Sunday, November 29, 2015

Princess Charlotte

Latest photographs of Princess Charlotte taken by her mother Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.



Did you know the little Princess and her brother George are direct descendants of Anne St John whose portrait hangs in the dining room at Lydiard House?


Why is the Council not making more of this fabulous connection to Lydiard House. The story of Diana, Princess of Wales/William and Kate/Prince George and Princess Charlotte would make a fantastic exhibition and bring in visitors who previously knew nothing of the connection.

If you want to see Lydiard House and Park continue to remain under local authority ownership and not be leased out to private partners, please sign the Friends of Lydiard Park petition

Petitioning Swindon Borough Council


Are you struggling to keep up with events surrounding the future of Lydiard House and Park?

Following just two public engagement days any further questions you might have now have to be asked (and hopefully answered) via email at lydiardfuture@swindon.gov.uk. The process continues until December 11, which is the deadline for expressions of interest from parties wanting to lease areas of the estate, and December 18 for members of the public to contribute their views.

The Friends of Lydiard Park have expressed their ideas and opinions to Swindon Borough Council and in the local press.

But if you think that it's not such a bad idea for the Council to lease out areas of the Park if they can no longer afford to subsidize it, could I flag up a few issues?

Swindon Borough Council cannot guarantee that free, unrestricted access to Lydiard Park will continue under any new partnership.

Neither can they guarantee that any development in the Park will not take place and at the West Swindon Localities meeting on November 2 there was a suggestion that outlying areas of the estate could be used for just that with the example given that it could be a suitable location for an hotel.

There is also a suggestion that the £450,000 subsidy is questionable and that the salaries of full time staff who work at both STEAM and Lydiard Park are included in the Lydiard Park bill.

People throw up their hands in horror at the thought of introducing car parking charges, yet implemented with concessions for local residents and parking restrictions in neighbouring areas, this one intervention could provide a life line for the Council and the long term future of the Park. And you bet any new partner will introduce car parking charges immediately and without sensitivity to local residents.

You might also like to see how questions about the future of Lydiard Park were answered at the Council Meeting on November 12, and that an identical response was given to two different questions.












And if have any ideas that you think could contribute to generating a sustainable income for Lydiard Park whilst continuing to keep it under local authority control, please comment on my blog post The List - it's already quite extensive, but the people of Swindon are open to ideas. Unfortunately it would seem that the only idea the Council is interested in listening to is how to get shot of the whole thing.



If you love Lydiard you might consider signing the petition - Lydiard House and Park at Risk


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Celebrating Art in the Walled Garden

Three years ago I visited the newly revamped Avebury Manor. In 2010 the BBC in partnership with the National Trust refurbished and redecorated nine rooms in the empty manor house, each in a different period of history as part of a series called The Manor Reborn. (You can still view a few short clips here).

The fixtures and fittings were a mixture of antique fair purchases and creative up-cycling and in some cases new pieces made in the style of ... As nothing is irreplaceable or intrinsic to the house, visitors are allowed, nay encouraged, to sit on the chairs, open cupboards and drawers and bounce on the beds.

The whole project was something of an experiment and it is probably fair to say the National Trust had certain reservations, but it has been a resounding success and on each subsequent visit I have made the house has been busy, so much so there is a timed entry to prevent the rooms becoming too crowded.

Now I'm not suggesting taking down the red ropes in the state rooms at Lydiard House and letting people have a rummage.

My idea would be to convert a couple of rooms on the first floor (not all of them) presently occupied by Chartridge and give them the Avebury treatment. Yes, there would be an initial expense, but there maybe grants or sponsorship available - the idea could at least be explored!

I wasn't going to write about Avebury Manor House today, but I was going to show you some images of the gardens. In 2012 there was an exhibition called Celebrating Art in the Garden, which I think is ideally suited to the Walled Garden at Lydiard House.

We have a thriving artistic community in and around Swindon whose members could easily stage such an exhibition - so why don't we ask them?

Why not visit the Swindon Open Studios blog where Linda writes about a recent visit to a celebration of art in a garden (well I never) - see below and get in touch.

Swindon Open Studios: Barbara Hepworth Museum, St.Ives: Having missed out on visiting the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden previously, it was a must on a recent visit, and will be so ...









