Monday 30 August 2010

Westwood Manor - Bradford on Avon

Westwood Manor

The Corner Bedroom

Set in the peaceful Wiltshire countryside, this 15th century Manor house has remained largely unchanged, other than a few alterations to its interior which were made during the 16th and 17th centuries. The last owner of Westwood was Mr Edward Graham Lister, who was responsible for much of the 20th century restoration. Lister died in 1953 from a motoring accident. He left the contents and endowment to the National Trust. Today the house is occupied by a tenant who administers it on behalf of the Trust

It was a warm sunny afternoon the day my good lady and I visited Westwood. What immediately struck us as we stepped through the grey stone entrance into the grand hall was that 'lived-in' feel, an expression used all to frequently for lesser properties but in this case well deserved. Low Jacobean ceilings with lime plaster mortifs, a grand Tudor fireplace, oak panelled walls, Gothic oriel windows and not forgetting the handsome topiaried garden, all contributed to a feeling of being welcomed.

Heavy deep panelled oak doors lead off to all the rooms and one in particular, one which I had a vested interest in, was the Corner Bedroom. It is said that if you manage to get a good nights sleep in this room you have done exceedingly well. For it is this room that is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a woman who's identity is uncertain. Many guests who have slept in the Corner Bedroom have had eerie experiences and restless nights. Previous owner Mr. Edward Graham Lister, was in no doubt that the ‘Corner Bedroom is most definitely haunted‘. Many times he claimed to have seen the ghostly form of a woman or heard unexplained footsteps emanating from that room. Guests and visitors alike have reported having sensed something unpleasant when staying in, or just being in, the Corner Bedroom. It is interesting to note, that the elaborate tapestries which hang from the bed, come from the infamous haunted bedroom at Littlecote Manor near Hungerford, which was, in 1575 the scene of a most heinous crime perpetrated by ‘Wild’ Will Darrell' where, in a fit of rage he threw his newborn son onto an open fire pinning him there beneath his booted foot. The Bedroom is said to be haunted by the mother of his child. This could be a case for a residual transference haunting.

I spent sometime alone in the Corner Bedroom, just sitting there listening to a faintly discernable breeze as it sang in the eaves. I remember the ornate stone fireplace and imagined what it would be like when a fire had been lit, I could almost hear the spit and pop from the knots in the firewood. I think this would be a cosy room to spend the night in, but then I’ve not been disturbed by strange women in the dead of night, well not recently. I recall a distinct stillness about the Corner Bedroom; there was no movement to the air. There were few visitors that day so I pretty much had the place to myself. I am reluctant to say the room had a certain feeling about it but my partner did later remarked when she had joined me later, that she felt she could 'happily lose herself in here such was its tranquillity.'

A former tenant by the name of Mr Denys Sutton, claimed there was another ghost at Westwood, a distinctly unpleasent fellow that took the shape of a fearsome headless spectre that would wonder the house silently at night and frighten the trousers off the unwary.

One of the National Trust guides recalled a story told to her by the gardener, who has been in service at the Manor for many years. He described having just entered the Music Room, whereupon he smelt and then noticed pipe tobacco rising and curling above a high-backed chair. The chair was facing away from him, so he could not see who was sitting there. He called out but there was no reply. He approached the chair but when he was but a few feet away the smoke suddenly evaporate, but what was more of a surprise was the chair was unoccupied.

It is no secret that Westwood Manor is said to have been cursed. The story goes, that the Manor was once the home of a magistrate who caught and sentenced a gypsy for poaching. Hearing of her husbands arrest, his enraged wife marched up to the magistrate and vociferously cursed the house and family. Shortly after, the magistrate and his family started to have misfortune, so much so that they sold Westwood and left. The curse of Westwood Manor seems to have endured, for there have been reports of mysterious fires, violent deaths, one occupant supposedly hanging himself, whilst another drowned and yet another threw himself from a second floor window.

The Manor has had many famous visitors over the centuries, one in particular was Queen Mary, who it is said adored Westwood. She would often take a liking to a particular item of objet d‘art, so much so that the household would have to discreetly hide objects that they thought might interest her on subsequent visits. This measure was taken just to ensure they would not be obliged to make yet another gift of her adorations for certain objects she picked up during her visit. She was greatly loved and received by all at Westwood Manor and her pen, the one she used to write letters whilst staying at the Manor, is now in a glass box beneath her photograph in the grand hall.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin

The Monk's Walk

The Monk's Walk
The church of St. Mary the Virgin is situated adjacent to the Manor. Earliest records of there being a church on this site date from around the 11th century but it was during the late 15th century, early 16th century that the magnificent tower was constructed with its Gothic traceried windows, sinister looking gargoyles, ornate pinnacles and small dome.

There are two ghosts reputed to haunt the church grounds. One is a medieval soldier who is said to throw what looks like a spear at the church door and the other, a monk, who has been seen walking the path beside the church.

In Norman times, Westwood was one of several estates assigned for the support of the monks at Winchester Priory, and the residents of the Manor continued to be tenants of the Priory until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. The occupation of Westwood may account for the monks ghostly presence.

I recommend you visit Westwood Manor if only for its intimate charm. The garden is small but infinitely absorbing and peaceful, allowing time to reflect.

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