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 CThwaites@swindon.gov.uk.