Monday, February 8, 2016

Keeping up Appearances

The Behind Closed Doors event continues this Saturday, February 13 at 2.30 pm when 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.

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

How Bessie Howard, the daughter of carter, agricultural labourer and sometime blacksmith Thomas, became Lady Mary Bolingbroke is a story of rags to riches to genteel poverty and burgeoning debt.

The story goes that during a romance of more than 10 years Mary was forced to live a life of secrecy.  Her two illegitimate sons left behind at their Bath home when Henry and Mary visited Lydiard where Mary was forced to resume her role as housekeeper. The revelation of their marriage in 1893 only came to light after the Viscount's death six years later.

However, photographic evidence suggests the situation may be slightly different.  This myth busting snapshot of Mary and Lord Bolingbroke with one of their elder sons is clearly taken at Lydiard.  In a close knit rural community where Mary was related to half the Lydiard estate workers perhaps their clandestine affair was in fact an open secret.  The St John family had form when it came to illicit relationships and local memories were long.

Servant super sleuth Sharon, a former volunteer at Lydiard Park has researched the Victorian wage books, and dated another photograph of Mary taking tea on the Lydiard lawns with a footman in attendance to around the 1880s.  When the census was taken on the night of April 3/4 1881 there were four servants in residence at Lydiard House with Henry and Mary presumably at their Bath home.

In 1881 the work force at Lydiard was a mature one, headed by 61 year old Charles Wicks described as a General Servant Domestic and his wife Mary Ann employed as cook.  Mary Ann's age is recorded as 62 but further research has revealed she was in fact 72.  Perhaps she manipulated her age for the census enumerator to protect her job.  There were two housemaids living-in on that April Sunday night, Sarah Halliday 50 and seventeen year old Frances E. Selby.

Charles Wicks was born in the neighbouring parish of Lydiard Millicent in 1820, the son of carpenter John Wicks and his wife Mary.  Charles was working as a carpenter at the time of his marriage to Marianne (Mary Ann) Logden in 1842.  Elizabeth Oliver, Sophia Logden and Jacob Edmonds acted as witnesses at the wedding in St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze and the following year twin daughters Sophia and Mary Ann were born.  Subsequent census returns reveal the growing family living at various addresses in both Lydiard Millicent and Lower Hook with Charles working as an agricultural labourer and carpenter.  In 1861 Mary Ann states her occupation as cook - although probably not at Lydiard House where Henry employed the Turner family.

Mary Ann died in the winter of 1882.  Whether Charles remained in the employment of Lord Bolingbroke has yet to be discovered.  By the time of the 1891 census Charles was an inmate at Purton Workhouse, most probably where he died in 1900 at the age of 80.

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