedic area support officer and the Midlands Air Ambulance were all called just after 2.55pm. The driver of the car was freed from his vehicle and there were prolonged attempts to revive him. But he was confirmed dead at the scene by paramedics. The lorry driver was uninjured. The road is still reportedly closed.
Three days later a report appeared in the Western Daily Press... 22
Western Daily Press Friday, October 25, 2013

Man, 72, dies in lorry crash at Willersley in Herefordshire

A 72-year-old man died in Herefordshire in a collision with a lorry driven by Bristol trucker.
West Mercia Police are appealing for witnesses to the crash on the A438 at Willersley, at about 3pm on Tuesday. A red Citroen Saxo was in collision with a lorry. The Saxo driver, a 72-year-old local man, died at the scene. He has not yet been named. The lorry driver, a 54-year-old man from Bristol area, was not injured. The road was closed until just after 8.30pm to enable the vehicles to be removed, and investigation work to take place.
PC Ian Crichard of West Mercia Police said: "As with all fatal and serious injury road traffic collisions, an inquiry is underway to establish exactly what happened. As part of that inquiry, we have spoken to a number of witnesses but would be keen to hear from anyone else who has not already given their details to police, including anyone who saw either vehicle prior to the collision."
Anyone with information is asked to contact PC Crichard on the non-emergency number 101 quoting incident 295-s-221013.
Finally, a death notice in the Hereford Times revealed the identity of the victim of the tragic accident... 23
Hereford Times 31 October 2013

Deaths: David Edward Penny

PENNY David Edward, of Willersley. Tragically died on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013, aged 72 years. The Funeral will take place at St Mary Magdalene Church, Eardisley at 2 p.m., on Wednesday, November 6th, followed by Interment. The cremated remains of David's brothers Phillip and John will also be interred. Family flowers only, but donations, if desired, please, to the charity 'Cats Protection'. Funeral arrangements by Oak Tree Funeral Services of the Cemetery Chapel, Kington and 6 Castle Close, Eardisley. Tel: 01544 327829.

Who were the Penny Boys?
The last remaining occupant of Old Crow Cottage was David Edward Penny, victim of the fatal accident described above. David had previously shared occupancy of Old Crow Cottage with his brothers Phillip and John. David was the gentleman described in 2011 by a photography forum member as "quite smart, middle aged and wearing a jacket and tie". In fact, rather than middle aged, he would have been about 70 in 2011.
A search of the General Register Office (GRO) Births Index revealed the registration of the birth of a David E Penny in the Kington Registration District (volume 6a, page 1541) in the first quarter of 1941.24 Willersley is in Kington Registration District. If this is the birth entry of David Penny of Old Crow Cottage, the index shows his mother's maiden name was Jenkins.
According to the GRO Marriage Index, a Thomas J. Penny married a Hannah Jenkins in the second quarter of 1927 in the Hay Registration District (volume 11b page 165).25 Hay, on the Herefordshire-Breconshire border, is only five miles from Willersley.
Moreover, the 1911 census (see below) shows Thomas Joseph Penny then aged 16 to have been the son of Reuben Josephus Penny (of Winforton) and his wife Sarah Ann.26 In 1911 this Penny family was living at 'Woodseaves', Winforton (Woods Eaves is about 1½ miles northwest of Willersley).

Reubens Penny, 1911 Census

There is an entry for Reuben's marriage in the index to "England Marriages 1538-1973" on the website, according to which he married Sarah Ann Price at Rowlstone, Herefordshire on 31 August 1886.27 Rowl(e)stone is a parish and small village about 13 miles southwest of the City of Hereford.

Great Grandfather Penny
The 1911 census records another Penny family in the Winforton area: Reuben Penny's sister Susan Fanny and brother Arthur Edwin, both unmarried, are running the post office in Winforton.28 Joseph and Ann PennyLiving with them is their father Joseph Penny, aged 85, Joseph Pennywidower, born at Old Radnor. Earlier censuses confirm these relationships.
Additionally, the 1901, 1891, 1881 and 1871 censuses show that Joseph had been sub-postmaster at Winforton for nearly forty years.29, 30, 31, 32
In July 2014 I received a message from Jan Penney, a descendant of the Penny family of Winforton and a distant cousin of the "Penny boys". She sent me a photograph of two of the Penny Boys, plus several marvellous old photos of their great grandfather Joseph Penny, including two shots taken in 1899 on the occasion of Joseph's golden wedding anniversary. The portrait of Joseph (left) was taken in 1915 when he was 90 years old, while the photo of Joseph and his wife Ann (right) was taken in 1899. The family group below, also taken in 1899, shows their children and some of their spouses, plus four grandchildren. Most of these individuals are identified in the caption under the photograph.

