The black­smith’s curse

… and other ghostly go­ings on at Nether Lyp­i­att

Cotswold Life - - ADAM HENSON -

Nether Lyp­i­att Manor is an ex­tremely pleas­ing manor house. It sits, four-square but as tiny as a doll’s house, on the top of a hill above Stroud, framed by its in­tri­cate wrought iron gates. But those gates have a dark – and fa­tal – his­tory, and the house, once the home of roy­alty, has quite a sinister past.

It was built be­tween about 1710 and 1714 by Judge Charles Coxe, the then MP for Cirences­ter, and his wife Cather­ine, whose fa­ther owned the land. As an MP and judge he was of­ten em­broiled in scan­dal. A Tory, he was ve­he­mently an­ti­whig and of­ten came to blows with the op­po­si­tion over bribery and his vot­ing record. Noth­ing changes! But le­gend says that Judge Coxe was a hang­ing judge, a hard man who cared only for him­self.

He hired a lo­cal black­smith to make the gates, but the man was had up for sheep-steal­ing. Coxe was the judge at the in­quest in the Bear Inn at Bis­ley. The penalty for sheep-steal­ing was death in those days, but Coxe’s mind was on his gates. So he gave the man an out. Make the gates per­fect and he might just get off. The black­smith slaved, as you can imag­ine, to make the gates per­fect – but one day his tem­per snapped, per­haps when he re­alised Coxe would never let him off. He in­tro­duced a de­lib­er­ate mis­take.

When Coxe saw it he was fu­ri­ous, and the black­smith was hanged – curs­ing Coxe with bad luck on his last breath. His spirit didn’t rest easy. He is said to re­turn ev­ery Jan­uary 25 on horse­back, crash­ing open the gates and wail­ing … so be­ware if you go on this walk on that date. Not long af­ter, Charles Coxe lost his par­lia­men­tary seat. His son fared far worse. The ru­mour is that John Coxe hanged him­self in the house. There’s no ev­i­dence of that – he lived to the ripe old age of 88 – but his ghost is none­the­less said to haunt the house.

Charles Coxe did have a softer side. What­ever his be­hav­iour to his fel­low man, he seems to have loved an­i­mals. In the gar­dens at Nether Lyp­i­att is a stone obelisk that once bore the fol­low­ing verse:

My name is Wag that rolled the green, The old­est horse that ever was seen. My years they num­ber forty-two, I served my mas­ter just and true.

Wag was Coxe’s beloved horse. This paragon among the equine race was said to walk down to Stroud with pan­niers on his back and a shop­ping list, and wait pa­tiently while the bas­kets were filled by the lo­cal shop­keep­ers. He also pulled the lawn rollers by him­self – in per­fect lines!

Wag is said to still roam the grounds at night, a more be­nign spirit than the black­smith and his mount.

Nether Lyp­i­att had a sleepy his­tory for many years af­ter that, giv­ing rather a lie to the black­smith’s curse. The house even­tu­ally left the fam­ily in the 1880s. In 1923 its his­tory be­came spicy once more, when it was ac­quired by mu­si­cian Vi­o­let Gor­don-wood­house, her hus­band … and her three lovers. She be­came part of the artis­tic scene in the area be­tween Stroud and Cirences­ter, mix­ing with the Bid­dulphs at Rod­mar­ton and artists like Wil­liam and Eve Simmonds. The ghosts were still spo­ken of – and when her nephew took over the house the black­smith’s curse was blamed for ac­ci­dents, di­vorces, and even the death of fam­ily pets. Did the ghosts dare to come out when Princess Michael of Kent lived there?

To­day, there are still horses galore up on the hill. Our walk takes you down from the high manor houses of Lyp­i­att to the lovely – but more worka­day – Toad­smoor Val­ley with its lakes and old cloth mills, and then up once more to the Heav­ens near Stroud. Right at the end you can ex­am­ine the gates of Nether Lyp­i­att to see if you can spot the

Hav­ing parked on the road­side (GR 874040), climb over the first of many stiles (‘Lyp­i­att’ pos­si­bly means ‘leap­gate’ – or ‘stile’!), take the foot­path to the left, and head to­wards the wood, en­joy­ing your first glimpse of Nether Lyp­i­att. At the edge of the wood, turn right, over a stile. You will then see the back of the manor house.

At the field end go over an­other stile into Mack­house Wood. At the T-junc­tion, go left, then bear left down­hill. At the third split, turn right down­hill. When you see a spring on your right, keep left on the bri­dle path. Bear left when the path forks.

At the next T-junc­tion, turn left down to­wards the houses. This is the ham­let of Toad­smoor – no, not toads, but rather Mr Tod, the fox. Cross the stream and head up the tar­ma­cked track, then turn left down­hill at the junc­tion.

Fol­low the path over the ford. To your right is a lake. The wa­terlilies were out when we were there.

Take the track into the wood. A lit­tle way up, turn left over a stile into a meadow, then fol­low the path up­hill through two fields, keep­ing the stream on your right.

Cross the small slat bridge on your right and bear left up­hill to­wards the build­ings of Spring Farm.

The path now takes you to the right around a fenced field. At the stile there’s a view of an­other manor house, Mid­dle Lyp­i­att, pos­si­bly orig­i­nally a Knights Hospi­tallers manor. Make sure you also turn round to see the view across the val­ley you’ve walked up, across to Bus­sage.

Go left up the path to­wards the farm, then keep left past the pond un­til the track bears right to the road.

Cross the road and con­tinue straight on up the track through Limekiln Farm. As you emerge from the build­ings go over the stile on your left, then cross the field di­ag­o­nally. There are good

Can you spot the de­lib­er­ate mis­take?

The tranquil lake - com­plete with op­ti­mistic ducks in the Toad­smoor Val­ley

Look­ing out across Stroud and the River Sev­ern. On a good day you can see as far as Su­gar Loaf and the Bre­con Bea­cons

Look­ing back across the val­ley to Bus­sage

An­thony head­ing through Mack­house Wood down to Toad­smoor

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