My time-travelling little granddaughter at Avebury Manor.





Tuesday, November 24, 2015

'Here is a good old mansion-house ...

By the mid 19th century the Palladian mansion house at Lydiard Tregoze was a little the worse for wear. Generations of St John's had chosen to spend their declining fortunes on racehorses, fine porcelain and grand tours rather than a bit of DIY and the ancestral home was beginning to show its age.

Radical politician William Cobbett rode through the parish in September 1826 and later wrote:

'Here is a good old mansion-house and large walled-in garden and a park, belonging, they told me, to Lord Bolingbroke.  I went quite down to the house, close to which stands the large and fine church.  It appears to have been a noble place; the land is some of the finest in the whole country; the trees show that the land is excellent; but, all, except the church, is in a state of irrepair and apparent neglect, if not abandonment.

William had pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The house had served as a holiday home for the family for close on 150 years. Despite a major make over in the early 18th century subsequent St John's had elected to live in London close to where the action was, popping back to Wiltshire for a spot of shooting and partying.  By the 1830s Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, was renting out the house and parkland.  His wife, Maria, Lady Bolingbroke was in Aberystwyth at the time of her death in 1836 and Henry was in Scotland at the time of his in 1851.

So, who was living in a house like this?

Not any old family, but one that had extended links to the St John's.  At the time of the 1841 census Thomas Orby Hunter was the tenant at Lydiard House with his daughter and son-in-law Charles and Charlotte Orby Wombwell and their baby daughter.

On June 6, 1841 the servants quarters was pretty much full with sixteen members of staff living in on census night and a further three recorded in the stables.  Most gave their birthplace as out of the parish, so presumably Thomas brought his own staff with him.

Ten years later and Charles Orby Wombwell had taken over the tenancy.  He had cut down on the indoor servants but there were still an impressive eleven in residence on census night, including a governess, butler, housekeeper, cook, kitchen maid, two housemaids, a nursemaid, a footman and a groom. This time there were more local folk on the pay roll - Elizabeth Hiscocks, the daughter of Lydiard gamekeeper Robert Hiscocks, Ann Dobson from Lydiard Tregoze, Richard Weeks from neighbouring Lydiard Millicent and Jesse Turner who would later become butler to Lord Bolingbroke.

So what is the connection with the Wombwell and the St John families?

Charles Orby Wombwell  was the son of Sir George Wombwell and his second wife Eliza Little.  He and his elder half brother George both married daughters of Thomas Orby Hunter.  As we have seen Charles married Charlotte, his brother married Georgiana.

Sir George and Georgiana's son George married Julia Sarah Alice Child Villiers - are you keeping up - now Julia was the daughter of George Augustus Frederick Child Villiers 6th Earl of Jersey and his wife Julia Peel.  The young Mrs Wombwell could trace her ancestry back eight generations to Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John who grew up at Lydiard House, one of the six daughters on the magnificent St John polyptych in St Mary's Church.





St John polyptych in St Mary's Church
Barbara Villiers, the former Barbara St. John

What do you Value from Lydiard Park & House?


If you were unable to attend the two public engagement days at Lydiard Park you can print off this form and scan it and send your reply to lydiardfuture@swindon.gov.uk or post it to Rachel Watts, Asset Transformation Delivery Lead at Swindon Borough Council, Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon SN1 2JH. Closing date is December 18.

There have been criticisms of this process and the form.

1. Why wasn't the form available, not only as a hard copy, but also online. In the past the Council has used SurveyMonkey - see the following Wikipedia description - 

SurveyMonkey is an online survey development cloud-based (software as a service) company, founded in 1999 by Ryan Finley. SurveyMonkey provides free, customizable surveys, as well as a suite of paid back-end programs that include data analysis, sample selection, bias elimination, and data representation tools. In addition to providing free and paid plans for individual users. SurveyMoney offers more large-scale enterprise options for companies interested in data analysis, brand management, and consumer-focused marketing.

2. The ethnicity question is inadequate.

3. The questions are heavily loaded - what do you value most and what do you value least

If you list the children's playpark as least valued, will that go or will it be leased out to a private company and be subject to the vagaries of maintenance and access charges? 