Penny family group, 1899
Back row: Arthur Edwin (b. 1862); Agnes Ann (b. 1851); Alfred Abel (b. 1852); Frances Jessie (b. 1857); Joseph Wilfred (b. 1871)
Middle: Elsie Woodward; Ernest Allan (b. 1874); Susan Fanny (b. 1869); Reuben Josephus (b. 1854); Alma Louisa (b. 1863); Frank Ellis (b. 1865)
Front: Mary (Penny) Woodward (b. 1856); (unnamed child); Joseph (b. 1825); Ann (Evans) Penny (b. 1826); Nellie (Frank's wife); Nellie (child)
Front (on ground): Two of Reuben's children: Frances (left) and Tom right), father of the Penny Boys

Aaron Penney Joseph Penney had a younger brother Aaron (1825-1905) also born in Old Radnor. In 1867, Aaron (shown right) emigrated to New Zealand and was in the hospitality trade, owning several hotels over his lifetime in Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand. Interestingly, there were two Penny families in Blenheim in the early days; the Bookshop Penny's and the hotel Penney's, neither of which were related. It is thought that Aaron may have added the extra E permanently to distinguish his family from the bookshop family.
In January 2015, Jenny Pierson in New Zealand wrote:

When I heard that the cottage was up for auction I had a very vague hope that information or a photo of Aaron's second wife (Marion Stackpoole)—who is a bit of a mystery—would be uncovered. Alfred Abell Penny, who died at Old Crow Cottage in 1922, was in touch with his New Zealand cousins (Aaron's children) and just possibly there were letters or photos from New Zealand still in the house. However, it's more likely anything like they would have gone with his widow, Agnes Anne Penny (née Penny) when she moved to Winforton (died there in 1928).33
Old Post Office, Winforton

Left: Winforton post office building still exists (Grid Reference SO 29792 46969) and is Grade II listed,34 but it is no longer a post office. It has been renamed Penny's, probably in tribute to and memory of its former occupants.

Probate Calendar The Probate Calendar record (right) shows that when Joseph Penny died (aged 94) on 20 March 1920, he left £260 to his son Arthur Edwin and his unmarried daughter Frances Jessie.35
Joseph's grandson Thomas Joseph Penny, father of the Penny Boys, died aged 88 in 1983.36 His death record gives his birthdate as 9 May 1894, which is consistent with his age (16) recorded on the 1911 census.

These are most promising discoveries. We have been able to identify not only the father of the "Penny Boys" of Old Crow Cottage (Thomas Joseph Penny), but also their paternal grandfather (Reuben Penny), their great grandfather (Joseph Penny) and his brother Aaron who went to New Zealand. 

A Penny for my Thoughts! (this section added May 2017)
Frank Penny
Frank Leslie Penney, 1899-1975
(photographed in 1953)
Since undertaking this research into the Penny family, at the back of my mind has been the realisation that my own BALL family had a link with a member of a PENN[E]Y family: surely there couldn't be any connection between my family and those who inhabited the Old Crow! In 1953 my father's sister Alice Victoria BALL, then a fifty-three year old spinster, married one Frank Leslie PENNEY (shown right), widower, born in Birmingham in 1899, whom my brother and I knew as "Uncle Frank". I'd never properly researched Uncle Frank's ancestry, and the thought had never entered my head that there might be a connection with the PENN[E]Y family of Radnorshire and Herefordshire.
But I was wrong! In 2015, I decided to investigate Uncle Frank's ancestry and it soon became clear that Frank Leslie PENNEY was indeed a descendant of the same line as the Penny Boys of the Old Crow!
Frank Leslie PENNY (b. 1899, Birmingham) was the son of Joseph William PENNY (b. 1865, Handsworth, Staffs), the grandson of Emmanuel PENNY (b. 1837, Kington, Herefordshire), and the great grandson of Joseph PENNY (b. 1796, Stanner. Herefordshire). Furthermore, Emmanuel PENNY was a younger brother of the Joseph PENNY (b. 1825), long-serving subpostmaster at Winforton, from whom the Penny Boys were descended.
Uncle Frank's great grandfather was the Penny Boys' great great grandfather! Of course I am not a blood relative of the Penn(e)y family – but this new-found connection between me and The Old Crow is truly an amazing coincidence.

