Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lydiard House and Park - latest news

The uncertainty surrounding the future of Lydiard House and Park ended yesterday when Swindon Borough Council confirmed that the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust was the preferred bidder in the outsourcing process. The decision itself will be taken at the cabinet meeting next Tuesday, March 15.

Trustees of the not-for-profit Lydiard Park Heritage Trust include Sarah Finch-Crisp former Director of Chiswick House and Gardens Trust and previously Head of Heritage at Swindon Borough Council who led The Lydiard Park Restoration Project in 2005. The £5 million project saw the restoration of the 18th century parkland, including the Walled Garden.

Other trustees include Daniel Rose, who is chair of The Mechanics’ Institution Trust and sits on the Swindon Heritage board and Gary Bond, Managing Director of McArthurGlen who was responsible for the Swindon Railway works redevelopment (one of the largest regeneration projects in the UK).This role and his work at McArthurGlen has involved extensive work with listed buildings.

Among the members of the Advisory Group are Matt Holland, Swindon Festival of Literature director who has lived and worked in Swindon and at Lower Shaw Farm since 1980 and Michael Gray.

Michael is a Chartered Architect who, during his training in the 1980s, was involved with various conservation projects in Lydiard Park. After qualifying he went on to found an architect’s practice in Holland Park which enabled him in collaboration with the then keeper Sarah Finch-Crisp and Canon Brian Carne to research, record and interpret the architectural history of the house.

Garry Perkins, the cabinet member responsible for Lydiard, told the Swindon Advertiser (March 7): 

“This has been a long, thorough and fair process and I am delighted we are now in a position to present a preferred bidder.
“Lydiard is a key asset for people in Swindon and we need to ensure it has a sustainable future within the council’s ownership. I would like to thank all the bidders for the time, effort and passion they have shown throughout the bidding exercise.
"We had two very strong bids from both the community trusts, but ultimately the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust came out on top in the scoring."

I am thrilled, excited but most of all relieved that the Lydiard estate is now in the hands of proven heritage experts.

I love walking in the park; playing with my grandchildren on the swings; taking tea in the Coach House Tea Rooms but for me the sheer delight of Lydiard Park is the history and the heritage of the Palladian mansion house and the fascinating St John family who owned it for more than 500 years.

Last year the neighbouring St Mary’s Church made a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid with plans to conserve the medieval wall paintings and the 17th century monuments, plus the reopening of the hidden south porch (read more in the Spring 2017 edition of Swindon Heritage) and I considered it crucial that the new tenants at Lydiard House appreciated the work about to begin at St Mary's. Now that goes without question.

The Lydiard Estate came on the market in 1943 following the death of Viscountess Bolingbroke in 1940 and was initially bought in a holding operation by Cllr F.E. Akers. Swindon Corporation had expressed an interest in Lydiard House and parkland but did not want (and could not afford) the additional property that came with it during the cash strapped mid-war period.

The sale took place in July 1943 and on August 11 the local authority paid Cllr Akers a 10% deposit of £450. The remaining £4,050 was settled on October 30, 1943. (You can read the full story in the Summer 2014 edition of Swindon Heritage).

Now Lydiard House and Park will continue to be accessible to the people of Swindon as was intended by David Murray John and the Swindon Corporation when they bought the estate in 1943.

 Photographs published courtesy of The Swindon Society

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr Love's Heritage Cider

The Love family history in Lydiard Tregoze was explored by local historians Mark and Lorraine Child in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 33 published in 2000 and entitled ‘For the Love of an Angel.’

When Mark and Lorraine’s research of St Mary’s parish registers revealed numerous entries of babies baptised under the name ‘Angel or Love’ they set about discovering the reason, suspecting an illegitimate birth might have set the trend.

And sure enough it was. In 1763 unmarried Martha Angell took her baby son to St Mary’s Church where he was baptised Joseph Angell. Three weeks later she married John ‘Love alias Luff’ who was, presumably the baby’s father.

Now a person can only have so many alias’ so young Joseph dropped the ‘Love alias Luff’ and settled on sometimes Angell (with or without a double l) sometimes Love and sometime both.

In 1828 John Angel married Mary Ann Watson and they named their children with various permutations of the names; Elijah Angel, John Love, Mary Angel or Love, Edwin Angel or Love, Keziah Love, Louisa Love, Julia Angel or Love, George Love and Abraham Angel or Love.

When their son, John junior, came to marry and raise a family all his children were given the surname Love, including his son Henry James who later followed another family tradition by becoming the Lydiard Park estate gardener as had his great uncle Abraham Angel who held the position in 1825.

James was presumably employed chiefly about the walled garden, which served as a vegetable garden during the Victorian period. He appears on the 1901 census living in Hook with his wife and their five children where his occupation is recorded as gardener. However he does not appear to have been the gardener for very long, although he was probably an estate employee for most of his life.

Ten years earlier he had been living in one of the Flaxlands Farm cottages and in 1911 he is described as Manager of Farm, still at Flaxlands, where in trade directories dated 1915 and 1920 he is working as baliff to Edward Hiscock esq Flaxlands.