If you value the barbecue facilities least, will these receive the same treatment? 

And if you value least the Grade I listed Palladian mansion and restored (with £3 million from the HLF) 18th century Walled Garden, what does the future hold for this beautiful, historic property?

4. The form ends on a cliff hanger:- Please return your completed questionnaire, either by post or hand-delivered, to: ... and there is no name or address.

Does this two day process, based on a questionable set of figures, and a poorly constructed form inspire you with confidence?

If you would like to include a few ideas (from the people of Swindon) to create sustainable sources of income for Lydiard House & Park, please feel free to print off The List and send it with your form. 

And maybe you would like to consider joining the Friends of Lydiard Park?







Sunday, November 22, 2015

To Swindon Borough Council with love - and free of charge!

Today is quite possibly your last chance to have your say about the future of Lydiard House and Park. The second of two public engagement days takes place in the Visitor Centre, Lydiard Park from 9.30 am to 3.30 pm. 

Feel free to print off this list.

Swindon Borough Council have appointed independent property advisor Bilfinger GVA to identify joint venture partners. Meanwhile adverts have been placed in trade journals and newspapers to invite organisations to submit proposals to help make Lydiard House and Park more sustainable and to reduce the local authority's £450,000 annual subsidy.

These are my ideas, arrived at with the help of the people of Swindon, who were gifted the property in 1943 when a visionary, philanthropic Swindon Corporation bought the Lydiard Park estate.

The list just keeps on growing!


Lydiard House
Unique selling point – scandal

Tell the story of the St John family
The links with the Tudors (perennially popular with children and adults alike)
The Civil War story
The Royal favourites and mistresses
The cheating husbands and wives
Henry, 1st Viscount St John - murderer
Henry, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke – Queen Anne’s Secretary at War – traitor
Links with the modern Royal Family

Every period of history is accessible through the House and the St John family


Improve PR and marketing:
Ask the National Trust and Historic England (Head Offices in Swindon) to advise – there are teams available to do just that.
Work with St Mary’s Church who are doing a fantastic PR job with guided tours and talks – visitor numbers have increased.
Use local people to improve marketing and PR
Encourage and value volunteers - give them responsibility and listen to their ideas.
Host interest appropriate TV programmes e.g. Antiques Roadshow, Flog It etc
Motorway sign – informs people on the lucrative, history rich, West Country heritage trail that we are here.
Explore avenues of grants and funding.
Have a look at other Council run properties and see how they are making a success of things e.g. Blaise Castle http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/blaise-castle-house-museum/

Lydiard House:
Open the front door again – a frequent complaint is that visitors think the house is closed.
Introduce modern interactive displays.
Introduce audio tour.
The story of the St Johns/the House/the restoration etc - told on film. This could also be sold as a DVD in the gift shop and used in marketing and PR – see local firm SwindonWeb...
Exhibitions: The costumes from the hugely popular Wolf Hall series recently went on tour. Why didn’t they come to Lydiard House?
Art exhibitions – seldom seen paintings from Swindon’s Modern Art Collection.
Photographic exhibitions – from the Lydiard House archives; Swindon Museum; STEAM; Local Studies and local history groups such as The Swindon Society, Rodbourne Community History Group etc.
A great place to display our statue of Charlotte Corday, currently hidden away in the former Town Hall, Regent Circus.
Film nights: Interest appropriate e.g. Duchess – the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (there is a link to Lydiard House); Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice etc; TV blockbusters – Downtown Abbey, the White Queen, The Tudors, Wolf Hall – the list is endless.
Talks and book signings: The historical/romantic novel reading public is huge - invite authors to give talks and book signings; ask Philippa Gregory author of numerous books on the Tudors and the Cousins War - her White Queen series has direct links with the Beauchamp/Tudor and St John families (see St Mary’s Church)
A Regency Reading Group - From Jane Austen to Nicola Cornick - for anyone who loves Regency reads. Locally based Nicola might even join the group from time to time.
Bridge tournaments - in 2012 the Swindon Bridge Society raised £1,200 which they donated to Lydiard House.
Fashion show and photo shoot on Grand Staircase - who remembers this event. 


