Monday, December 28, 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Ghost of Christmas Past at Lydiard House

I wrote this article during the Christmas 2012 celebrations at Lydiard House and Park. Lydiard House was beautifully dressed for Christmas, busy and full of visitors. 

This year I visited the day before Christmas Eve. With no Christmas programme the House was quiet and during my visit an electrician suddenly appeared unannounced and plunged the State Rooms into darkness. Now if I were a glass half empty type of person I could view this as prophetic, but I think the fortunes of Lydiard House and Park could easily be turned around without leasing it to a private partner.

If, like me, you want to see Lydiard House busy again, its future and that of the park safe, secure and accessible to the people of Swindon, please sign the Friends of Lydiard Park petition and attend the public meeting on January 12. Meanwhile why not come to one of the talks and tours in the Behind Closed Doors event? For further details about the petition, meeting and events please visit the Friends of Lydiard Park website.

Following persistent heavy rain throughout the previous day, Lydiard Park wasn't looking its best on Saturday. But as I walked along narrow Hay Lane, once open to traffic but now the province of dog walkers and cyclists, a sudden movement in the parkland caught my attention.

In the blink of an eye they were there and then gone; three deer, leaping through the trees just yards away from a modern housing estate.

Ancient Bradon Forest, a vast expanse of woodland, waste ground, moor and common, once extended across Purton and into the parishes of Cricklade, Ashton Keynes, Charlton, Lydiard Millicent and Lydiard Tregoze. Writing in The Story of Purton published in 1919 Mrs Story-Maskelyne suggested that ancient oaks, then still surviving on Blagrove Farm, probably marked an outlying part of a black grove of the old forest.

Records reveal that in 1135 Bradon Forest was a Royal forest and by 1228 enclosed an area of some 46 square miles.  In the mid 13th century the Tregoz family at Lydiard House obtained a Royal licence to enclose woodland to create a private deer park and Henry III made them a gift of 11 deer to get the enterprise established.

During excavation work undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in 2008 evidence was discovered of a medieval park pale constructed near the present park boundary with Lydiard Park Academy.  The ditch and bank topped by a wooden park pale allowed deer to enter the park but prevented them from escaping.

For a fleeting moment the glimpse of those three wild and wonderful animals transported me back more than 700 years to the park's medieval history.

Up at the house Christmas celebrations were in full swing where the St Mary's Ukulele Ladies were entertaining visitors with some Victorian Carols.

Two watercolours of Lydiard House interiors by Canadian war artist George Campbell Tinning, recently purchased by Swindon Borough Council for Lydiard House with grants from The Art Fund and the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, were also on display. The two paintings of the main entrance hall and the dining room (pictured here in the library) were commissioned to accompany an article written by Aldous Huxley and published in the Lincoln Mercury Times in 1951

Visit the house all dressed up for Christmas in traditional greenery and handmade decorations. Normal museum entry charges apply.  Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 4pm.

Lydiard House is closed to the public from December 24 to March 18. The House reopens on Saturday, March 19.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Behind Closed Doors

Lydiard House will be closed during January, February and March 2016. Intensive cleaning and care of the collections will take place during this period and the house will re-open with a new exhibition in time for the Easter holidays.

During the winter months the Friends of Lydiard Park, in partnership with Lydiard House, will be holding a series of free talks and tours called Behind Closed Doors.

Lydiard House has a fantastic collection of portraits and paintings, and I will be introducing you to some of the fascinating Ladies of Lydiard during a guided portrait tour on Saturday January 23 at 2.30 pm and again on Wednesday February 24 at 7 pm.

The remodelled Palladian mansion dates from the middle of the 18th century and incorporates features from a much older Tudor building, but a dwelling has existed in the parkland for much, much longer than this.

So who was the first lady to live at Lydiard Park? Well it wasn't Edith Stourton, born in around 1375 who became the second wife of John Beauchamp, 3rd Baron Beauchamp. John succeeded to the title of Lord Beauchamp of Bletsoe following the death of his father Roger in 1406 and inherited estates in Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire along with the manor of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire.

