The kids and I recently had a day out at the stunning Woodchester Mansion. The Grade I listed house was built in a Victorian Gothic style, and is situated in a secluded, wooded valley, known as Woodchester Park.
This fascinating house was never finished, so offers visitors the opportunity to see how a house of this period was constructed. The Mansion was abandoned by its builders in the middle of construction. Tools were left on the floor, ladders are still propped up against the walls where they were last used, leaving behind a building that appears complete from the outside, but that is missing floors and even whole rooms on the inside; leaving doorways and fireplaces suspended in mid air. It has remained in this state since the mid-1870s.
Woodchester Mansion is situated near Nympsfield, Gloucestershire in the UK. The Park is under the management of the National Trust, and the Mansion itself has been owned by Stroud District Council since 1988, who set up the Woodchester Mansion Trust to protect this unique building – there are no plans to further complete the building, but rather preserve it as it is, through an on-site masonry and traditional building skills training programme. It seems likely that building work stopped due to lack of funds, but as there is no documented evidence for this, mystery and stories surround this beautiful house. It is reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain, and has featured on numerous ghost hunting television programmes, consequently the mansion is regularly booked for paranormal investigator events, which I imagine is a useful revenue stream.
The Mansion is situated about a mile from the car-park, down a track, and you do really feel the sense of isolation by the time you reach the house. I have visited the park a few times before, but this is the first time I have bought the kids to look around the house; the first thing my daughter said to me when she saw it was ‘you didn’t tell us it was a haunted house!’, so it clearly does have that look about it!
There is no doubt that true craftsmen worked at Woodchester Mansion. Wherever you look, the stonework is exquisite, and it is fascinating to see aspects such as the top of the vaulted ceilings exposed, where normally they’d be hidden. We loved the vaulted cellar (it didn’t feel creepy to us), and the beautiful staircases. For those of you who like ghost stories, the 3 photos above are all areas where ghosts are reported to have been sighted.
The Bathroom is particularly impressive. The bath is carved out of a single block of Cotswold stone, which would have been filled by the two stone gargoyle heads, and the room also contains what has been suggested to be one of the earliest examples of a shower cubicle in British architecture. Apparently cold water would have flowed through the larger gargoyle’s mouth shown in the photo while a chain would have come out of the other, allowing you to control it.
Woodchester Mansion is home to colonies of both Greater and Lesser Horseshoe Bats, both listed as endangered species, as well as to others. The Mansion website suggests that the bats have been in residence since at least the 1950s, in fact, it may be far longer. A few years ago I nursed an old couple from the area, who used to tell me stories about the house. The gentleman told me that as a lad he and his friends used to walk from Minchinhampton to the Mansion, climb up to the roof, collect bats, pop them into their pockets, and then walk back home. Once home they would mark the bats and release them. The following day they would go back and see if their bats had returned – the gentleman who told me this said that they always had! This would have been in about 1910-15. Nowadays, of course, we understand how fragile bat populations can be, and the established colonies of Woodchester bats play an important part in global bat research. Visitors to the house are able to visit the bat exhibition room, where as well as viewing the bat colones via CCTV, there is a wealth of other resources about these rare and beautiful mammals.
I think that the most interesting part of the house for me, are the areas which show signs of use. There are rooms where the stonemason’s stored their tools, looking like nothing has been moved since the day they left. And the range in the kitchen looks as though it has had plenty of use. It is testiment to the local community that things have been left in situ, rather than being looted away over the years.
The parkland surrounding the house was originally laid out to include a chain of 5 lakes, running down through the valley, and hidden away there is a beautiful boathouse, dog kennels and ice house as well as the quarry from which the stone for the mansion was taken. From the car-park there are 3 trails you can follow to help you explore the valley; a 1.7 mile woodland trail, which includes a play trail, a 3.5 mile boathouse walk, and a 7 mile valley walk which takes in the majority of the park. I have walked all 3 trails, the valley is wonderful for foraging; I’ve seen wild strawberries, wood sorrel and wild garlic there among other things. On this occasion we opted for the shortest walk as we wanted to check out the children’s trail. This trail is steep in places, so I’d advise anyone thinking of walking here to wear appropriate footwear.
Woodchester Mansion and Park is a truly magical place to visit. It is a hidden gem of the Cotswolds. We had a wonderful day out, and would recommend it to anyone visiting the area. As far as I am aware you can visit the Woodland at any time of the year, but the house is staffed by volunteers and is only open at certain times, so I would suggest you check before visiting, if you are hoping to go inside the house.
You can find lots more great family days out in the Cotswolds here.