Improve and develop the gift shop:
I recently accompanied a group of American visitors and they couldn’t find enough items to buy!
Sell a variety of souvenirs at both ends of the market – expensive items, e.g. porcelain to tie in with Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and how he spent the family fortune – pocket money gifts, Lydiard House fridge magnets, Lydiard House bookmarks etc
Sell items associated with the modern Royal Family – books, images of Diana, Princess of Wales – link with Lady Diana Spencer who became Viscountess Bolingbroke; Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; the love story, the wedding; Prince George and Princess Charlotte. William and Kate mugs, Lydiard House mugs.
Sell books by historical novelists such as Philippa Gregory and others
Sell DVDs

Parkland/Seasonal activities:
Cream teas: - either on the front lawn or in the walled area between House and Church
Pony & trap ride around the Park’s restored home circuit and outer areas of the estate. To provide this investigate local farmers. 
Historical re-enactors: The Woodvilles have made several visits to Lydiard Park in the past and were extremely popular. Their activities were centred on the Park (where they set up camp) and the walled garden (where they gave a display of archery). I would suggest in future they give some of their talks in the House and Church.
And while we're at it let's big up the Tudor cousins at Lydiard House with a Tudor themed day - jousting on the front lawn, Tudor fast food for sale in the stable block, Tudor toys for the children to try, Tudor music in the walled garden.
Sealed Knot - one of two main civil war re-enactment organisations - Sir John St John 1st Baronet lost three sons fighting on the Royalist side. His two youngest sons fought on the Parliamentarian side and survived.
1940s re-enactors - there was an American Hospital/Prisoner of War Camp at Lydiard Park. Recent Auto & Retro Festival was extremely successful but could have linked to the history of the House and brought in visitors.
Rare Breeds Show - who remembers these, once held regularly and well attended.
Caravan Club - members parked on the event fields behind the play park, good income generating event.
Robin Reliant Owners Club - another popular, income generating event.
Morris Minor Owners Club - and yet another popular income generating event.
Kite Festival on the events fields
Hot air balloon festival on the events fields.
Continue and expand Christmas activities in the House – e.g. carols, bell ringers etc apparently sadly not happening Christmas 2015.
Re-introduce for Christmas 2016  using the whole site - Father Christmas storytime in Grand Hall
Christmas Craft Fayre.
Christmas grotto
Mulled wine and mince pies in the Grand Hall.
Antique Fair
Farmers' Markets - and while we're at it why not convert part of the Visitor Centre into a Farm Shop?
A land train visiting all areas of the Parkland - Coate Water and the Outlet Village both have them.
Reintroduce colour coded parkland walks with wildlife information

Walled Garden
Art in the Garden – Sculpture, ceramics etc display by local artists.
Love Lydiard Craft Fayre – with costumed re-enactors – first event held 2015 was very successful – needs developing.
Guided walks and talks.

Classroom & stable block courtyard
Hands on experience of rural crafts – woodturning, lacemaking etc
Soft play area for pre-school children.
Hire accommodation out for children's parties.

Conference Centre:
How can the Council use the Conference Centre if the Chartridge contract, now in abeyance, is unlikely to be renewed?
Behind the scenes tour:  American visitors received a tour around the upper rooms and they were fascinated.
Restore upper storey rooms for viewing - recreate a kitchen and a nursery. Investigate the Avebury Manor (National Trust) model – see reviews on http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186413-d2454273-Reviews-Avebury_Manor-Avebury_Wiltshire_England.html
Open a restaurant – a pre requisite for every stately home and historic attraction - how – consult thriving, local businesses.
Negotiate contracts for services rather than lease to partners and lose control.
Make the historic house and picturesque setting the Swindon wedding venue.
Residential photography and art courses. Art and heritage are a fabulous mix.

Introduce car parking charges – this may not be the most popular of suggestions but any new ‘partner' would suggest and implement this immediately.
Add a small charge to the Council Tax bill.
Search out towns with historic buildings threatened by privatisation – maybe we could share ideas, experiences, solutions …

And finally – Dear Swindon Borough Council – please look at our list.
How's that to be going on with?

Sadly SBC pays lip service to the opinions of local people, but never involves us in decision making. Why not use local expertise and stop calling in expensive, cash guzzling, external organisations.

