Saturday, January 30, 2016

Portrait of the Week - Holles St John

The Behind Closed Doors event at Lydiard House continues this week with an afternoon talk.

Wed 3rd February 2.30 pm
Wigs, Ruffs and Robes - Discover hidden stories behind the portraits of sumptuously dressed aristocrats with Lydiard House educationalist Nancy Heath.

All the tours and talks in this series of events are free (donations are welcomed) but places are limited and you do need to book a place. Telephone Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or email

For details about forthcoming events visit the Lydiard Park or the Friends of Lydiard Park websites.

by Maria Verelst

This little dimpled darling is Holles St John, youngest son of Henry 1st Viscount St John and his second wife Angelica Pellisary.

Angelica had 12 children, but only four survived to adulthood, George (1693-1716); Henrietta (1699-1756); John (1702-49) and Holles (1710-38).

Little is know about Holles excepting that he was an equerry to Queen Caroline, according to his memorial in Battersea church.  He was very close to his sister and would appear to be the only member of her family who continued to see her following her expulsion by husband Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough.

Holles was also very fond of the theatre, although whether as an enthusiastic member of the audience or as an actor is unknown. On his death he left his sister shares in Covent Garden Theatre, naming her as executrix of his Will.

In the name of God Amen I the Honoble Holles St John Esq youngest son of the Right Honble Henry Lord Viscount St John being of sound and perfect mind and memory thanks be given to God for the same do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner and fform following ffirst I give and devise all that my ffreehold Estate whereof I stand seized pofsefsed of or Interested in called ffreien Court with the Mefsuage Outhouses Lands and premifses thereunto belonging and appertaining now in the occupation of Richard Perry or his undertenants Situate lying and being at Peckham Rye in the Parish of Camberwell in the County of Surry unto my sister Henrietta Knight Wife of Robert Knight Esq for and during the term of her Natural Life and from and immediately after the decease of the said Henrietta Knight then I give and devise the same to my Niece Henrietta Knight daughter of my said Sister Henrietta Knight for and during the term of her Natural Life and from and immediately after the decease of the said Henrietta Knight the daughter then to the heirs Males of her Body lawfully to be begotten And for want of such Issue Remainder to my own right heirs for ever Item I give and bequeath unto Sir Peter Soame Baronet two hundred pounds and to his Sister Msrs Jane Sarah Soame five hundred pounds of lawfull money of Great Britain I give to my Servant Jeremiah Trean (?) ffifty pounds and all my apparel both woollen and Linen I desire my Executrix herein after named to lay out ffifty pounds on a Monument to be Erected in the Church where I happen to be buryed I give to my Brother the late Lord Viscount Bolingbroke my Diamond ring which was given me by me ffather and after my Debts ffuneral Charges and the Legacies hereby given are paid and Satisfyed I do hereby give and bequeath all the rest and residue to my personal estate Goods and Chattells whatsoever and wheresoever unto my said Sister Henrietta Knight and her Afsigns whom I hereby constitute and appoint Sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament In Witness and whereof I the said Holles St John have hereunto sett my hand and Seal the first day of November in the tenth year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord George the Second over Great Britain King Defender of the ffaith And in the year of Our Lord One thousand Seven hundred and thirty Six Holles St John Signed Sealed Published and Declared by the Testator Holles St John as his last Will and Testament in the Presence of us who set our hands as witnesses in the presence and at the Desire of the said Testator – Morris Jacob Wale Tho: Osbourne
This Will was proved at London before the Right Worshipfull John Bettesworth Doctor of Laws Master Keeper or Commifsary of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfully constituted the Seventeenth day of October in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and thirty Eight by the Oath of the Honble Henrietta Knight (Wife of Robert Knight Esq) the Sister of the deceased and Executrix in the Said Will named to whom administration was granted of All and Singular the Goods Chattells and Creditts of the said deceased being first Sworn by Commifsion duly to Administer

An obituary published in the Gentleman's Magazine descibes Holles as being 'of a lively Genius and a sparkling wit,' but not every publication was so complimentary. The author of Bolingbroke and His Times - The Sequel, published in 1901/2 calls him 'fat, unwieldy, and, like them all, turbulent.'

Holles died on October 6, 1738 aged 27. He was buried in the family vault at St. Mary's, Battersea where Henrietta erected a monument to his memory, according to wishes expressed in his will.

Art print is by Daniel Lysons.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Frederick St John and George Stubbs

The Favourite Hunter of Henry Viscount Bolingbroke - a copy of this painting hangs in the library at Lydiard House

As Swindon Borough Council agonizes over what to do about Lydiard House, who would have thought that Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and 3rd Viscount St John might have been its saviour!

