The original Cheney court dated from the 15th century, and up until the mid 1800s was called China Court, the house being enlarged in around 1870 and then tragically lost forever when it burnt down in 1888, although the private chapel still remains.
Legend has it that at one time there were two strange rooms in the house – Heaven and Hell. Heaven being adorned with paintings and panels of Sybils and boasting a ceiling full of cherubims. Hell was merely a closet of incredible depth, supposedly used when the house was a monastery in medieval times.
It was bought by a Mr. John Jones in the mid 1800s and he quickly sold it on to James Moilliet of Abberley Hall in Worcestershire, who then considerably improved and updated the house – he being from a family of great wealth and owner of many properties. On James’ death in 1878, Cheney Court was inherited by his son, also James. He decided to rent the house out and it was taken on by Alfred John Monson, although James did stipulate that one room had to be set aside for storage of some of his valuables, including pictures and a library of books.
Alfred John Monson
Alfred Monson rented Cheney Court over a two year period in 1887 and 1888. He was a good horseman and loved hunting, keeping several horses for the purpose, as well as a pack of Harriers.
Mr. Monson started a private school for civil and military instruction, and it grew to quite a size; he employed a nurse, cook, housemaid and scullery maid, as well as a butler, a page boy and some gardeners. The pupils, mostly with wealthy parents, stayed at the house and paid for their tuition and keep, for the oldest the fee was around £200 a year – their ages ranging from 12 to 25. They were well fed and looked after, and at least one boy kept his hunter in the stables.
His wife was young and sweet natured, and became very friendly with one of the older pupils, with her husband giving permission for them to go walking or driving alone together. I am not sure whether anything should be read into this!
People gossiped that the household expenses etc. must surely be at least two thousand pounds per year, a huge sum at the time, and it seems that Monson began to run into difficulties.
The Fires at Cheney Court
Soon after all this, Monson took out insurance policies, and within an indecently short time a hayrick burned down but of course the loss was covered. The next fire was not long in coming, this time in the butler’s pantry, which was thought to have started with the accidental lighting of paraffin, but this time it was discovered and put out before too much damage was done.
The next fire was potentially horrible; at the beginning of July 1887 the beautiful stables set right next to the house were seen to be alight – villagers sent for the neighbouring fire brigades whilst throwing water on the flames with whatever receptacles they could find. Then came the awful realisation that the horses were still in the stables and the door was locked. Mr. Monson seemed to have forgotten this until the villagers yelled at him to set the horses free, but he merely mumbled something that couldn’t be heard amidst the general clamour and did nothing.
In despair, the villagers grabbed axes and other implements and proceeded to bash down the doors so that the terrified horses could be released – the stables were totally destroyed. Take note – Mr. Monson had insured the horses and the building for quite a large sum.
Early in the morning of 27th July 1888, some men who were walking to work saw flames shooting from the roof of Cheney Court; at the time, only the butler was in the house and as he was asleep in a back room he didn’t at first hear the shouts of alarm outside. Eventually stones thrown at his window woke him up, and he managed to scramble to safety whilst messengers were organised to ride for the Ledbury and Bromyard Fire Brigades, but by the time they arrived much of the building had been engulfed and all the firemen could do was try to prevent the fire spreading to the servants quarters.
Cheney Court was destroyed but it was “lucky” that the fire happened when it did, as only two days before the Monsons and servants were in residence. Monson had instructed the servants to leave the house just one day before the fire, and also on that day Mrs. Monson went to London. Later that day, Mr. Monson was taken to Ledbury Station by the butler who then returned to the Court – walking around the house he saw nothing awry and went to bed.
The fire was put down to an overheating incubator in the library, and virtually nothing of the contents could be saved, including Mr. Molliet’s valuable belongings. Rumours abounded that the fire was set deliberately, but nobody could prove it conclusively. Mr. Monson had of course insured his furniture for a hefty £2000 and Mr. Molliet had insured the house for £4000, and his valuables stored in the one room were also well insured.
Alfred Monson’s Debts begin to spiral
Mr. Monson had a reputation for not paying his bills, although his servants were always paid on time, but he did try to settle some debts when the pupils’ fees became due. However Ledbury and Bromyard tradesmen began to refuse to send him goods unless he sent money with the order, and the County Court bailiff served many processes on him.
The vicar, and the father of one of the pupils acted as security for him for a large sum of money, but eventually the vicar had no choice but to make Monson bankrupt, after which Monson and his wife moved away. Occasionally he returned to Bishops Frome and stayed with the vicar, and on one of these times the local butcher called on him to ask for £90 which was owed him for meat. Monson said that he had not yet received the insurance money from the fire and so couldn’t pay, but it has to be said that as soon as he did get an instalment from the insurance company he immediately sent some money to the butcher. The rest of the debt was paid in full later on. Actually, Monson did pay off several debts once he received all the insurance money.
He left Herefordshire for good, and tried but failed to start a stud in Leicestershire, to supply horses for hunts. He then disappeared off the radar until the Ardlamont case.
After his acquittal (see below) it seems that Monson delved into the seedy world of money lending, and was eventually imprisoned for five years in 1898 for his part in insurance fraud.
On his release, Monson went to South Africa, where he again attempted to set up a stud farm using a different name, and this is the last that we know of him.
The Ardlamont Mystery
A murder case known as the Ardlamont Mystery involved Mr. Cecil Hambrough, the victim and pupil of Mr. Monson, one time tenant of Cheney Court, the possible murderer.
There is a great deal about this case out there on the internet if anyone wishes to look further, but basically despite evidence which appeared to nail Monson, he was given a “not proven” verdict at the trial.
1851 China Court (Cheney Court) Household
|William Harrington||50||Farmer employing several labourers||b. Yarpole, Herefordshire|
|Sarah Harrington||45||Wife||b. Mathon, Worcestershire|
|William Harrington||20||Son||b. Pencombe, Herefordshire|
|Edward Harrington||18||Won||b. Pencombe, Herefordshire|
|Hannah George||20||House Servant||b. Stoke Lacy, Herefordshire|
|James Hyde||30||Agricultural Labourer||b. Bosbury, Herefordshire|
|James Bowcutt||20||Agricultural Labourer||b. Docklow, Herefordshire|
|John Baynam||18||Agricultural Labourer||b. Tarrington, Herefordshire|
|Mary Watten||23||Visitor, Glover||b. Cradley, Herefordshire|
1871 Cheney Court Household
|James Moilliet||65||Magistrate and landowner||b. West Bromwich, Staffordshire|
|Rosalie Moilliet||16||Daughter||b. Gloucestershire|
|Ellen Moilliet||14||Daughter||b. Staffordshire|
|Littleton Powys||30||Visitor, Captain 59 Regiment||b. Dorset|
|Thomas Cale||42||Butler||b. Hereford|
|Edwin Millington||23||Coachman||b. Redditch, Worcestershire|
|Fanny Rommery||30||General Servant||b. Worcestershire|
|Mary Wattis||42||Cook||b. Worcestershire|
|Ann Loveridge||16||General Servant||b. Ledbury, Herefordshire|
|Bessy Coley||24||General Servant||b. Bosbury, Herefordshire|
1881 – Cheney Court Household
|Philip Perkins||29||Butler||b. Worcestershire|
|Roseanna Perkins||29||Wife, Cook||b. Worcestershire|
|Phillip Perkins||7||Son||b. Worcestershire|
|William Perkins||5||Son||b. Shropshire|
|Sarah Beard||40||Housemaid||b. Worcestershire|