The Penny Boys in recent years
We now know a great deal about the ancestry of the Penny Boys, but what about their own lives? Jan Penney, a descendant of the Winforton Penny family, visited the Old Crow in the 1980s and sent me the following account:

I have done a lot of family history research over the years and when I was researching the Penny/Penney family in the 1980s, I visited the area a couple of times and called at the Old Crow while Phillip and John were living there. David was living in Hereford at the time and I never met him. Phillip and John didn't let me into the cottage but brought out a couple of framed photos for me to see. One was a large portrait of my great-grandfather Joseph, with a big white beard. They kindly sent me a copy of it later. At the time, one brother lived in the cottage and the other in the caravan.
I've been looking through my Penny file and noticed that Alfred Abel Penny was at the Old Crow when he died in June 1922. He was Reuben's brother-in-law and first cousin - his mother was Martha, one of Joseph's sisters, and he married his cousin, Agnes Ann Penny.

Jan Penney took the photo (below) of John and Phillip Penny when she visited in the 1980s. Between them is the framed old photograph of their great grandfather Joseph Penny.

Penny Boys, 1980s
Above: Philip (left) and John Penny in the garden at the back of the Old Crow. [Photography by Jan Penney, 1980s]

From New Zealand, Joy Parker, a cousin of Jenny Pierson, has relayed the following information:

I visited Old Crow Cottage in 1991 and had a photo taken of me with Philip and John Penny. In my photo, Philip is on the left and John on the right, and in Jan Penney’s photo (above) it is also Philip on the left and John on the right. I recall they were both very short men and although they did not invite me into the cottage, they brought out the large framed photo of Joseph for me to see, which they obviously did with Jan as well. It appears they were aware, even back in 1991, that the state of the interior of the cottage would not be appreciated by everyone.37

Martin Gilleland, another visitor to my website, recently sent me the following memory of David Penny:

Working for the Royal Mail I used to deliver mail to [the Old Crow] on the Winforton delivery, after taking the mail from Hereford to Kington sorting office first thing in the morning. I always wondered that if I had to knock the front door the roof would collapse! I also remember the cats sunning themselves in the front window [see below].
I would pass Mr Penny on his bicycle, immaculately turned out with cycle clips pedalling towards Eardisley, where he would visit the Strand for a drink and watch the horse racing. He even had battery lights on his bike and must have cycled back home sometimes in the dark. His death was very tragic for someone still active for his age. When delivering his mail I would pull across the main road to outside his cottage and then return to the opposite side of the road. This was always a tricky manoeuvre, as the cottage was on a blind bend with fast traffic travelling towards the road junction with the A4111.
Cats 2007
Above: Cats sunning themselves in a window of the Old Crow. [Photography by Martin Gilleland, 2007]

The Fate of the Old Crow – August 2014
When David Penny died in October 2013, he willed his home to a friend. In July 2014, the new owner put the property on the market, to be sold by public auction on 11 September 2014 by McCartneys of Hay-on-Wye. For further details, see the website of Let us hope that whoever purchases the cottage will have the resources and the imagination and sensitivity to restore it sympathetically for us all to enjoy for many years to come.
The Auction: a happy outcome – 15 September 2014
A large crowd gathered at the New Strand Inn, Eardisley, last Thursday evening (11 Sep) for the auction of The Old Crow. The property was eventually sold (for £160,000) to a local developer who intends to restore the cottage. I look forward to seeing work begin on The Old Crow in the coming weeks and months, and hope to provide photographic evidence of the restoration as it progresses.
The Old Crow: progress report – 23 October 2014
I visited The Old Crow yesterday (22 October) on the first anniversary of the death of David Penney, its last occupant. I was hoping to see that work had begun on the restoration of the cottage. I was disappointed.
As my photograph below illustrates, there is no evidence of any recent activity on the site and the old building continues to decay.

Old Crow, 22 Oct 2014
Below: The Old Crow on 22 October 2014. [Photography by John Ball]

The Old Crow: progress report – 1 February 2015
I visited The Old Crow again on 30 December. My photographs below show little evidence of any restoration work, but the land around the cottage seemed to have received some attention: it certainly looked tidier than on my last visit.
I will continue to make regular visits to The Old Crow and report any developments.