In 2005 the neglected walled garden was restored and replanted as part of the Lydiard Park Project. More than one hundred and fifty fruit trees were planted, among them old varieties of apple including the Bedwyn Beauty.

Today James Love has become a 21st century advertising phenomena and it is his name that appears on the Lydiard Park heritage cider, complete with photograph and the proud boast that ‘all apple varieties used date back to 1743 or earlier.’

Mr Love's Heritage Cider costs £4 and is available from the Coach House Tea Rooms.

Now what’s not to love about a heritage cider …

Monday, January 23, 2017

Holocaust Memorial Day - Friday January 27, 2017

Matt Holland from Lower Shaw Farm writes about arrangements in Swindon for this year's Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday January 27, 2017.

The theme for this year is “How can life go on?”

First, at 12.00 noon, there will be a short (20 minutes) wreath-laying ceremony by the Cenotaph, Regents Circus. Following this, at 12.30 pm, there will be a gathering for readings and reflection at the Friends Meeting House, Eastcott Hill, Swindon.

NOTE: For this event, and in the spirit of the day, we welcome talks or presentations from individuals and groups. If you would like to speak or read at this gathering or know someone else who would like to, please contact the undersigned, beforehand or on the day. We welcome everyone who would like to speak.

At this latter event, we expect to be together for approx 1 hour. As well as words and quiet time, there will be light lunchtime refreshments, including sandwiches and hot drinks, provided by Friends, whom we thank.


Holocaust Memorial Day was first marked in the UK in January 2001, and is now established as an annual day of remembrance on 27 January each year.

Local authorities, faith and community groups, and individuals have been asked to take a lead in developing local memorial events and appropriate activities. We do so in Swindon.

The aim of this day is to mark not only the Holocaust but also numerous other human rights tragedies around the world, including persecution and wars, past and present. Its aim is also to help raise awareness in young people.

This day also provides an opportunity for all of us to renew our commitment to building a strong and caring community in Swindon, which embraces people of all faiths, beliefs, backgrounds, languages, and nations.

Further information, and a more national perspective, about Holocaust Memorial Day, can be found at

If you have any queries or suggestions, please contact

Matt Holland, Organiser

Telephone No: 01793 771080 Email address:

Photographs: Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

Friday, January 6, 2017

Swindon's Heritage Assets

Council Leader David Renard stated in his column in the Advertiser this week that 'the council works very closely with heritage groups within the town' but there are many volunteers who would refute this assertion.

Cllr Renard was answering claims that Swindon Borough Council neglects heritage assets following the disastrous fire at the Coate Agricultural Museum on New Year's Eve. 

He concluded his column with the following statement: 'Unfortunately, the passage of time does not make it easy to bring these buildings back to their former glory, but that does not mean we should not try. Letting our heritage fall by the wayside is not on our agenda.' Well sadly Cllr Renard, many of us feel it is.

Save Swindon’s Heritage, a new facebook group formed following council tenant GLL’s announcement to develop part of the historic Health Hydro, a Grade II listed building, has registered more than 720 members in just 9 days.

The listing of buildings came out of a WWII measure to record important buildings in possible danger from enemy bombing, but it would appear that in Swindon it's not an aerial attack we have to worry about but something a little closer to the ground.

It was the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act that came up with the concept of a list of buildings of special historical or architectural importance. Buildings built between 1840-1914 have to meet a stringent criteria before inclusion on the list is granted.

Perhaps the greatest protection offered to a listed building is that its future fate is in the public arena. An owner must receive permission for any intended alteration and this allows for a public debate. Comments and objections must receive due consideration before planning decisions are reached.

A register of locally listed buildings is available for consultation at the council planning department and Central Library and online at Listed Buildings in Swindon.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the British Listed Building register established to protect buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. In Swindon we have more than 650 buildings on the register with 53 scheduled monuments and three registered parks and gardens.

If you want to know more about the listing of historic buildings come along to a talk by Martin Newman at Swindon's Central Library, Tuesday January 17 at 7.15.

Lydiard House - Grade I

Central Community Centre, former Medical Fund Hospital -  Grade II

Health Hydro - Milton Road Baths - Grade II

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park - Grade I

Coate Agricultural Museum following a fire on New Year's Eve

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Charles II and those Lydiard Park birds

Charles II celebrated his restoration to the throne by engaging in a bit of home improvements on the Tudor built St James's Palace, London and a makeover in the surrounding parkland with a new canal some 2,560 ft long and 125 ft wide.

In 1664 the Russian Ambassador to Charles gave the king a pair of pelicans to grace the new canal and 400 years later the tradition of pelicans in the park continues.

But not to be outdone Sir Walter St John also made a contribution to the monarch's new park from his country home at Lydiard with a gift of some Muscovy ducks.

Although Sir Walter had fought on the Parliamentary side in the Civil War and had been considered somewhat backward in kissing the hand of the recently restored king, you could say Sir Walter was almost 'family.'

When Charles returned to England from exile he was accompanied by his favourite (well she was then) mistress Barbara Palmer, later to be created Countess Castlemaine. Barbara was Walter's great-niece, the grand daughter of his sister Barbara Villiers, and gave birth to five of Charles' illegitimate children.

