The blacksmith’s curse
… and other ghostly goings on at Nether Lypiatt
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