Important notice:





The Red Queen panel on the St John polyptych



Philippa Gregory



Charlotte Corday


Blaise Castle picture room

Nicola Cornick

Sophie Cummings and Katarina McGaren-Groves pictured in 2012

A Tudor joust

Friday, November 20, 2015

Headline news: Modern Royals descended from Lydiard Park St John family


Yes, it's true and shouldn't we be making more of this fact. In the gift shop we should have postcard pictures of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, books on William and Kate - the love affair, the wedding, the babies. William and Kate mugs and plates. We should have photographs of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, books about her work, her doomed marriage and the enduring public interest in her. 

Swindon Borough Council is missing a trick here with a lucrative, sustainable income on the popular West Country heritage trail. 

Develop the gift shop under a profit sharing contract (not a lease)  - one more income generating idea from the people of Swindon - the list.

Meanwhile read the story of Anne Leighton and her Tudor connections.

Anne Leighton grew up during the volatile period of political intrigue and religious fervour that marked the end of the Tudor period and the beginning of the Stuart. The daughter of professional soldier Sir Thomas Leighton and Elizabeth Knollys, who shared a Boleyn ancestry with Queen Elizabeth I, Anne was the first wife of Sir John St. John 1st Baronet.

Anne was christened on October 14, 1591 at the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, Hanbury. Four miles from Droitwich, Hanbury in Worcestershire was the Leighton family seat. However it is likely she spent most of her childhood in Guernsey where her father was appointed Governor in 1570 and remained until his death in 1610.

With her royal pedigree and wealthy background Anne received an education befitting her status. Along with her brother Thomas and sister Elizabeth, Anne was educated at home in Guernsey by the controversial, uncompromising, Puritan preacher, William Bradshaw. The girls also received instruction in the skills required for running their own establishments.

The association between the Leighton and St. John families was a long standing one. The John St John and his siblings were orphaned in childhood. After their father’s death in 1594, their mother Lucy married her cousin Sir Anthony Hungerford of Black Bourton. Following her death in 1598 the heir to the St John estates was made a ward of the monarch.

Queen Elizabeth granted Sir Thomas Leighton the wardship of the young John St. John and the lease of his lands after an appeal from Lady Elizabeth Leighton who stated that she and her husband were ‘minded to match him to their daughter.’

Sadly, whilst on holiday with Sir Thomas in 1597 John’s elder brother Walter got into difficulties bathing off the Island of Herm with a group of fellow young guests. His tutor Isaac Daubney went to his aid, but both were drowned. John subsequently succeeded to the family estate, aged just 11 years old.

Anne duly married John at St. John’s Church, Hackney on July 9, 1604. Still a ward of court, John was 19 years old. With no legal age for marriage, Anne was just 13.

It is not known when the young couple first set up home together, although the daughter of Sir John’s sister Lucy St John suggests it was soon after their marriage.

“The rest of my aunts, my mother’s sisters, were dispersed to several places, when they grew up till my uncle, Sir John St. John, being married to the daughter of Sir Thomas Laten, they were all again brought home to their brother’s house,” Lucy wrote in her Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson.

Lucy also writes of the kindness shown by Anne to her mother, the youngest of six sisters among whom there was considerable rivalry in the matrimonial stakes – “my uncle’s wife, who had a mother’s kindnesse for her, persuaded her to remove herselfe from her sister’s envie, by going along with her to the Isle of Jernsey where her father was governor.”

The St. John family was the largest landowners in the 17th century parish of Lydiard Tregoze with the medieval deer park, numerous farms including Windmill Leaze and Wick, plus others at Shaw and parcels of land in the neighbouring parish of Lydiard Millicent.

In 1604 the medieval mansion house to which the newly married couple returned consisted of two wings linked by a central hall block. This was a period when a number of titled families were renovating their ancestral homes and in many instances it was the lady of the house who was in charge of building operations. Perhaps Anne was the driving force behind the modernisation of Lydiard House, dragging it out of the past and into the 17th century. The remodelled Palladian house as seen today was the work of her great grandson John, 2nd Viscount St. John.

Unlike subsequent members of the family who divided their time between their various establishments, the Lydiard mansion was the permanent home of John and Anne. These were busy times for the young couple and their growing family. Knighted at Whitehall on February 2, 1608/9, Sir John became one of newly crowned James I’s Baronets in 1611.

