Tucked away in a quiet little village in the Forest of Dean, a short distance west of the meandering River Severn, a typical Saxon 'open hall' would have been home to the first Lords of Dene. At a later date, the hall would have been converted to a Norman hall, comprising first floor and undercroft.
Prior to these early buildings being erected, there is good reason to assume that a Roman settlement had first occupied the site at Littledean, with several fragments of Roman masonry being found in the surviving part of the Saxon dwelling. In the early 1980s, the remains of a Roman temple were discovered in the grounds, which further substantiates Roman occupation on the site. Over a three year period, the area was subsequently excavated before it was opened to the public.
Following three centuries of development, the Norman hall gradually evolved into a substantial medieval manor house. In 1612, this structure was replaced with a Jacobean house. Until the end of the 19th century Littledean Hall had remained in the Pyrke family, with each generation carrying out extensive alterations, and the present day house is largely a reflection of that period. At the time of our visit most of the decor and furniture dated from the 17th and 18th centuries, with much memorabilia relating to the Civil War.
According to legend, Littledean Hall was no stranger to death, having witnessed several murders throughout its time. Gruesome marks of one particular incident at the time of the Civil War used to survive in the dining room, where a fearsome swordfight erupted between the King's garrison and a troop of Roundheads. It was the bloodstains from the fallen, including Colonel Congreve and Captain Wigmore, that provided the physical evidence of this event.
Perhaps more tragically, because the circumstances were emotionally charged, two of the Pyrke brothers shot each other across the dining table as they declared their love for the same woman. There is also a very sad story about Charles Pyrke and his black manservant, who were depicted in the drawing room. Growing up almost as brothers, Charles met a violent death at the hands of his West Indian servant. It is understood this incident followed the death of the black baby borne by the servant's sister, and reputedly fathered by Charles.
Acclaimed to be one of the oldest inhabited houses in Britain, as well as the most haunted, Littledean Hall sadly is no longer open to the public. However, we were fortunate enough to have made our visit in 2000 and were fascinated to discover the centuries of history concealed within its rather austere and daunting exterior. Detailed architectural evidence shows how the property was transformed from a Saxon Hall to a 17th century formal country house.
Fortunately, the site of the Roman temple remains accessible to the public, lying some 40 yards from the Hall's main gate. Guided tours of the grounds can also be arranged with the owners - full details can be found on their website.