Written in their Stars

On January 30 1649 Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. This unprecedented event came at the culmination of seven years of civil war. Did this usher in a period of peace and prosperity for the population? Were families reunited who had been torn asunder by divided loyalties?

Written in their Stars by Elizabeth St. John is the story of the Interregnum, that period in between the execution of one king and the restoration of another, told from the perspective of three women, members of the extended St. John family. Nan, Lady Wilmot, daughter of Sir John St. John of Lydiard, her cousin Luce Hutchinson and Luce’s sister in law Frances Apsley.

Each woman has a role to play in the new order, but which side do they support? Each has a husband in danger, children to protect, a home to preserve.

Elizabeth St. John creates an evocative account of the fear and chaos in which people continued to live during this turbulent period, especially those who still had much to lose.

Charles II and Cromwell both play a cameo part in this fast-moving novel, the third in the Chronicles of Lydiard series. In Written in their Stars Elizabeth St. John completes the story of her 17th century family. Perhaps she will next the next generation of her ancestors through to the 18th century. We can only hope this is not the final chapter of The Lydiard Chronicles.

All three books are available in paperback and digital format.

 

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Field of Remembrance

Preparation for this year’s Royal Wootton Bassett Field of Remembrance gets underway at Lydiard Park today.

The 2019  Field of Remembrance opens in the historic 18th century Walled Garden at Lydiard Park on Friday November 1. A service of remembrance begins at 11 am with visitors requested to arrive before 10.45.

The Field of Remembrance pays tribute to all service personnel who lost their lives in war, particularly the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Field of Remembrance was first opened by Prince Harry on November 9, 2010. During the ceremony Prince Harry planted a cross dedicated to his close colleague Lance Corporal Jonathan Woodgate, killed in action earlier that year.

The Field of Remembrance will be open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and closes on Thursday November 21.

Volunteers will be stewarding St Mary’s Church at various times during November. Look out for the open sign outside the church.

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St Mary’s – revealed

The conservators have left, the scaffolding has been removed and after months hidden from view, the historic interior of St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park is revealed.

An international team of students working with local volunteers and led by acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherfoord have been working on conserving the medieval wall paintings and along the way have made some fascinating discoveries.

The conservation of the 15th century nave wall painting of St Christopher had long been anticipated but no one could have predicted what would be found beneath the two plaques erected during the 18th century.

When the Hardyman family memorials were removed (and re-positioned in the south porch) the conservators made an amazing find – a medieval niche that had once contained a statue of St Christopher. And what’s more, once the rubble infill had been removed part of the head of the statue was also discovered.

The destruction of the niche took place during the turbulent Reformation period when church iconography, the symbols of the old religion, were destroyed, wall paintings covered over and statues smashed. Perhaps the person instructed to destroy the niche found the task too painful and had concealed the head of the statue to protect it. Whatever the story, the discovery adds yet another layer to the long history of the church.

High up in the Tudor barrel vaulted ceiling a collection of carved corbels look down on the congregation beneath. One is believed to be a likeness of Margaret Beaufort, half sister to the 15th century St John family and mother of Henry VII. During the conservation work it was discovered that the corbels had once been brightly painted and it was decided that the two by the chancel arch should be restored to their original colour palette.

Also revealed was the full extent of the Christ the Crown of Thorns wall painting in the south porch, yet another of the discoveries made during the conservation work.

The church is now accessible to the pubic again, although please check the Facebook page for opening times and read more about the St Mary’s conservation project on the church website.

The church will close again after Christmas when further work is due to commence.

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Corbels in the barrel vaulted roof – before

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… and after restoration

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15th century wall painting before conservation

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… and after

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Christ the Crown of Thorns wall painting in the south porch

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Carved faces on the original entrance to the church show signs of damage inflicted during the Reformation

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The conserved 17th century Coat of Arms

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Dr John St John

I was busy researching the life and times of Henrietta St John, a sad story of 18th century double standards set against a backdrop of letters and gardening. Henrietta’s so say ‘platonic’ relationship with poet John Dalton led to her banishment from her home and her separation from her two children, and then during my research and reading I came across the name Doctor John St John, albeit from a different century.

I was loath to halt my work in progress but I couldn’t resist trying to find out who this man was. Although there are still large gaps in my knowledge, I have discovered that Dr John led a pretty interesting life.

Dr John was in the thick of the action during the 17th century Civil War. As troops assembled for the second showdown in the Berkshire countryside, Essex wrote to the Derby-House Committee

My Lords and Gentlemen,

It is a comfort to mee in this sad tyme of mine affliction, in minde and body, to see that I am continued in your care, being at this present soe uselesse a servant to ye State. The particulars of my disease, I shall crave pardon that I deferre the accompt of it till Doctor St John’s, old Mr Bowden of Reading, and Langley my owne Chirurgion shall set downe the trew state as much as they can perceive of it as yet, only thus much, I think it has been much occasioned (the inconveniency I am like to suffer) by striving soe long with it; …

He signs himself – Your Lordships’ most humble servant, Essex – Reading, 27 Oct., 1644.