The St. John’s had status, wealth and connections. The family finances were secure. These, it might be said, were the golden years.

The ladies at Lydiard kept up with the fashion of the day as this extract from a London dressmaker’s bill indicates. The total cost for items for Anne, her two daughters Anne aged 15 and Barbara eleven years old and a Mistress Talbot came to £12 17s 5d, presented for payment after Anne’s death in 1628.

The Lady St. Johns of Lideard the 28 of March 1629

For Canvas stifning and whalbone for Mistress Ans grene and white flowered grogram goune
for fustyan to lyne the sleves and Clasps
for a yeard of Crimson and silver grogram for the same goune
for a norme and quarter of new silver lan[...]
for the bodis and sleves
for faring for the same goune
for silke

There are three representations of Anne at Lydiard House and Park. A portrait by an unknown artist hangs in the dining room. Dressed in fashions typical of the period, Anne wears a grey dress with epaulettes embroidered in green, red and gold and a deep lace collar edged with red and gold embroidery. Her hairstyle owes more to the Elizabethan period worn swept back from her face with a pendant inset and earrings to match. She has a kindly expression, unlike the severe looking Margaret Whitmore, Sir John’s second wife, whose portrait hangs above the one of Anne.

Anne also appears in the St. John Polyptych  in St. Mary’s Church, next to the mansion house. Commissioned by Sir John in 1615, the painting is a celebration of the St. John ancestry and a memorial to his parents, Sir John and Lucy who take centre stage, kneeling on a tomb. To the right of the family portrait are their six daughters while to the left stand the younger Sir John and Anne, their arms interlinked in a display of informality and intimacy.

Anne did not live to see the turmoil of the Civil War in which five of her sons played an active role.

The first of Anne’s three sons to die for the Royalist cause was William born 1617, killed in action at nearby Cirencester. A lieutenant in the infantry, William was fighting alongside Prince Rupert when Cirencester was seized on February 2 1642/3. His body was returned to Lydiard House where he was buried alongside his mother in the family vault at St. Mary’s.

Later the same year, John, Anne’s second son, died fighting in Nottinghamshire. The Royal garrison at Newark was blockaded during the winter of 1643 and it is believed that John was killed during fierce fighting. He was buried in the chancel of the parish church at Newark.

The third of Anne’s sons to die fighting in the Royalist ranks was Edward. A captain in Sir John Byron’s Regiment of Horse, Edward saw action at the Second Battle of Newbury on October 27 1644. He returned to Lydiard House where fatally wounded he lingered on, eventually dying of his injuries over five months later. He was also buried in the family vault at St. Mary’s.

Anne’s two youngest sons Walter and Henry both married daughters of Cromwellian sympathiser Oliver St. John, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, nailing their colours firmly to the Parliamentarian mast.

Finally, an effigy of Anne can be seen on the magnificent marble St. John tomb commissioned by Sir John fourteen years before his actual death. The carving is of the highest quality and a comparison with existing portraits confirms the accuracy of the representations of Sir John and his two wives.

The inscription reads: “Anne was the daughter of Thomas Leighton, Knight, by his wife Elizabeth of the Knowles family and of the kindred of Queen Elizabeth, as blessed in character as in connection. She lived for thirty seven years, endowed with noble gifts of mind, body, and manner, a rare example of virtue and piety; she was the mother of thirteen surviving children; in the end, long worn down by the painful agonies of her last confinement and at last overcome, she fled to heaven on the 19th September, 1638.”

The date is incorrectly recorded and should read 1628.

Portrait of Anne Leighton hangs in the dining room in Lydiard House

The St John tomb in St Mary's Church

Anne's mother, Elizabeth Knollys

Anne's grandmother Catherine Carey, believed to be the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII

Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn, who had an affair with Henry VIII during which time she gave birth to two children.

Prince George and Princess Charlotte, the children of William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, direct descendants of Anne Leighton


Portrait of Anne Leighton courtesy of Lydiard House

Bar Humbug - what's happened to Christmas at Lydiard House?

Swindon Borough Council will be holding the second of its public engagement days at the Visitor Centre, Lydiard Park on Sunday November 22 from 9.30 am  to 3.30 pm.

