AN author who became fascinated by a couple who lived at a north-east stately home has written a book about them.

Mark Whyman, from Richmond, North Yorkshire, plans to publish the first of two volumes about the Pennymans, of Ormesby Hall, near Middlesbrough, by Christmas.

It charts the biographies of Colonel James Pennyman and his wife, Ruth, the last inhabitants of the hall, which now belongs to the National Trust.

Mr Whyman first heard about the couple, who promoted social welfare and the arts in East Cleveland, in 1980 when working as a volunteer guide at Ormesby Hall.

Volume One of his book covers the period from Col Pennyman's birth in 1883 to 1944, including his war service with the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Green Howards.

Col Pennyman farmed at Tanton, near Stokesley, until his first wife died in childbirth. Two years later, he was introduced to Ruth Knight and, within three days, they were engaged.

"Col Pennyman was right wing, chairman of South Bank Conservative Association, a magistrate and a pillar of the establishment," said Mr Whyman.

"Ruth was the opposite; she described herself as a communist, although she was never a member of the party."

Mrs Pennyman's concern for unemployed miners in East Cleveland in 1931 led to the couple setting up allotments for them. Students helped dig the ground and one, a music student called Michael Tippett - later an internationally renowned composer - staged The Beggar's Opera at the hall, igniting the couple's interest in the arts.

Tippett, who died in 1998, also wrote an opera, Robin Hood, which was performed at the miners' hall in Boosbeck, near Middlesbrough.

My Whyman's book will be available at Ormesby Hall, the Green Howards Regimental Museum in Richmond and local book shops. The second volume will complete the story to the deaths of Col Pennyman in 1961 and his wife in 1983.