COLESHILL House was the most prominent building in the small community near Highworth.

In late September of 1952 it was destroyed by a fire which literally brought a mystery to light.

It would be some years before the role of the house as a training centre for the Britain’s Auxiliary Units - intended as saboteurs in the event of Nazi invasion - would be revealed, but the 1952 mystery was much older.

A front page story more than a month after the fire revealed “Intense curiosity has been aroused in the village of Coleshill on the Berkshire-Wiltshire border as mystery grows around the gaunt, gutted ruin of the mansion that was once its prize.

“People want to know what is in the box that fell into the light of day from a hiding place where it had been concealed for more than 60 years.

“It was found when a chimney tumbled down after Coleshill House was destroyed by fire recently.

“Those who know where the box has been taken guard their secret well, but out of the tangle of rumour and gossip one strange fact has emerged.

“The box was walled up in a cupboard when Mr Ernest E Cook, the Bath millionaire, bought Coleshill House from the Pleydell-Bouverie family after the war.”

One of the estate workers revealed that a local legend from his childhood had it that the large plain wooden box, held shut with screws, contained the coffin of a child.

We spoke to Mary Pleydell-Bouverie, who lived in Wroughton but whose family had lived at Coleshill House for nearly 300 years.

She dismissed the notion of the box containing a coffin - but offered an explanation which was only slightly less macabre.

The box, she said, contained a doll which had originally belonged to her great-great grandmother, Harriet Pleydell, who married William Bouverie, the first Lord Radnor, in 1747.

Mary Pleydell-Bouverie said the doll, which she now regarded as her property, had been kept for many years in a glass-fronted box in a bedroom cupboard.

We added: “The door of the cupboard was locked by her father, Mr Duncombe Pleydell-Bouverie, about 60 years ago, when servants started to say that the doll walked at night.”

Mary recalled that on the day she and her sister handed the house over to new owner Mr Cook - a member of the of the Thomas Cook travel agency firm - she showed him where the box was, and that she had wanted it to remain where it was because she believed it held the luck of the house.