It has since been a hotel, a conference centre, and, in the Seventies, a fashionable retreat for rock stars making albums, among them Led Zeppelin, Abba and Queen - the locals recall Freddie Mercury draped across the village war memorial. But nothing has absorbed them quite like the saga of the current owner, the teenage boy from Nepal he has taken into his community, and Home Office moves to have the boy deported.
The extraordinary meeting between Richard Morley and Jayaram Khadka has already been recalled in several newspapers and in a BBC documentary. As Morley himself tells it, in 1984 he was in Nepal, trekking through the Himalayas, when he fell ill with a collapsed lung. He was found by local people, including a village policeman called Basu Khadka, who ran across country for three days to raise help. Morley was eventually airlifted to safety and, once recovered, made a pact with the man who had saved his life: to look after his young son in the event of his death.
Four years later, the policeman did indeed die, of a suspected heart condition, and, in 1990, Morley returned to Nepal and spent a month tracking down the son, Jayaram. He was living in a mountain village and working in a stone mine. He didn't, it appears, speak a word of English. Morley brought him to England, where they lived at first in a seafront flat in Margate, Kent. When, in 1994, Morley bought Clearwell Castle, they moved there, together with a small group of male friends. Morley called the boy "Jay" and personally educated him in Dickens and Homer, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Having no children, he finally made him his heir. And happily ever after they would have lived had not the British government intervened.
The problem was that Jayaram had entered Britain on a visitor's visa. The immigration authorities would not extend the visa, concerned that the boy's age had been given incorrectly as 18 on his passport when he left Nepal; in fact, he was far younger - more like 14. It is difficult to say for sure since there is no birth certificate. Morley maintains that the boy's relatives told him that he was older in order to send him out to work.
Morley was told that, legally, the only way Jayaram, who is now 19, could stay in this country was to obtain the recommendation "indefinite leave to remain". He failed in an appeal on compassionate grounds. The Home Office moved to deport the boy - which is when Morley began courting the press in order to gain support. Now Jayaram will be sent back to Nepal unless they win a final hearing before an Immigration Appeal Tribunal which will take place in the next few days. But, even if the tribunal decides he should stay, the Home Office is not obliged by law to abide by the recommendation. Then, Morley insists, he will leave with Jayaram and they will become "nomadic travellers of the world".
Outwardly, this all appeared to be a rather heroic tale of honour and paternal devotion. But last month, a BBC documentary in the Here and Now series chose to cast doubt on the exact nature of the relationship between Khadka and Morley, and the other men living at Clearwell Castle. Morley has said he is conducting an experiment in communal living. But Sue Lawley, who presented the documentary, questioned some of his facts. Among other puzzling things, she revealed that, though Morley had said he was a widower, there was no record of his marriage to a "a woman named Susan". The documentary also claims he admitted to sexual relationships with people of both sexes. In fact, he says that he and other members of the family or commune do have girlfriends. These women "are being integrated into our life at the moment."
It was with these thoughts in mind that I walked up the long gravel path to the castle entrance and rapped loudly on the door, which was opened by a blond man in his mid-twenties. This, it turned out, was Dominic Heffner, Morley's press secretary and a member of "the family".
Despite the December weather, the entrance hall was not heated, and its yellow paintwork was peeling. A large oak table stood in its centre, a huge, open fireplace remained unlit. It must all have been grand once; now there was an air of shabby decay. But the living room, though smaller, was warmed by electric fires. There were two videotapes on the television, one about the life of Jesus, the other a guide to trading in the City.
Morley does not look like the millionaire described in the papers, or the fit mountain climber of old photographs. He wore nondescript trousers and a woolly sweater, his hair is sparse, and he was suffering from a bad cough. He appeared frail, a lot older than his 42 years.
He came straight to the point. He is aware that his unusual lifestyle has led to whispers that he is homosexual, and that he is not a father to Jayaram but his lover. "I am not gay or bisexual," he flatly declared. "That is something people have never understood. I have a girlfriend from the village who I have known for a year-and-a-half. Some of the others who live here have girlfriends, too. And I am certainly not a child molester. My relationship with Jay is one of father and son. It is entirely wholesome." His marriage, he said, had been a common law relationship. But had he ever had homosexual sex? "In your language, yes, in my language, no."
His journey from a middle-class Essex home to the ownership of Clearwell Castle is a remarkable account, mixing a passionate quest for knowledge and the "meaning of life" with a strong dash of conspiracy theory. Morley was born in Ilford in 1953, the son of a British father and German mother, whose nationality, he says, caused him many problems in the playground. His parents' marriage was unhappy, but he was extremely close to his mother, "a charismatic person, who would dominate a room".
After leaving school, he joined the Navy as an officer cadet at Dartmouth, rising to the rank of lieutenant by the age of 22 and becoming an expert in survival training. But he hated the class divisions which he says bedevilled the Navy and was thus considered a maverick. He insisted on allowing the crew to call him by his Christian name when off-duty. Eventually, in 1976, he quit - partly, he says, because he had injured his back skiing, but chiefly for political reasons. "There were a number of events which influenced my decision," he confided, "but I cannot tell you what they were because they are covered by the Official Secrets Act. All I can say is that there were some appalling things going on in the Navy."