Old Crow, 30 Dec 2014
Above: The Old Crow on 30 December 2014. [Photography by John Ball]

The Old Crow: progress report – 16 March 2015
On 7th March I received news about The Old Crow from Carol Close. Carol, who regularly travels between Brecon and Bewdley, reported that work started on the cottage in the past month or so. Three days later she took some photos of the current state of the cottage, one of which I have reproduced below. Her photo clearly shows that work has begun on the roof. Other photos show that some of the vegetation has been cleared from the land around the cottage and excavations are in progress, possibly for drainage and the construction of footings for an extension behind the cottage.

Below: The Old Crow on 11 March 2015. [Photograph by kind permission of Carol Close]
Old Crow, 11 Mar 2015

The Old Crow: progress report – 5 July 2015
When I drove past the Old Crow en route to Hereford in early June it appeared that all the roof tiles had been removed, at least on that part of the roof visible from the road.
Today I discovered that a planning application relating to restoration of the Old Crow was submitted to Herefordshire Planning Department two months ago and is currently in its consultation phase.
The deadline for receipt of comments and objections is next Tuesday (7th July 2015).
The planning application can be accessed via Herefordshire Council's Planning Application Search webpage. There are actually five applications available (numbers 151398, 151399, 151400, 151401, and 151402) each one relating to a different aspect of the development of the land and its buildings. Application 151402 relates to the cottage itself.
Planning proposals include architect's drawings of the existing cottage and the proposed restoration/conversion as well as various site plans. Also available are copies of objections and comments received from interested parties. In particular a conservation consultant (on behalf of Herefordshire Council) and the Ancient Monuments Society, express concern about the lack of detail provided by the developer in support of the application.
I strongly urge you to study these (PDF format) documents for yourselves by following the link given above and entering 151401 in the search box.

The Old Crow: progress report – 26 April 2016
James Ewins has provided the following update:
I currently pass this building a couple of times a week and I can now confirm that it's undergoing extensive renovation with significant building work taking place. You can now see in to some of the house due to walls being removed for rebuilding, and the large outbuilding next to it is also being renovated.

The Old Crow: progress report and photographs – 25 May 2016
On 21 May 2016, the current owner of the Old Crow, Andy Prosser, kindly provided me with a report on the work being undertaken on restoring the cottage:

  • We are underpinning the whole house as it was very unstable.
  • A specialist contractor is removing, copying and replacing all rotten timbers.
  • We have saved and cleaned all original roof tiles ready for retiling.
  • We are retaining all the old features such as the oven.
Mr Prosser says he is determined to restore the cottage to its former glory. He aims to complete the project for summer 2017, says it is a long process that needs to be done with care.

The present state of the project is illustrated in the following photographs, taken by John Ball on 23 May 2016.

Old Crow
Above: The Old Crow – general view. Compare this with the 1997 photograph at the top of the webpage.

Below: Eastern corner of the building, showing exposed timbers on the gable front (left), and the northeastern wall (right) sitting on a rubble base and now supported by three steel tube buttresses.
Old Crow
Old Crow
Above and below: Upper floor showing the exposed timber beams at the front. Their fragile condition is shown in the two photographs below
Old CrowOld Crow
Although not shown in the photographs, work is also progressing at the adjacent barn, a few metres west of the cottage.

The Old Crow: progress report and photographs – 23 May 2018
I drove past the Old Crow yesterday en route from Hereford to Brecon, and took the opportunity to record the current appearance of the building and briefly assess the state of restoration:

  • The building is now partly hidden from the roadway by a wooden fence.
  • The property has been re-roofed using the original tiles.
  • The walls have been restored and appear to be awaiting application of the final finish.
The present state of the project is illustrated in the photograph below, taken by John Ball on 22 May 2018.

Old Crow
Above: The Old Crow – general view.
Work appears to have been completed on the adjacent barn, a few metres west of the cottage (not shown in photograph).


  • To Deborah Taylor-Lang, for providing the vital connection between the Penny Boys and the Old Crow.
  • To Joy Parker of New Zealand, for clarifying the identity of the Penny brothers, and providing a physical description of them.
  • To Jan Penney, for providing extra details and allowing me to use her superb old photos of the Penny family.
  • To Jenny Pierson (née Penney) of New Zealand, for correcting the date of a photo of Joseph Penny, and allowing me to use her wonderful old photo of Joseph's brother Aaron Penny.
  • To Tracy Beaumont and Marjorie Beaumont (a first cousin of the Penny Boys), for identifying Reuben's daughter Frances in the group photo taken in 1899.
  • To Martin Gilleland, for sharing his memories of the Old Crow and for offering the photo of cats in the cottage window.
  • McCartneys, estate agents of Hay-on-Wye, who informed me in August 2014 of the impending sale of the Old Crow and who provided me with details of the outcome of the auction.
  • To Carol Close for providing an update on and photographs of restoration work on the Old Crow in March 2015.
  • To James Ewins for providing an update on restoration work on the Old Crow in April 2016.
  • To Andy Prosser, current owner of the Old Crow, for sending me a detailed progress report in May 2016.