John died in 1412 leaving Edith with two small children. Their son and heir, also named John, died in 1420 aged just 10 years old. His 11 year old sister, Margaret, became Baronnes Beauchamp of Bletsoe and inherited her father's estates. In 1425, aged about 16, she became the bride of Oliver St John, ten years her senior. Widowed in 1437 Margaret married John Beaufort in about 1442, by whom she had one daughter, Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.

Edith married second husband Robert Shottesbrooke and died in nearby Faringdon on June 13, 1441.

Could Sybil Pateshule have been the first lady to take up her duties as chatelaine at Lydiard? Sybil was the wife of Roger Beauchamp, 1st Lord Bletsoe, who was Keeper of Devizes Castle in 1340, fought in the French Wars in 1346 and was Captain of Calais in 1372.

The Manor of Lydiard Tregoz was confirmed to Roger and Sybil in 1348/49 and the couple resided at both Bletsoe and Lydiard. But was Sybil the first lady to balance the household budget at Lydiard?

In 1270 Henry III gave Robert Tregoz a royal licence to impark a nearby woodland in order to create a deer park in the manor of Lydiard Tregoz.

Perhaps his wife Juliana De Cantilupe watched from a window as Robert and his chums set off in pursuit of a side of venison for dinner. What did the property look like then? Was it a medieval manor house or a more modest hunting lodge?

The first lady at Lydiard might even have been a well to do Romano-British woman whose name has long since been lost. A foundation course of stonework belonging to a Roman building was discovered during archaeological excavations in 2003 made in the area of the car park below the church, ahead of the extensive Lydiard Park Project restoration work. The construction of the course work used material believed to be from a more grand Roman building. Did a Roman villa complete with frescoes, mosaics and under floor heating once stand on the site of Lydiard House?

But while the identity of the first Lydiard lady is up for debate, that of the last lady to live at the mansion house is well known.

Joyce Ingram lived in a suite of rooms in Lydiard House for almost 25 years, firstly with her caretaker husband Norman, and then from 1975 taking over the job of caretaker herself. In 1989 Joyce talked to the Swindon Advertiser about her impending retirement, her love of Lydiard House and her relationship with the ghost of Sir John St John.

Joyce said: "It's strange really but I never feel alone or frightened here. I always think Sir John is looking after me."

Joyce worked a 42 and a half hour week back in the day (when admission to the House was free.) From 8.30 am to 6.15 pm, Joyce welcomed members of the public, sold souvenirs and kept the state rooms spick and span.

Joyce retired on May 26, 1991. Sarah Finch Crisp, Keeper at Lydiard House, wrote in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report of that year; "Her love for Lydiard and for the people who visit it has always been paramount, and her commitment to the Museum's service, never in doubt."

Lady Mary, 5th Viscountess Bolingbroke died in 1940 and in 1943 the trustees of her will sold the mansion house and parkland to Cllr Francis Akers who held it on behalf of the Swindon Corporation until funds could be found to buy it for the people of Swindon. In 1966 Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, by then living in Hampshire, offered thirty one portraits to Swindon Corporation and the Ladies of Lydiard returned home, along with their esteemed Lordships.

If you would like to attend any of the Behind Closed Doors talks or join one of my portrait tours, please contact Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or email her at The talks and tours are free, but places are limited and you need to book.

Margaret Beauchamp

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII

A page from the Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours.

Joyce pictured with the portrait of Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine by Peter Lely returned to Lydiard House in 1982

Joyce pictured in 1989

Sir John St John 1st Baronet - Joyce's ghostly companion

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Miracle worker Lady Johanna St John

In January 2012 Sophie Cummings, then Collections Manager at Lydiard House, kindly wrote the following blogpost for me.

With so many people suffering from coughs, colds, aches and pains, it seems sensible to turn to Lady Johanna’s Recipe Booke for advice.

The ‘Booke’, which I’ve mentioned a few times before, contains 167 double pages of handwritten recipes, shared between Johanna, her friends, family and staff during the 17th century.