Along the way, he says, he had acquired a fiancee, but when he enrolled at Birmingham University to study politics and history, she broke off their engagement. "She said she wanted to marry an officer, not a student." None the less, he bought a terraced house in Birmingham - in Bigwood Drive, Bartley Green - for less than pounds 10,000. To make ends meet, he took in two male lodgers.
It was here that his ideas about alternative living first evolved.
"We set up a home where everything was equal, food was communal and bills divided between us. We lived as a family. As one person left, another would join. There were women there, too. It was a very happy little house.
"When I was in the Navy and I proposed to my fiancee, I remember sitting on the toilet afterwards, thinking 'there, it's done!'. My whole life flashed before me. Marriage, kids, house, car, grandchildren, death. Like a train scheduled to stop at every station - Bristol, Bath, Paddington. But communal life was like the Orient Express, destined for unknown, exotic places."
After finishing his degree at Birmingham, he went on to do post-graduate studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge and became heavily involved with the debating society and acting. But by 1981 he was again disillusioned. A year later, he left, rejecting academic life as "structured careerism". But by 1983 he had met what he describes as "a soulmate", an engineering student at Birmingham named Jeremy Skene, who had been renting out his house. Together, they developed their concept of a communal family and pledged each other "total trust, honour and loyalty". They called their experiment The Bigwood Project and set about finding other like- minded souls who would commit for life.
Fort several years thereafter, Morley's career path was erratic, marked by long periods of unemployment and a series of temporary jobs, from tour guide in America to driving trucks and working as a site manager for a building development. He also continued acting and set up his own theatre company. It wasn't until the early Nineties, when he and Skene, with several other "family" members, set up a computer consultancy, that he found any financial stability. Inevitably, they called their company "Grand Bois". It was under this corporate name that they have run the affairs of the castle. Until recently, it has functioned as a 50-bedroom hotel, employing 30 people, many of them locals. Jayaram was urged to take cookery courses at night school, and he acted as chef. Now, Morley explains, the hotel part of the business has been suspended while the family concentrate their energies on fighting the deportation.
By some synchronicity, it was at this point in Morley's account that Jayaram himself emerged from the kitchen, proffering two bowls of freshly- made tomato soup. I wasn't quite prepared for how poised and good-looking he really is, or how well he had learned to speak English. Because of the immigration problem, he hadn't had a conventional education. Dominic, Morley's PA, taught him English, and he was instructed in science by Martin Jones, another family member and a biochemist who met Morley in Manchester when he was running a theatre group. Morley then sent him off to sports centres and on National Trust outings, "to allow him to mix with his peers".
Jayaram is clearly devoted to Morley, always referring to him as father. By contrast, he doesn't, like Morley, see his own father as a hero. He told me how he drank and gambled and had several families. He did not live with the boy's mother.
Basu Khadka died on 1 December, 1988: Jayaram's most vivid memory from his days in Nepal is of him and his brothers watching the funeral pyre. As a very young boy, he says he worked both as a goatherd and miner, and then, abandoned by his relatives, as a kitchen hand in the town of Bhaktapur. He met Morley when the latter was on a second expedition to Nepal, this time with Jeremy Skene. Morley was looking for Basu, and was shocked to learn that he had died and the village where the family lived had been destroyed by a road scheme. He asked for information at numerous villages, and eventually, he recalls, he walked into a restaurant in Bhaktapur and asked for a cup of tea. "The boy looked at me strangely and said, in stilted English, 'Are you the man who has come to take me away?'" He had recognised Morley from a photograph his father had given him.
Morley then tried to give Jayaram money, which he apparently refused, before setting off for Indonesia, promising to return in two months. When he did arrive back in Nepal, he discovered that his mother had died in England. Since he couldn't get a flight back until after the funeral, he decided to stay and help Jayaram. "It was a debt to the living rather than the dead," he says.
Before flying back to England, the pair went through a strange ceremony. "I made a promise that I would always have regard for him and consider him as one of my family, never to abuse or exploit him," says Morley. "He promised he would never cheat or lie. Then we cut our fingers, pressed them on paper, and linked them together."
It sounds almost like a love story, I said. Morley paused to measure his reply. "Love is a fair word for it," he said eventually, "but it is love in the fullest sense, a universal thing, irrespective of gender or race. It was not falling in love, and I would hate people to believe that it was."
Jayaram smiled as Morley spoke."After we made the promises in Nepal," he said, "I realised my father cared for me. He got me ointment for my cracked feet, and I was less frightened of him and understood more what was happening." He said he was never homesick for Nepal, never missed his blood relations; and, when I asked him about having to leave Clearwell Castle, he visibly choked back tears.
Beneath the poise, he has an unusually sensitive, childlike air. When he showed me his bedroom in the castle, I noticed a baby's cot jammed full of teddy bears. He rummaged through these cuddlies, hunting for his favourite - a tiny, cloth bear, worn by hugs, and announced: "This is Pocket Ted."