This is 'Bully' who famously divorced Lady Diana Spencer, sold the family pile at Battersea, spent a fortune on Sevres porcelain and bought more than 90 thoroughbred racehorses during a ten year period. "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast horses. The rest I just squandered," he might have said to the press of the day.*

Along with the horses he bought, raced and sold in the 1760s, Frederick also became the patron of a Lancashire born artist specialising in painting horses.

The first of Frederick's horses to be immortalised in oils was 'Lustre, held by a groom.' Next came 'Tristram Shandy' followed by a bay filly called 'Molly Long Legs.' 

Frederick had a group of his brood mares and their foals painted, most probably in the Lydiard parkland. The title for this atmospheric painting is 'Mares and Foals disturbed by an approaching storm.'

In 1765 Frederick had the celebrated 'Gimcrack' painted following his win on Newmarket Heath. And to complete his gallery of equine portraits Frederick had painted 'Turf,' a bay who earned him around 2000 guineas, a 'Favourite hunter of Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke' and 'Hollyhock.'

In 1943 things were just about as bad as they could get at Lydiard House. With the Palladian mansion house falling down about his ears, Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, moved into Brook Cottage, the home of his own great grandfather, one of the gamekeepers once employed on the estate.

Up at the mansion house he had the mother of all clear outs - donating 2 and a half tons of historic documents to the wartime paper salvage scheme. Furniture was burned on the front lawn and in December of that year he dispatched four paintings for auction at Christie's; two fetched £4,410 each, a group of mares and foals made £1,365 and a fourth, the 'favourite horse of Henry Viscount Bolingbroke standing by a river, the family seat and church seen in the background' made £787.

These were just four of eight pictures Frederick had commissioned in the 1760s, painted by George Stubbs, the most famous painter of horses this country has ever produced. The painting of Hollyhock was given to M. Monet in 1766 who obviously thought it needed livening up and had a couple of figures and a flock of sheep added to the background. The painting was later bought by the Prince of Wales in 1810 and now hangs in Windsor Castle, part of the Royal Collection. 

Today the whereabouts of 'Tristram Shandy,' which sold at Christie's for £2.3 million in 2000, is unknown, but 'Molly Long Legs' hangs in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery.  

And in 2011 one of George Stubbs's works fetched a cool £22.4 million, making it the third most valuable Old Master ever sold. And what was this painting? It was Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a trainer, a stable lad and a jockey, one of the paintings Vernon sold in 1943.

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a trainer, a stable lad and a jockey 

Mare and foals disturbed by an approaching storm

Turf with Jockey up at Newmarket

Molly Long Legs
Lustre held by a groom

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Full Council Meeting January 21st

Reminder - 

Full Council Meeting, Council Chamber, Civic Offices, Euclid Street 

This evening - Thursday, January 21st 7pm

Having given consideration to the Friends of Lydiard Park petition (which now stands at 8,436 signatories) members of Swindon Borough Council are going to debate the subject again.

Motion 7a - Lydiard Park and House

(i) Councillor Garry Perkins will move:

"This Council notes the online petition signed by over 8,300 people, saying: "We the undersigned oppose Swindon Borough Council's plans to hand over Lydiard House and Park to the commercial sector."

This Council requests that the Board Director, Service Delivery ensures that the report scheduled to go to Cabinet in February sets out a timetable allowing a further three months for all proposals to be developed more fully so as to reflect the Council's goal of securing a sustainable future for Lydiard House and Park."

(ii) Councillor Jim Robbins will move and Councillor Jim Grant will second:

"This Council notes the Swindon petition with more than 8000 signatories, which states "We the undersigned oppose Swindon Borough Council's plans to hand over Lydiard House and Park to the commercial sector."

This Council believes Lydiard House and Park should not be transferred to the commercial sector and urges Cabinet to reconsider its plans for this heritage asset."

Members of the public are allowed to attend this meeting.

There is still time to sign the petition - let's make it 10,000 before Thursday.

Civic Offices c1948

Civic Offices captured more recently

1950s aerial view of the Civic Offices

Entrance to Lydiard House

Lady Bolingbroke taking tea on the front lawn at Lydiard House

Sunday, January 17, 2016

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

I will be conducting a portrait tour of the Ladies of Lydiard at Lydiard House on Saturday, January 23, at 2.30pm. as part of the Behind Closed Doors programme of events. All the events are free but you do need to book. Phone Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or email

We might even take a passing glance at John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, died on July 26, 1680, aged 33 years old.  It had been, how can I put it, an eventful life.

The son of Anne St John and her second husband Royalist hero Henry, Viscount Wilmot, John was a bit of an embarrassment to his mother.