The evaluation form we are invited to fill in is woefully inadequate I feel. It includes the usual tick box exercise but the two sections where we are invited to express our feelings are headed - What do you value most about the site and what does it do well? and What do you value least and think could be improved?

A lot of thought has obviously gone into these two statements, with the Council's ultimate objective in mind - the leasing out of the House and Parkland.

I value everything at Lydiard House and Park and yes, of course there is room for improvement, as in all services and attractions everywhere, both publicly and privately owned. But I still believe this could be achieved under Council ownership with the allocation of profit sharing contracts where the Council retains control rather than long term leases where it loses it.

If you are unable to attend this last public engagement day (and the end of the public consultation period, such as it was) please email your thoughts, ideas and comments to lydiardfuture@swindon.gov.uk. The deadline for responses is December 18. I would suggest you email earlier rather than later. You could even copy and paste 'the list' and send that as well..

The Friends of Lydiard Park are asking the Council to check their figures. In the Link magazine online edition Friends' chair Mike Bowden said: "... Many Lydiard and STEAM operations are now combined to achieve economies of scale and reduced staff numbers - presumably to further reduce the subsidy. We suspect costs that belong to STEAM have been incorrectly allocated to Lydiard." The full article makes for interesting reading.

I called into Lydiard House to find out what the Christmas programme of events included this year but apparently there isn't one! In previous years there have been Christmas decorations and Christmas wreath making workshops in the stable block; the House has been dressed for a Victorian/1914 Christmas with carol singers and bell ringers in the Grand Hall. Of course these events may yet happen, but we are now in the last two weeks of November and nothing has been advertised as yet, a missed opportunity for people to plan their busy pre Christmas diary.



Lydiard House
Unique selling point – scandal

Tell the story of the St John family
The links with the Tudors (perennially popular with children and adults alike)
The Civil War story
The Royal favourites and mistresses
The cheating husbands and wives
Henry, 1st Viscount St John - murderer
Henry, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke – Queen Anne’s Secretary at War – traitor
Links with the modern Royal Family

Every period of history is accessible through the House and the St John family


Improve PR and marketing:
Ask the National Trust and Historic England (Head Offices in Swindon) to advise – there are teams available to do just that.
Work with St Mary’s Church who are doing a fantastic PR job with guided tours and talks – visitor numbers have increased.
Use local people to improve marketing and PR 
Host interest appropriate TV programmes e.g. Antiques Roadshow, Flog It etc
Motorway sign – informs people on the lucrative, history rich, West Country heritage trail that we are here.
Explore avenues of grants and funding.
Have a look at other Council run properties and see how they are making a success of things e.g. Blaise Castle http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/blaise-castle-house-museum/

Lydiard House:
Open the front door again – a frequent complaint is that visitors think the house is closed.
Introduce modern interactive displays.
Introduce audio tour.
The story of the St Johns/the House/the restoration etc - told on film. This could also be sold as a DVD in the gift shop and used in marketing and PR – see local firm SwindonWeb...
Exhibitions: The costumes from the hugely popular Wolf Hall series recently went on tour. Why didn’t they come to Lydiard House?
Art exhibitions – seldom seen paintings from Swindon’s Modern Art Collection.
Photographic exhibitions – from the Lydiard House archives; Swindon Museum; STEAM; Local Studies and local history groups such as The Swindon Society, Rodbourne Community History Group etc.
A great place to display our statue of Charlotte Corday, currently hidden away in the former Town Hall, Regent Circus.
Film nights: Interest appropriate e.g. Duchess – the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (there is a link to Lydiard House); Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice etc; TV blockbusters – Downtown Abbey, the White Queen, The Tudors, Wolf Hall – the list is endless.
Talks and book signings: The historical/romantic novel reading public is huge - invite authors to give talks and book signings; ask Philippa Gregory author of numerous books on the Tudors and the Cousins War - her White Queen series has direct links with the Beauchamp/Tudor and St John families (see St Mary’s Church)
A Regency Reading Group - From Jane Austen to Nicola Cornick - for anyone who loves Regency reads. Locally based Nicola might even join the group from time to time.
Bridge tournaments - in 2012 the Swindon Bridge Society raised £1,200 which they donated to Lydiard House.
Fashion show and photo shoot on Grand Staircase - who remembers this event. 


