A woman claiming to be the sister of an artist who changed the face of modern film says she fears he may be dead after it was revealed his historic home had become a ‘Marie Celeste’ mansion.
It has been abandoned for almost a decade.
Martine Barnard-Delaroche saw an internet video showing the interior of her brother’s ancient Grade 11 listed home. She says she was devastated to see his belongings, including art works and his vast library of books, rotting away.
And she was ‘heart-broken’ when she spotted treasured family heirlooms overturned and her brothers out-of-date passport on a kitchen table.
Martine said: “I couldn’t believe it at first, but I realised that if he had left everything, even his passport, then he had to have left in a hurry.
“We haven’t spoken for many years but now I fear something awful has happened to him.”
Martine’s brother, Roger Barnard, born in 1951, became one of the prime movers of the burgeoning mid-70s video explosion, rubbing shoulders with the likes of controversial film-maker Roger Corman and video guru David Hall.
And in 1976 he helped found the influential London Video Arts organisation.
Roger, the son of a Battle of Britain survivor, Martine says, and was brought up on the idyllic Sussex coast minutes from the sea.
Things seemed to bode well for him and after university he was exhibiting his work at the Tate, Air Gallery and in Glasgow and other major cities.
But Martine, a translator who lives in Tyneside, claims: “Roger had been involved with one of his tutors whom he eventually married.
“It was the marriage from hell and after having a child together she had an affair with her accountant and dumped Roger, He never saw his daughter again.
“I don’t think he ever recovered and he changed. He started to concentrate on painting, which he was not known for, instead of video.”
But life seemed to improve for the wayward artist when he met and fell in love with Heather Mawhinney, who taught French.
And after Heather apparently got a teaching job in Manchester they bought the crumbling Hough Hall next to an old Victorian school in the historic but increasingly badly neglected suburb of Moston.
The early 17 century hall is listed because of its wood wall panels, its gables and its wattle and daub construction.
The couple had grand plans for it, immersing themselves in the local community and holding open days AT their ancient home.
Heather was a member of the Friends of Boggart Hole Clough, a sprawling park ten minutes walk from the farmhouse in Hough Hall Road, next to a local school.
A report in the Manchester Evening News in 2005 said; “Hough Hall in Moston opened its doors to the public on Saturday, welcoming visitors of all ages to see inside its Tudor interior and grounds for themselves.”
Roger said at the time: “We had lots of lovely comments in the visitors’ book afterwards with one person describing it as a ‘perfect autumn evening’ and another wrote ‘so enjoyable we had to come back’.”
Then something happened. Roger and Heather to all intents and purposes vanished and the hall was abandoned. Later it went up for sale for £200,000 but there appear to have been no takers.
The only real clue is that a few years ago, according to Martine, Roger wrote to a family member saying simply “Heather has demised”.
Martine said: “I am trying to make sense of what an earth is going on. If Roger and Heather sold this hall, surely someone saw them move out? I’m at a loss.”
The house is still filled with clothes, family photographs and paintings. All that appears to have been emptied are filing cabinets.
Movingly, on an old and stained kitchen table there is a poster bearing Roger’s name. The legend appears to say ‘Roger Barnard four different faces and the Box’.
Martine said: “Box was an artistic installation that travelled to major art galleries many years ago throughout the UK when Roger was still into video – I ran some of his exhibitions at the time.
“I’m completely alarmed – is he dead? – did he commit suicide? Has he gone to join Heather? Is he ill? Or does he just not want to be found? I don’t understand why he would abandon all his belongings like that.
“I’ve made several attempts to find him. One of our cousins had exchanged Christmas cards with him for many years but the last card she received just had postcode, no address. She also had a phone number and I’ve tried calling it. But it just rings and no one picks up.”
For years now people have been demanding something should be done to rescue the hall.
It has been a doctors surgery, a lipstick factory, and a sanitary-ware storehouse.
But its long and chequered history seems damned to vanish in the mists of time even though locals have said they would work on repairing historic wreck for free.
When contacted by the consumerwatchfoundation.com, Manchester city council and Historic England – the organisation which is tasked with curate England’s historic buildings – were sympathetic to the calls from locals but said nothing can be done until Roger is found.