Woodfield - January 2008
Woodfield, on Weathercock Lane looks a like a large, quite old but otherwise unremarkable house. It has an interesting story to tell, however. It is first mentioned in 1868 when it was put up for sale by auction as part of the estate attached to the mansion on Aspley Hill - Woodlands House - owned by Richard Key.
The sale particulars [SF2/18] for Woodfield read as follows: "Compact Detached Villa Residence known as "WOODFIELD HOUSE", in the parish of Aspley Guise, situate facing the Road leading from Aspley to Woburn Sands Station, possessing an extensive Frontage thereto, and containing Entrance Porch, Dining Room, Drawing Room and Breakfast Room, Kitchen, Back Lobby, and large Scullery on the Ground Floor; excellent Cellar; and 4 airy Bedrooms, and Dressing Room, W. C., &c."
"In the Yard is a Pantiled Board and Stud Range of Buildings divided into Two Wood Barns, Workshop or Warehouse 28 feet by 17 feet 6 inxhes, and large Room over same size; 2-Stall Stable with Loft over; 2-bayed Cart Shed, together with the roomy Yard and fertile Garden, Soft Water Tank and Pump and Well of excellent Spring Water, the whole containing 2 roods 18 poles or thereabouts". Subsequent correspondence makes it clear that the house was not sold.
Directories for Bedfordshire, published at regular intervals, but no tannual, record the following occupiers:
- 1877, 1885 and 1890: Henry Down;
- 1894, 1898, 1903 and 1906: J. Wright Grant;
- 1910 and 1914: Robert Lewis Brander;
- 1920 and 1924: Ernest Muir Denham.
In 1927 this part of Bedfordshire was valued under the terms of the Rating Valuation Act 1925; every piece of land and property was inspected to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer visiting Woodfield noted [DV1/C/239] that it was owned by Miss M.A.Key but was vacant. The valuer described it as standing in just over half an acre, he also noted: "Been empty for some time. Whole place very damp inside". The building itself consisted of four reception rooms, a kitchen, scullery and wc downstairs, with a cellar below; on the first floor were six bedrooms, a dressing room, a bathroom and wc. Outside were a brick, timber and tile coach house with a loft over, stable and "sundry sheds".
It is the phrase "been empty for some time" which is key (pun intended) to the story. By the late 1940s the owner was Blayney Key, who lived at Eel Pie Island, Twickenham [Middlesex]. In 1947 he appealed against the value put on the property in 1927. This was because the property could not, in fact, be let, since it was haunted. In the early 18th century Dick Turpin, the notorious highwayman, Key asserted, was wont to frequent Aspley Woods as a hide-out and the hooves of his horse still echoed down Weathercock Lane on dark nights when a low mist was in the air. Turpin knew the family living at Woodfield, most particularly the daughter of the house. She had a lover and the father, outraged at the character of the youth shut them both up in a cupboard, causing their death. This gave Turpin a cause to blackmail the man to give him assistance and a place to stay. He also extorted money from the old man and gave it to the poor of the parish, though such behaviour would have been somewhat out of character for amurderous footpad such as Turpin.
The ghost of this unfortunate girl, Key claimed, still haunted Woodfield, making it a thoroughly undesirable place to live. The claim for a revaluation went to a hearing at which Arthur Parker, local estate agent and historian, was able to undermine Key's tale by stating that the house had been built in the early 1820s, whereas Dick Turpin was hanged at York in 1739. A former maid claimed to have seen arms coming through the wall whilst trying to sleep, one night, but rather undermined her own evidence by stating, in answer to a question, that she had eaten cheese sandwiches for supper. Blayney Key's case collapsed.
Even so, the house has been the scene of ghost hunting activities and seances in the past, believers insisting either that the Turpin incident happened in a previous house on the site or that the murder did happen at the current house, but the part about Turpin is a fabrication (Aspley was, after all, a long way off the main roads of those days). Be that as it may, there have been no reports of hauntings since Blayney Key's ownership of the house; although the property is still locally known as "the ghost house".