  1. Ordnance Survey: 1:2500-scale map published 1974/75, viewed on Old-Maps website (accessed October 2013).
  2. Heritage Protection List (entry number 1082501) on the English Heritage website (accessed October 2013)
  3. The Herrick Manuscripts [DG 9/1779] described on The National Archives' Access to Archives (A2A) database (accessed October 2013)
  4. Various extracts from the Hereford Journal and Hereford Times, viewed on the British Newspaper Archive subscription website (accessed October/November 2013)
  5. Darton, Mike & Clark, John (1994) The Dent Dictionary of Measurement, J. M. Dent, London. ISBN 0460 861379
  6. British 1841 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: HO107/423 Folio 20 Page 13. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  7. British 1851 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: HO107/2492 Folio 20 Page 17. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  8. Marriage and death notices from the Hereford Journal and Hereford Times, viewed on the British Newspaper Archive subscription website (accessed October/November 2013)
  9. British 1861 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: RG9/4227 Folio 31 Page 25. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  10. Advertisement from the Hereford Times, viewed on the British Newspaper Archive subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  11. British 1871 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: RG10/2720 Folio 46 Page 22. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  12. British 1881 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: RG11/2608 Folio 27 Page 22. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  13. British 1891 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: RG12/2075 Folio 20 Page 13. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  14. British 1901 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: RG13/2497 Folio 17 Page 3. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  15. British 1911 Census, Willersley, Herefordshire: RG14/15832 Schedule 84. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  16. Comment by Fine Stone Miniatures dated 23 May 2009 on Flickr photo-gallery website (accessed November 2013)
  17. Comment by pillywig dated 28 April 2013 on Ugly Hedgehog photography forum (accessed November 2013)
  18. Comment by fizzog dated 29 April 2013 on Ugly Hedgehog photography forum (accessed November 2013)
  19. Personal correspondence by email from Deborah Taylor-Lang, dated 25 November 2013
  20. Local News report (by Paul Rogers) in online version of The Hereford Times dated 22 October 2013 at 4:15 pm (accessed November 2013)
  21. Local News report (unattributed) in online version of The Hereford Times dated 22 October 2013 at 8:29 pm (accessed November 2013)
  22. News report (unattributed) in online version of the Western Daily Press dated 25 October 2013 (accessed November 2013)
  23. Death announcement in online version of The Hereford Times dated 31 October 2013 (accessed November 2013)
  24. Penny, David Edward, General Register Office birth index entry, March Quarter 1941, Kington Registration District (Volume 6a, Page 1541), viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  25. Penny, Thomas J, to Jenkins, Hannah, General Register Office marriage index entry, June Quarter 1927, Hay Registration District (Volume 11b, Page 165), viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  26. British 1911 Census, Winforton, Herefordshire: RG14/15831 Schedule 48. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  27. Penny, Rewben [sic] Josephus, to Price, Sarah Ann, at Rowlstone, Herefordshire, on 31 August 1886: England Marriages 1538-1973 index entry available on website (accessed December 2013)
  28. British 1911 Census, Winforton, Herefordshire: RG14/15831 Schedule 112. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  29. British 1901 Census, Eardisley, Herefordshire: RG13/2497 Folio 18 Page 6. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  30. British 1891 Census, Eardisley, Herefordshire: RG12/2075 Folio 19 Page 11. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  31. British 1881 Census, Llanfihangel Cwmdu, Breconshire: RG11/5462 Folio 30 Page 2. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  32. British 1871 Census, Winforton, Herefordshire: RG10/2720 Folio 68 Page 3. Viewed on subscription website (accessed November 2013)
  33. Personal correspondence by email from Jenny Pierson, dated 12-15 January 2015
  34. British Listed Buildings: Pennys, Willersley and Winforton (English Heritage Building ID 150684) on the British Listed Buildings website (accessed November 2013)
  35. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966. Viewed on subscription website (accessed December 2013)
  36. Penny, Thomas Joseph, General Register Office death index entry, March Quarter 1983, Kington Registration District (Volume 29, Page 0631), viewed on subscription website (accessed December 2013)
  37. Personal correspondence from Joy Parker relayed by email from Jenny Pierson, dated 15 January 2015

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