Woodchester Mansion: The Breather in the Basement
Of the many haunted houses that I have been privileged to investigate during my career, Woodchester Mansion has to be one of the most fascinating. Nestled in the middle of a huge park in the Cotswolds, the grand old Mansion is a strange place indeed: after twenty years of construction, the workers are said to have suddenly downed tools one night, left them all behind, and abandoned the place unfinished. It remains incomplete to this very day, a warren of limestone corridors with doorways that open out onto empty air, ready to give the unwary visitor a long drop and a quick stop on the hard stone floor below.
Woodchester has more than its fair share of ghosts, by all accounts. During the Second World War, visiting American soldiers were drowned in a nearby lake when their pontoon bridge collapsed. Their bodies were recovered and brought back to the Mansion, where they were kept for a time in a room now known as “The Morgue.” Their spirits are said to haunt the area to this day. Going back a little further in time, the ghosts of a Civil War-era cavalryman and even a Roman centurion are part of the Woodchester ghostlore, as are a ragged dwarf, a black dog (think of the shuck or shag) which is said to be a harbinger of death, and an apparently nicer phantom black cat. Other apparitions have been seen walking the grounds and corridors of Woodchester Mansion, including that of a former groundskeeper who is said to have been torn apart by his own hunting dogs, a lady in a dress who stares forlornly out of one of the front windows (where there is no floor in place to hold up a living woman) and a number of unidentified entities.
Last July, I was fortunate enough to spend the night at Woodchester with fellow investigators Jason and Linda Fellon. My friend Hazel was kind enough to arrange the visit through her company, Haunted Happenings, and it would turn out to be an exhausting but also exhilarating night. In order to get there, one must follow a long driveway through the trees, negotiating several twists and turns before finally catching sight of the grand old dame herself at the end of the road.
These photographs give a good sense of the Mansion’s appearance in daylight, but this lonely, isolated stone house looks and feels very different after dark. For starters, there is no light pollution from nearby cities, so the night sky is spectacular and unspoiled. Yet surrounded as it is by nothing but woods and parkland, the clearing in which the house stands feels more than a little eerie.
For those who are interested in hearing about our adventures at Woodchester Mansion, the full story will appear in my fall/autumn 2018 book These Haunted Hallways (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018), which is the contracted second volume of my autobiography (the first being In Search of the Paranormal, Llewellyn Worldwide 2015). But I did want to share a piece of audio that we recorded in the cellar, a place which many say is the most active part of the house. No sooner had our superstar guide Wayne divided us up into groups and had us begin asking questions of any entities that might be present in the room, than several of our companions heard the sound of a disembodied breath, as though an invisible person was breathing in their ear. We saw nobody move in the near-darkness and had thoroughly searched the cellar to make sure that there was nobody else down there but us. All hell broke loose, mostly due to the fact that many of the people with us that night were not seasoned paranormal investigators. They may have gotten a little more than they bargained for!
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Woodchester Mansion, I strongly encourage you to take it. Who knows what might happen to you…?Posted on: June 6, 2017Richard Estep