Sunday, May 29, 2016

Guided churchyard walks at St Mary's, Lydiard Park

If you enjoy the guided walks at Radnor Street Cemetery, you may like to join me on a new venture, exploring the churchyard at the historic St Mary’s Church in Lydiard Park.

A church has stood on this site for more than 1,000 years and the building that survives is full of historic gems.

Sir Simon Jenkins, columnist, editor, author and former Chair of the National Trust said ‘were it to be removed lock stock and barrel to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London it would cause a national sensation’.

Until the 1980s West Swindon development, St Mary’s Church had been at the centre of a small rural parish where tenant farmers and agricultural workers worshipped, married, brought their babies to be christened and were eventually laid to rest in the churchyard.

Today some of the farmhouses still survive, among them Brook House Farm, which is a pub and Toothill Farm, a community centre and although former farmland has disappeared beneath the housing developments the history lives on among the names on the gravestones in the churchyard.

At St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park the conservation project continues apace as the appeal team prepares to submit a revised Heritage Lottery Fund application, emphasising the projects involvement with the local community and visitors to Lydiard House and Park.

The main focus of the ongoing project is the conservation of the extensive medieval wall paintings. At the recent Behind Closed Doors series of talks and tours held at Lydiard House during the close session, internationally acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherford, spoke about her work on the 18th century Reredos and East Chancel wall.

But this isn’t the extent of the work going on at St Mary’s. Next on the list is the conservation of the medieval glass painted by itinerant Flemish craftsmen who used local people as their models. Then there is a long list of work planned on dilapidated woodwork, the rare James I screen, the gilded altar rails and the star spangled chancel ceiling. The present entrance at the west door will become a welcoming interpretation and activity area.

These works will provide valuable training opportunities for newly qualified and apprentice craftspeople to work alongside expert conservators as well as workshops and events for the public.

The project also plans to re-open the hidden south porch, closed in around 1830 when Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, did a land deal with the church to demolish the old rectory and build a new one opposite the park entrance. Further alterations to the House saw Henry divert the hoi polloi from traipsing past his backdoor and through the south porch to Sunday worship, coming instead along His Lordship’s Carriageway, entering the church by the west door.

New interpretation inside the building will reveal the history and fascinating stories behind the people associated with it over the centuries, highlighting the connections between the church, house and historic landscape of Lydiard Park.

The Church is open to visitors every Saturday and Sunday afternoon while volunteers from the National Association of Decorative and Fines Arts Societies (NADFAS) are on hand to show visitors round from 11 – 4 pm on Friday.

The magnificent St John polyptych will be on view to the public on Sunday afternoons in June. Come and enjoy a Strawberry Tea outside the Stable Room and join me for a guided walk of the historic churchyard between 2 – 4.30 on June 19 and 26.

the grave of Catherine Iles

view across the churchyard

John Jeremiah St John

Mark of a master glazier

detail from one of the headstones

Creeches Farm

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