Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lydiard House and Park - latest news

The uncertainty surrounding the future of Lydiard House and Park ended yesterday when Swindon Borough Council confirmed that the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust was the preferred bidder in the outsourcing process. The decision itself will be taken at the cabinet meeting next Tuesday, March 15.

Trustees of the not-for-profit Lydiard Park Heritage Trust include Sarah Finch-Crisp former Director of Chiswick House and Gardens Trust and previously Head of Heritage at Swindon Borough Council who led The Lydiard Park Restoration Project in 2005. The £5 million project saw the restoration of the 18th century parkland, including the Walled Garden.

Other trustees include Daniel Rose, who is chair of The Mechanics’ Institution Trust and sits on the Swindon Heritage board and Gary Bond, Managing Director of McArthurGlen who was responsible for the Swindon Railway works redevelopment (one of the largest regeneration projects in the UK).This role and his work at McArthurGlen has involved extensive work with listed buildings.

Among the members of the Advisory Group are Matt Holland, Swindon Festival of Literature director who has lived and worked in Swindon and at Lower Shaw Farm since 1980 and Michael Gray.

Michael is a Chartered Architect who, during his training in the 1980s, was involved with various conservation projects in Lydiard Park. After qualifying he went on to found an architect’s practice in Holland Park which enabled him in collaboration with the then keeper Sarah Finch-Crisp and Canon Brian Carne to research, record and interpret the architectural history of the house.

Garry Perkins, the cabinet member responsible for Lydiard, told the Swindon Advertiser (March 7): 

“This has been a long, thorough and fair process and I am delighted we are now in a position to present a preferred bidder.
“Lydiard is a key asset for people in Swindon and we need to ensure it has a sustainable future within the council’s ownership. I would like to thank all the bidders for the time, effort and passion they have shown throughout the bidding exercise.
"We had two very strong bids from both the community trusts, but ultimately the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust came out on top in the scoring."

I am thrilled, excited but most of all relieved that the Lydiard estate is now in the hands of proven heritage experts.

I love walking in the park; playing with my grandchildren on the swings; taking tea in the Coach House Tea Rooms but for me the sheer delight of Lydiard Park is the history and the heritage of the Palladian mansion house and the fascinating St John family who owned it for more than 500 years.

Last year the neighbouring St Mary’s Church made a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid with plans to conserve the medieval wall paintings and the 17th century monuments, plus the reopening of the hidden south porch (read more in the Spring 2017 edition of Swindon Heritage) and I considered it crucial that the new tenants at Lydiard House appreciated the work about to begin at St Mary's. Now that goes without question.

The Lydiard Estate came on the market in 1943 following the death of Viscountess Bolingbroke in 1940 and was initially bought in a holding operation by Cllr F.E. Akers. Swindon Corporation had expressed an interest in Lydiard House and parkland but did not want (and could not afford) the additional property that came with it during the cash strapped mid-war period.

The sale took place in July 1943 and on August 11 the local authority paid Cllr Akers a 10% deposit of £450. The remaining £4,050 was settled on October 30, 1943. (You can read the full story in the Summer 2014 edition of Swindon Heritage).

Now Lydiard House and Park will continue to be accessible to the people of Swindon as was intended by David Murray John and the Swindon Corporation when they bought the estate in 1943.

 Photographs published courtesy of The Swindon Society