Luckily, Johanna has a number of remedies for coughs, such as:

An opening syrope for a cough
Parsley Fennel & succory rootes march mallow & Hollyhock rootes made clean & the pith taken out each 2 ounces Agrimony Bittony maidenhair scabious Bonewort Lungwort Bawm Coltsfoot Hysope Arins each P: i: raisins stone halfe a pound figs & Liquorish a n a 4 ounces Anniseeds bruised halfe an ounce boyle thes in a Pottle of water til half be consumed make it into syrope with sugar

This is quite representative of Johanna’s recipes. Although a small percentage contain odd ingredients (like snails, snake skin, amber, lead, goose dung, etc) most combine plants, herbs and spices to make syrups, tonics, skin treatments, poultices, plasters and ‘glysters’. As you can see from her ‘Opening Syrope’, she uses seventeen herbs, combined with raisins and figs. The plants are more or less familiar. Most of us are familiar (and even grow) parsley, hollyhocks, fennel and scabious, coltsfoot and lungwort are far less common.

At the moment, we are investigating the plants and spices Johanna used. How many would have been cultivated in her garden, or would have grown wild in the woods, or been bought in London, or imported from abroad? If any of you has a spare half-hour in the library or to search online, I am on the look out for recipes for rosewater, particularly 17th/18th century recipes. Any help would be much appreciated.

Work continued throughout 2012 and in August the Swindon Sixth Sense Youth Theatre Group gave a performance in the Walled Garden of Johanna’s Miracle Garden, written by Mike Akers.

The Education Team at Lydiard Park then had plans to develop further events to stimulate interest and understanding of the incredibly significant Lady Johanna St John and her role in the historical development of biomedical science. Plans included a schools resource pack, family quiz trail and exhibition and in April 2013 a series of lectures took place in the magnificent Grand Hall at Lydiard House under the heading: Science and Superstition: Herbal Remedies and the History of Cures Lecture Series.

The whole project was supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award. For more about Lady Johanna and the work that took place in 2012/13 read Sophie’s account on the Wellcome Trust Wellcome History blog.

This was an exciting time at Lydiard House with volunteers engaged in all the various projects from plant investigation to transcribing Lady Johanna’s Booke.

Little more than two years after the exciting Lady Johanna project, and with the recession over according to Cllr Garry Perkins, who this week told the Swindon Advertiser about a major cash injection for Forward Swindon (He [Cllr Perkins] said: "Now the recession is over, Swindon town centre should really be moving into the future.") yet Lydiard House and Park is considered to be untenable without a major cash injection from someone else.

If you care about the future of Lydiard House and Park why not join the Friends of Lydiard Park and please sign the petition, now endorsed by more than 7,000 people.

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.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Friends of Lydiard Park petition

Well, things have been pretty busy this week with the launch of The Friends of Lydiard Park petition - Swindon Borough Council: Lydiard House and Park at Risk.

Lydiard House and Park is a unique and hugely valued heritage asset used by thousands of Swindon people and visitors to the town. Swindon Borough Council is proposing to hand over the day to day management and control of Lydiard House and Park to an external commercial organisation which will seek to take profit from the site.

Swindon Borough Council say they are doing this to eliminate Lydiard's annual running cost. The Friends of Lydiard Park believe this can be done without handing over the town's 'crown jewels'.

We the undersigned oppose Swindon Borough Council's plans to hand over Lydiard House and Park to the commercial sector.

The first step was to reach 1,500 signatures, which would see the issue of Lydiard House and Park qualify for debate at a full Council Meeting. Then there was a snag ...

On December 1 came news that the head of legal services at SBC thought there may be a procedural problem as the petition referred to 'plans' rather than 'proposals' and might not qualify for a debate. However, later that day came good news and written confirmation that there will be a debate if and when the petition reached 1,500 signatures.

Following council comments in the local media on December 2 surrounding rumours of the building of an hotel, the Friends issued a new 'red line'.

We oppose

Any arrangement or outcome that results in the construction of, or planning application for, an hotel or any other substantial building, multi story or otherwise, on land within the Grade II listed Lydiard Park or its essential setting, as defined in the HLF documentation.

The online petition is being heavily promoted on social media and the signatures continue to add up. The 1,500 figure was quickly smashed and as of 6.30 am Friday, December 4 the number stands at 2,530.

Read the comments and sign the petition at Swindon Borough Council: Lydiard House and Park at Risk.