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The Tumbledown Cottage
|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.
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.
|Below: Auction notices in the Hereford Journal dated 23 June 1813 (left) and 30 August 1815 (right).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
There is an entry for Reuben's marriage in the index to "England Marriages 1538-1973" on the FamilySearch.org 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 Living with them is their father Joseph Penny, aged 85, widower, 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.
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
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.
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 Leslie Penney, 1899-1975
(photographed in 1953)
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.
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.
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 RightMove.co.uk. 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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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