Khadka is not the only young man living at the castle. Morley has also taken in Ben Smith, a 17-year-old local lad, with dreadlocks and a faraway manner. His parents don't mind, apparently. "They were on the punk scene," he says vaguely. He explains that he is taking a year off from college to study at the castle.
Morley's theories of education stem from drama as a method of learning. The family write their own plays, then act them out. They have recently adapted Brideshead Revisited as a way of exploring friendship and the class system. When he arrived, Jayaram was urged to watch a film about Marco Polo. "The message was the importance of trade," Morley explains. "Dramas like Excalibur are ideal for discussion. 'What is the Holy Grail?' Now there's a starting point. When you live in a community as rich as this, you don't need to go outside for entertainment. The pub comes to you."
Even when silent, Morley has the ability to dominate a room. "We all consider Richard to be the head of the family," says Martin Jones, who is a manager for a finance company. But Morley's Big Ideas don't seem that new. He thinks nuclear families will disappear because there is no in-built arbitration, whereas in a communal situation there is always a third party to act as mediator. "This is better than marriage guidance because the arbitrator lives on site."
He also believes that children miss out on a proper family environment when both parents work. In communal life, only some members have to take jobs, so that the others provide childcare and back-up for the family. There are few rules.
Everyone is expected when possible to attend the evening meal, and they should all say goodnight to each other. "It's a way of clearing up issues of the day," says Morley.
"It's all based on mutual respect and conscience," explains Jones.
"Last week, Jeremy had had a very tough week with work, yet he still went out on Saturday and started clearing the leaves. I didn't particularly want to go outside, but how could I watch Jeremy doing all the hard work? I went out to join him and, because there were two of us, it became fun."
But Morley is far less forthcoming about who earns what for the communal pot. All he will say is that when, over the years, some of the older family members, such as Jeremy Skene and Martin Jones, have been out of work, then they have all muddled through. A legal contract, he says, was drawn up in 1989 which sets down that, if a member should leave the family, then they leave with nothing other than what the other family members choose to give them. But he will not show me the agreement because it is "too personal and confidential". Nor will he reveal what they paid for the castle; but he says that, if they resell, he will ask for more than pounds 1 million.
He has a special theory about why the Home Office want to send Jayaram back to Nepal. He thinks the Government may be punishing him because he knows secrets about the Navy's conduct during the Falklands War. He claims to have been told by a naval friend that log-books stolen from HMS Conqueror proved that it fired upon the Argentinian Belgrano as the Belgrano was retreating from the battle scene in May 1982.
He did nothing with this explosive information until he took part in a debate at the Cambridge Union later in 1982. There were no immediate fireworks, but two years later, when Michael Heseltine announced the log books were missing, Morley says he was visited by high-ranking Admiralty officials. He claims that he was threatened and told to go and see the director of naval security at the Admiralty.
It was at this point that he turned to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who was pressing the government about the affair. He says Dalyell telephoned him at home and told him: "Your life is in great danger. I know through my contacts that there is an operation to settle you."
It is tempting to dismiss all this as a gigantic fantasy out of a spy novel, were it not for the fact that Dalyell now confirms making that telephone call. He told me that "I did think this was the case at the time. He gave me information which was wholly accurate. He was completely kosher, and I thought very well of him. I was worried his identity could have been revealed. I thought it was a risk even to be in touch."
By coincidence, Dalyell left Britain last Sunday with other MPs on a visit to Nepal. He has now added his support to Richard Morley's campaign to stop Khadka being deported.
Whether there was really a threat to Morley's life cannot be proved. What is certain is that, in describing an unusual number of bizarre adventures, he makes people sceptical. By comparison, the Home Office's objection to Khadka's deportation appears humdrum: the boy entered the country with a false age on his passport. Morley's line, that he didn't realise Jayaram's real age until he had taken him home and given him a bath, just adds to the air of unreality that surrounds him.
But he does have his supporters. Recently, he held a public meeting in Clearwell's village hall to highlight Jayaram's plight. Forty people turned up, among them the vicar, the Rev David Addison, who chaired the meeting. "Jay should stay," he says. "His case must be judged on humanitarian grounds and on its individual merits. I would perhaps have misgivings about the choice of words 'father' and 'son', because people may put a dodgy perception on it, but I do think the relationship is perfectly straightforward. I don't think there's anything unhealthy there. Perhaps Richard Morley has been a bit naive, thinking he could come to a still relatively insular community like Clearwell, live an unusual lifestyle, and not have a few problems with a few of the locals. But he has said people can go and have a look round at the castle, which makes him more open than some of his predecessors as owners."
But another resident, 68-year-old Ron Martin, who has lived in Clearwell all his life, speaks for those who are less sure."When I first met that Mr Morley," he sniffed, "he told me his name was Mr Staines. Then I found out it was Morley. I asked him why the change of name. He said it was 'cause MI5 or MI6 was after him or something. It all sounded like a lot of Enid Blyton nonsense to me. There's something funny going on up there."Reuse content