It wasn't just the lewd poems or the bawdy plays, his dismissal from court or the drinking and whoring that upset her.  It wasn't even the attempted abduction of his future, fabulously rich heiress, wife to be Elizabeth Malet that made her raise her eyebrows.  Well actually it was, but what really upset her was that he wouldn't renounce all of the above on his death bed - and boy did she try hard to persuade him.

John was born at Ditchley, Oxfordshire and at the age of just 12 was sent to Wadham College, where it was said he 'grew debauched.'  These things happen!  Having picked up his MA three years later, John went off on the obligatory Grand Tour, which probably finished off the debauchery tuition.

Following the abduction attempt, John married Elizabeth Malet. The couple had four children - a son who died young and three daughters.

Elizabeth who married Edward Montague, 3rd Earl of Sandwich. Anne who married first Henry Bayntun and next Francis Greville and Malet who became the wife of John Vaughan, 1st Viscount Lisburne.

Back home in London John was the toast of the Restoration Court.  He frequented the theatre, gave acting lessons to his mistress Elizabeth Barry and wrote a lot of very rude poetry.

But it was the death bed renunciation of his life long atheism that was the real best seller and remained in print for two hundred years - a cautionary tale for any young man about to embark upon a life of excess.

John died at his home in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, his body so ravaged by his lifestyle choices that it was unknown whether it was the effects of alcoholism or venereal disease that eventually killed him.

John's portrait, attributed to Peter Lely, hangs in the Dining Room at Lydiard House.  Visit the Lydiard Park website for details of opening times.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

Anne St John, Countess of Rochester

Elizabeth Wilmot, Countess of Rochester

Lady Elizabeth Wilmot

Lady Anne Wilmot

Lady Malet Wilmot

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Have you booked your place yet?

Behind Closed Doors is a series of talks and tours taking place at Lydiard House and beginning this coming Saturday, January 23.

Sat 23rd Jan 2.30pm
The Ladies of Lydiard - An entertaining tour with local historian Frances Bevan revealing the secrets and talents of Lydiard ladies through the centuries.

Wed 3rd February 2.30pm
Wigs, Ruffs and Robes - Discover hidden stories behind the portraits of sumptuously dressed aristocrats with Lydiard House educationalist Nancy Heath.

Sat 13th Feb 2.30pm
Keeping up Appearances - Frances Yeo, Curator of Lydiard House shows how the Lydiard collection is cared for and demonstrates ways you can look after your own treasured possessions and furnishings.

Sat 20th Feb 2.30pm
Grand Designs Architect Michael Gray explains how the St. John family tried to assert and maintain their aristocratic status by commissioning art, architecture and landscape at Lydiard Park 1615 - 1748.

Wed 24th Feb 7pm
The Ladies of Lydiard - An entertaining tour with local historian Frances Bevan revealing the secrets and talents of Lydiard ladies through the centuries.

Wed 16th March 7pm
Uncovering History - Jane Rutherfoord talks about ancient wall paintings and her fascinating conservation work in St. Mary’s Church Lydiard Tregoze.  Donations for St. Mary’s Conservation Appeal are welcomed.

Events are free (donations welcomed) but places are limited.

To book your place please call Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or email

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Margaret Beauchamp

Margaret Beaufort

Friday, January 15, 2016

Swindon's own Calendar Girls

I can't wait for April to arrive. Not just for the warm Spring weather, but to be able to turn over the calendar page and look at these images of lovely Lydiard Park.

Margie Phillips and Ali Swann have turned their pride in our hometown and their passion for photography into a 21st century cottage industry - Swindon Perspectives.

"The first year we produced calendars as Christmas presents for our family and friends," said Margie, now, three years later, the 2016 calendar comes in three different formats and they are adding greetings cards to their repertoire.

The two friends have a substantial archive of images revealing the hidden beauty of our much maligned town and discussions are already underway for the theme of the 2017 calendar.

If you would like to know more about Swindon Perspectives contact them on and look out for their Facebook page, currently under construction.

Margie and Ali are also putting together an illustrated presentation, so if you are events secretary for a club or society, contact them on the above email address.

Meanwhile, do you think I could skip straight to April and look at lovely Lydiard Park for the next three months?

Richard Jefferies Museum, Coate - August 2016

Stanton Fitzwarren - September 2016

Ali Swann

Margie Phillips

In the tavern with a sword ...

You know how it happens - a group of lads out on the town, everyone's having a good laugh and then one bloke has a drink too many.  And before you've worked out who said what to whom, someone's got their rapier out.