Improve and develop the gift shop:
I recently accompanied a group of American visitors and they couldn’t find enough items to buy!
Sell a variety of souvenirs at both ends of the market – expensive items, e.g. porcelain to tie in with Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and how he spent the family fortune – pocket money gifts, Lydiard House fridge magnets, Lydiard House bookmarks etc
Sell items associated with the modern Royal Family – books, images of Diana, Princess of Wales – link with Lady Diana Spencer who became Viscountess Bolingbroke; Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; the love story, the wedding; Prince George and Princess Charlotte. William and Kate mugs, Lydiard House mugs.
Sell books by historical novelists such as Philippa Gregory and others
Sell DVDs

Parkland/Seasonal activities:
Cream teas: - either on the front lawn or in the walled area between House and Church
Pony & trap ride around the Park’s restored home circuit and outer areas of the estate. To provide this investigate local farmers. 
Historical re-enactors: The Woodvilles have made several visits to Lydiard Park in the past and were extremely popular. Their activities were centred on the Park (where they set up camp) and the walled garden (where they gave a display of archery). I would suggest in future they give some of their talks in the House and Church.
And while we're at it let's big up the Tudor cousins at Lydiard House with a Tudor themed day - jousting on the front lawn, Tudor fast food for sale in the stable block, Tudor toys for the children to try, Tudor music in the walled garden.
Sealed Knot - one of two main civil war re-enactment organisations - Sir John St John 1st Baronet lost three sons fighting on the Royalist side. His two youngest sons fought on the Parliamentarian side and survived.
1940s re-enactors - there was an American Hospital/Prisoner of War Camp at Lydiard Park. Recent Auto & Retro Festival was extremely successful but could have linked to the history of the House and brought in visitors.
Rare Breeds Show - who remembers these, once held regularly and well attended.
Caravan Club - members parked on the event fields behind the play park, good income generating event.
Robin Reliant Owners Club - another popular, income generating event.
Morris Minor Owners Club - and yet another popular income generating event.
Kite Festival on the events fields
Hot air balloon festival on the events fields.
Continue and expand Christmas activities in the House – e.g. carols, bell ringers etc apparently sadly not happening Christmas 2015.
Re-introduce for Christmas 2016  using the whole site - Father Christmas storytime in Grand Hall
Christmas Craft Fayre.
Christmas grotto
Mulled wine and mince pies in the Grand Hall.
Antique Fair
Farmers' Markets - and while we're at it why not convert part of the Visitor Centre into a Farm Shop?
A land train visiting all areas of the Parkland - Coate Water and the Outlet Village both have them.
Reintroduce colour coded parkland walks with wildlife information

Walled Garden
Art in the Garden – Sculpture, ceramics etc display by local artists.
Love Lydiard Craft Fayre – with costumed re-enactors – first event held 2015 was very successful – needs developing.
Guided walks and talks.

Classroom & stable block courtyard
Hands on experience of rural crafts – woodturning, lacemaking etc
Soft play area for pre-school children.
Hire accommodation out for children's parties.

Conference Centre:
How can the Council use the Conference Centre if the Chartridge contract, now in abeyance, is unlikely to be renewed?
Behind the scenes tour:  American visitors received a tour around the upper rooms and they were fascinated.
Restore upper storey rooms for viewing - recreate a kitchen and a nursery. Investigate the Avebury Manor (National Trust) model – see reviews on http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186413-d2454273-Reviews-Avebury_Manor-Avebury_Wiltshire_England.html
Open a restaurant – a pre requisite for every stately home and historic attraction - how – consult thriving, local businesses.
Negotiate contracts for services rather than lease to partners and lose control.
Make the historic house and picturesque setting the Swindon wedding venue.
Residential photography and art courses. Art and heritage are a fabulous mix.

Introduce car parking charges – this may not be the most popular of suggestions but any new ‘partner' would suggest and implement this immediately.
Add a small charge to the Council Tax bill.
Search out towns with historic buildings threatened by privatisation – maybe we could share ideas, experiences, solutions …

And finally – Dear Swindon Borough Council – please look at our list.