Friday, December 11, 2015

Down Your Way

The Prinnels estate in West Swindon was built in the early 1990s on part of Wick Farm, owned by the St. John family at Lydiard Park until 1943. Built on fields called High Croft and Lower Wick, the area takes its name from the Prinnels, a ten acre field fronting Hay Lane.

It was therefore fitting that town planners turned their attention to the St. John family history when it came to naming the new roadways.

Villiers Close is named after several Villiers connections with the family, in particular Barbara St. John, the daughter of Sir John St. John and his wife Lucy Hungerford, who married Sir Edward Villiers.

Barbara lived through the reign of four monarchs and a Lord Protector. She had seen the union of the English & Scottish crowns and the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, the devastation of the Civil War, the beheading of Charles I, the institution of the Commonwealth and The Restoration Settlement. She died in her eighties in September 1672 and was buried in the north ambulatory near St Paul's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. But it is perhaps her granddaughter, also named Barbara, who is better known.

Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, born in 1640 is famous for her liaison with Charles II. Barbara was already married when she met Charles soon after his return from exile in 1660. Her reign as favourite mistress did not grant the king exclusivity and she gave birth to a number of children of whom Charles is said to have acknowledged five.

Their volatile relationship lasted over fifteen years during which time Barbara, reputedly Charles’ greediest mistress, was made presents of St. James Park and Green Park in London.

Grandison Close owes its name to the 14th century Sybil de Grandison and her husband William who owned the manor of Lydiard Tregoze. The name reappeared in the St. John family history when Oliver, second son of Nicholas St. John and his wife Elizabeth Blount, was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick on January 3, 1620/21.

John Wilmot, the notorious 2nd Earl of Rochester, lends his name to Wilmot Close. John was born in 1647, the son of Anne St. John and her second husband Henry Wilmot. Wilmot famously wrote about Charles II – God bless our good and gracious King/Whose promise none relies on/Who never said a foolish thing/Nor ever did a wise one. The licentious life of poet and playwright Wilmot was portrayed by Johnny Depp in the film The Libertine.

Hungerford Close takes its name from Lucy Hungerford, wife of Sir John St John. Lucy appears in the St. John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. She is pictured with her husband, flanked by her six daughters and her son Sir John with his wife Anne Leighton. Three coffins are beneath the sarcophagus on which the couple kneel represent the children who died young. After her husband’s death in 1594 Lucy married a distant cousin, Sir Anthony Hungerford. She had a further three children by her second husband and died on June 4, 1598. A portrait of Lucy hangs in the Drawing Room in Lydiard House.

Walter Close is named after Sir Walter St John, the son of Sir John and his wife Anne Leighton. Sir Walter was elected Member of Parliament for Wiltshire in 1656 and served as an MP for the county and Wootton Bassett until 1695.

Walter spent most of his time at the family home in Battersea where he endowed a school for 20 poor boys. A free school existed as early as 1670 in a house Sir Walter had provided and for which he paid £20 a year in upkeep. In 1700 he confirmed his commitment to the school when he bought 31 acres of land in the Parish of Camberwell near Peckham Rye Common costing £570. The income from these lands would fund the school. After a number of changes across 286 years, including an amalgamation with a neighbouring school, Sir Walter St. John’s eventually closed in 1986.

The beautiful Frances Winchcombe was the first wife of politician Sir Henry St John, arguably the most famous of the family. Neglected and abandoned, Frances lends her name to Winchmore Close. There are two portraits of Lady Frances in the Drawing Room at Lydiard House.

But probably the most familiar name of all is Lady Diana Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, who is commemorated in the Dressing Room at Lydiard House and in the naming of Spencer Close. Diana was a talented artist and her commissions included work for the Wedgwood potter. Sadly, she is better remembered for her affair with Topham Beauclerk and subsequent divorce from husband Frederick St. John.

Barbara St John - wife of Sir Edward Villiers
Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine


John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester
Lady Diana Spencer


If you want to see Lydiard House and the fascinating history of the  St John family preserved, please think about signing the Friends of Lydiard Park petition - Lydiard House and Park at Risk.


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