Born in 1652 Henry St John was the second child and eldest son of Sir Walter and Lady Johanna.  He grew up at the Battersea Manor House under the stern eye of his Puritan mother during the austere post war years of the Commonwealth.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 it could be fairly said that Henry entered into the spirit of the new age.  Anxious to save him from his worst excesses, Sir Walter and Lady Johanna swiftly married him off in 1673 to Mary Rich, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick.  Sir Walter settled the Lydiard estate on his eldest son and the newly weds divided their time between Battersea and Wiltshire.

But in 1684 Henry was between marriages.  His first wife Mary had died in 1678 following the birth of their only surviving child and his second wife to be, Angelica Pelissary had just arrived in England bethrothed to her first husband Philip Wharton.

Temporarily let off the marital leash, Henry fully indulged his predilection for partying, gambling and racing.  It was during a night out with the boys in that popular watering hole, the Devil Tavern, Fleet Street, that the talk turned to who owned the best horses.

Along with Sir William Estcott, MP for Malmesbury, and Henry's cousin Edmund Richmond-Webb, the group left the Devil and moved on to the Globe, round the corner in Shoe Lane.  A Tryal of Racing between Henry and Sir William was proposed with a bet of £100 - but then it all got rather out of hand.  Some insults were bandied about - Henry called Escott an ass who replied that Henry was a fool.

Out came the weapons and before you could say 'calm down boys' Estcott lay dead on the tavern floor.  Henry and Edmund were committed to Newgate prison to await their appearance at the Old Bailey where they were jointly charged with murder and manslaughter.

On December 13 the two men were sentenced to death; their estates seized by the crown.  But Henry and Edmund had friends and family in high places.  Henry's cousin Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, long time mistress of the King and mother of five of his illegitimate children, interceded for them.

Just eleven days later Charles II issued a warrant that the sentences should be quashed and their forfeited estates restored - albeit at a price.  It is believed that an estimated £16,000 was paid to secure their reprieve, with Henry's portion paid by Sir Walter and Lady Johanna.

Henry decided a move abroad might be advisable, but he wasn't gone long.  By March 1685 he was back in England where he was returned as MP for the family seat at Wootton Bassett.

Did he see the error of his ways?  It's doubtful, but he never killed anyone else - well not as far as we know.

He went on to marry Angelica Pelissary on January 1, 1686/7 although he never did quite fit the bill as family man, and his eldest son, the statesman Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke, loathed him.

Unlike poor Sir William, whose family line was wiped out when he died aged 30, Henry lived another 58 years.  He died in 1742 aged 89 and was buried at St Mary's Church, Battersea.

Come and hear more about Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine at my portrait tour The Ladies of Lydiard, part of the Behind Closed Doors series of talks and tours at Lydiard House. For more information visit the Friends of Lydiard Park website. All talks and tours are free but spaces are limited so you need to book by phoning Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or emailing

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Tale of Two Trees

Some of the lakeside trees at Lydiard Park are believed to be about 250 years old, dating from the mid 18th century redevelopment of the parkland. In 1743 John, 2nd Viscount St John, remodelled the medieval mansion house with his wealthy wife's inheritance. He swept away the old formal gardens and introduced the new, 'natural' looking landscape popularised by leading English landscape artist Lancelot 'Capability' Brown.

In recent years the vagaries of the British weather have taken their toll on the trees at Lydiard Park and when this majestic tree (pictured above) close to the house was brought down in heavy winds several years ago, I was told the sad story of a grieving mother who planted two trees for the sons she lost fighting in the Civil Wars.

I wondered why I had never heard this poignant story before ...

The mother in question was Anne Leighton, Lady St John, the wife of Sir John St John, 1st Baronet. But there were a few inconsistencies in the story - firstly, three sons, not two fell during the 17th century wars.

William was the first to die, killed in action fighting alongside Prince Rupert at Cirencester in 1642/3. John was killed when the Royal garrison at Newark was blockaded during the winter of the same year. The third of Anne's sons to die fighting for the Royalist cause was Edward, wounded at the Second Battle of Newbury on October 27, 1644. Edward returned to Lydiard House where he lingered, eventually dying from his wounds more than five months later.

But there was an even greater problem with this heart rendering story; Anne Leighton, died following the birth of her 13th child in 1628, long before the outbreak of war.

But then, I reflected, perhaps it was the action of a grieving stepmother, Sir John's second wife Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham. She married Sir John two years after the death of his first wife Anne and played an active role in raising his young family. But Lady Margaret died in 1637, several years before the death of her Cavalier stepsons.

I duly reported all this back to the teller of the tale. 'Ah well,' he said, 'it makes a good story!'

Hear the full story about Anne Leighton at my portrait tour The Ladies of Lydiard, part of the Behind Closed Doors series of events organised by the Friends of Lydiard Park in partnership with Lydiard House. The events are all free but spaces are limited and you need to book a place by phoning Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or emailing