But that wasn't the only St John/Stuart connection. Charles' best friend was the naughty playwright and poet John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. John was Sir Walter's nephew, the son of his sister Anne and her second husband Henry, Earl of Rochester.

And it doesn't end there. In 1677 Charles and Barbara's daughter Charlotte Fitzroy married Edward Lee, the newly created Earl of Lichfield, and Sir Walter's great nephew, the grandson of the same sister Anne.

There's still a lot of birdlife on the lake at Lydiard Park today, including a magnificent family of eight swans. 

Lydiard House is now closed for the winter months, but look out for the return of the Behind Closed Doors series of talks and tours, which proved so popular in the 2016 close season.

Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, whose portrait hangs in Lydiard House.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester whose portrait hangs in Lydiard House.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Coate Agricultural Museum

This morning the Coate Agricultural Museum burned down!

The museum has been closed to the public for many years and has been neglected despite the efforts of local heritage volunteers.

This is the latest blow to Swindon's heritage in recent weeks. If you care about our town's history you might like to join a new facebook group called Save Swindon's Heritage.

You may also like to sign the petition to save the Health Hydro from development plans proposed by GLL.

And if you want to know more about our town's fascinating and understated history buy a copy of Swindon Heritage available online or from our various outlets, including Central Library and WH Smith.

Photograph of Coate Agricultural Museum published courtesy of Mike Pringle

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tales from the cemetery: Little Freddy Whitby

There are 33,000 stories in Radnor Street Cemetery, all waiting to be told. Every death touched someone; a husband, a wife, a friend, a lover - even a stranger. These are the imagined stories of that unknown witness.

'My grandfather always lingered awhile at the corner of Clarence Street opposite the site of the old Empire Theatre. He would grip my hand tightly and recall the tale of little Freddy Whitby.

I know the story well as he never failed to mention it. It was only much later that I full understood; well you don’t as a child, do you? It was one of Pop’s stories, like the ones about the war, stories you heard all the time as a child and yet could only recall in fragments as an adult. How many times have you wished you’d asked about this or that, wished you had listened more carefully?

The Empire Theatre has long gone and there are traffic lights at the busy junction now, so as I wait for the traffic to come to a halt, I too think of little Freddy Whitby.

Freddy Whitby was 10 years and 10 months old on that fateful Friday in June 1911. He was on his way to school from his home in Swindon Road. At the corner of Clarence Street Freddy stepped off the pavement as if to cross, but then he hesitated before breaking into a run.

A witness said when he saw the car so near him Freddy appeared scared and dazed, and knowing not what to do stood absolutely still.

The driver of the car was racehorse trainer Mr W.T. Robinson from Broome Manor who was on his way to the GWR Station to catch the nine o’clock express train to London.

Mr Robinson told the inquest how he had been blowing the whistle all down the street from the tramlines and how, realising the danger the boy was in, he slammed on his brakes. The left headlamp clipped young Freddy, knocking him off balance and under the front wheel of the car.

Mr Finn, a butcher, was on his way to work when he too saw the accident. He ran across the street and picked up the boy, carrying him to Dr Lavery’ surgery just round the corner in Regent Circus.

The children on their way to Clarence Street School gathered round.

“Who is it?” they asked one another, but nobody seemed to know the boy.

Complaining of pain in his stomach Freddy was transferred to the Victoria Hospital where he was subsequently operated on for an internal haemorrhage.

The operation had proved successful and Freddy was showing signs of recovery when he died suddenly on Saturday morning. A post mortem revealed that the injuries had been slight and it was believed that Freddy had died from shock.

“I never even knew him,” Pop used to say, which always struck me as odd. Why, half a century later, did he still grieve for the boy knocked down on the corner of Clarence Street that he never knew?

But perhaps that was why? Nobody had known Freddy Whitby. Had he been walking to school with a group of boys, or even just one friend, that accident might never have happened? I think my Pop believed that had he been that one friend, Freddy Whitby would have lived. Throughout his long life my Pop somehow felt responsible for the death of Freddy Whitby…’

At the inquest Freddy’s father described his son as being a very nervous boy who had poor eyesight and wore glasses. The family had previously been living in Liverpool, Freddy had only been in Swindon since Tuesday of the previous week and the streets were new to him, he told the court.
The Advertiser reported that ‘the accident again calls attention to the danger of children crossing the streets on going to school when motor cars are frequently passing.’

The Deputy Chief Constable suggested that in future motorists travelling from Old Town to the GWR station should proceed by way of Drove Road to avoid the Clarence Street schools area.

Freddy’s funeral took place on June 14, 1911. He is buried in plot B2238 in a grave he shares with three other children; Herbert Mark Keen who died in July 1894 aged 12 months; Oswald Hall who also died in July 1894 aged two years and an eight week old baby George Henry Clifford who died a month after Freddy in 1911.

The grave is marked by a memorial to Freddy, a cross toppled off long ago and lies in the grass. The inscription reads: In Loving Memory of Little Freddy the beloved and only son of F. and E. Whitby aged 10 years and 10 mths Accidentally killed by motor car June 10th 1911.