Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lydiard House and Park - safe?

I wrote this blog post two years ago! November 2015 and Swindon Borough Council continue to ensure us that there are no plans to sell off Lydiard House and Park but to lease it out to partners, drawing on the so say success of the recent handover of our leisure centres. 

But I feel there are other options we could try first before the local authority makes such a drastic move. 

Come along to my talk this evening 'Who Would Live in a House Like This? at Swindon Central Library, November 5, 7.15. Perhaps the St John family could save Lydiard House more than 70 years after they packed up and moved out.

September 15, 2013.

This week I intended writing an affectionate, whimsical piece – about my little granddaughter and all things Lower Shaw Farm related, about the Mela and the wonderful Dorothy Clarke and how the amazing Bhangra drummers quite alarmingly changed the rhythm to which my heart beat - no seriously. And I was going to write about samosas and chick pea curry and cream tea in the Bowl’s Club pavilion.

Then today I visited Lydiard House and my joie de vie quite deserted me. Popular Collections Manager Sophie Cummings is to move to a new job at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, and while I am delighted for Sophie, and the museum will fare excellently under her curatorship, now what happens to Lydiard House?

On the list of things Swindon Borough Council most wants to get shot of, what happens now to the beautifully restored Palladian mansion and 260 acres of parkland? Will there be a new person in charge? Members of staff I spoke to today haven’t been informed yet – which in itself is pretty remiss, if you ask me. And can’t you just hear the sound of persistent property developers gleefully rubbing together their palms? Alarmist, me, of course that won’t happen, of course it won’t! 

While I was visiting today I photographed some recent comments made in the visitors’ book. From near and far, from Toothill to San Diego, visitors congratulate Swindon Borough Council for saving and maintaining the property and urge them to continue to do so.

Owned for 500 years by possibly one of the most interesting aristocratic families, the St John’s had relatives both sides of the royal bedsheets. They were cousins to Henry VII through St John matriarch Lady Margaret Beauchamp, who made an appearance in the recent popular BBC War of the Roses saga The White Queen. The family numbered a traitor and a murderer and a famous royal mistress Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine who bore Charles II five illegitimate children. They include among the boughs of their family tree naughty Restoration playwright and poet John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester, politicians by the barrow load, Royalist Cavaliers and Puritan Roundheads. Even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, have Lydiard connections through their Leighton and Spencer ancestors.

In these cash strapped times perhaps Councillors should look a little closer to home when it comes to saving money. The Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster is currently reviewing the number of Councillors they employ. With a population of 302,400 and 63 Councillors there is a proposal to reduce the number by 9, while the Recovery Board suggest the number of serving Councillors should actually be nearer 48. The population of Swindon is around the 200,000 mark and we have 57 Councillors; my West Swindon ward of Shaw has three, Nick Martin, Garry Perkins and Keith Williams.

With the recent Swindon Heritage Strategy still to go before Cabinet, let’s make sure Lydiard House is made safe for future generations to enjoy and learn about their local history, and not sold off to the highest bidder.

If you would like to know more about the St John family and the history of Lydiard House visit my other blogs on Good Gentlewoman and Status, Scandal and Subterfuge.

The beautifully restored walled garden

Volunteer Ranger Mike Newman tells visitors about the Lydiard House state of the art Ice House

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