The first and second battles of Newbury and the siege of Donnington Castle during the Civil War, 1643-6 by Walter Money published in 1884

It seems highly unlikely that the doctor attended his cousin Captain Edward St John who was fatally wounded at that same bloody battle. Dr John’s side of the family were Parliamentarians and his services would have been required in their camp. Edward made it home to Lydiard House but died five and a half months later. He is commemorated in St Mary’s Church by the unique memorial called the Golden Cavalier.

C.E. Challis in his book A New History of the Royal Mint published in 1990 also makes a reference to Dr John.

On Holland’s withdrawal from the Mint the office of warden was revived and filled by Dr John St John. Presumably his doctorate was an MD, though he is not listed in Munk’s Roll of the College of Physicians (1878). If so, he was probably related to Oliver, fourth Lord St John, who was one of twenty colonels raising troops for the Earl of Essex’s army in 1642. This could well explain why a John St John was ‘physician to the train and person’ in Essex’s army, attending Essex during his illness at the time of the second battle of Newbury in October 1644. At all events, once appointed in 1645, St John was to remain peaceably at the Mint throughout the rest of Charles I’s reign, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate. He probably died in Restoration year itself because on 30 June 1660 Oliver St John was ordered to surrender the Mint seal and trial plates lately in his possession.

Note to self – more research needed here!

So now we have Dr John in residence as warder at the Royal Mint in the Tower of London. I wonder if he lived within the walls of that fortress. Another St John cousin, Lucy married to the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Allen Apsley had once lived in the Queen’s House, but by 1645 Sir Allen was dead and Lucy had moved on (see The Lady of the Tower by Elizabeth St John.) The Mint left the Tower in 1810 and moved into a purpose-built factory on nearby Tower Hill. In the 1970s the whole operation moved again to Llantrisant in South Wales.

But who was Dr John St John? Why hadn’t I heard of him before and was he even connected to ‘our’ St Johns.

Oh yes, he most definitely was!

John was born in Keysoe, Bedfordshire in 1615, the son of Oliver St John (1563/3-1626) and his second wife Alice Haselden. Oliver had first married Sarah Bulkeley by whom he had at least six children, two of them making quite an impression on 17th century society.

Daughter Elizabeth married outspoken Puritan Pastor Samuel Whiting and has her own place in American history. The Whiting couple were among around 20,000 colonists who left England for America between 1630-1640 seeking religious tolerance and with a vision of creating a new and better society. In 1636 the Whiting family settled in Lynn on the eastern seaboard, five miles from Salem in the northeast and nine miles from Boston in the southwest.  Among her many duties as Pastor’s wife Elizabeth instructed the youth of the parish, helped her husband with his writings and ran his domestic affairs.

Her brother Oliver was even more well known. Oliver St John (c1598-1673) matriculated from Queen’s College, Cambridge in 1616 and entered upon a career in law which brought him notoriety and esteem in pretty much equal measure. In 1641 he was appointed solicitor-general by Charles I, despite his defence of John Hampden who challenged and refused to pay the king’s Ship Money Tax. By the outbreak of war Oliver had firmly aligned himself with Cromwell and was recognised as one of the parliamentary leaders. In 1648 he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.

Yes, I too was sceptical about Dr John’s accreditation regarding our illustrious St John family and then I discovered his will.

Written on ‘the tenth of Aprill in the year of our Lord God One thousand Six hundred and Sixtie being sicke and weake in body but of good and perfect memory thankes bee given to Allmighty God for the same Doe make this my last Will and Testament.’ Dr John bequeathed ‘unto the parish of Keysoe in the County of Bedford being the parish where I was borne fforty shillings to bee distributed amongst the poore.’ And then I knew I was on the right track.

In this will Dr John makes numerous bequests to friends and family among whom are a lot of very familiar names.

Item I give unto Mr John Barnard forty shillings to buy him a Ring And to his wife five pounds of lawful money of England And to each of his children twenty shillings a piece.

(John Barnard was the husband of Elizabeth, Oliver St John’s (c1598-1673) daughter by his second marriage to Elizabeth Cromwell and half-sister of Lady Johanna St John, chatelaine at Lydiard and Battersea, gardener and purveyor of pills and potion fame.)

There is a mention of a couple of Bulkeley cousins, John and Joseph, along with their wives who received forty shillings a piece to buy mourning rings.

He leaves to ‘Francis St Johns my nephew and sonne of the Lord Chiefe Justice St John, ffive pounds of lawfull money of England.’ Then we have Sir Walter St John and his wife (the aforementioned Johanna) along with Henry St John and his wife (Catherine, Johanna’s sister) and their respective children who all receive money with which to buy rings

And if any further proof were needed Dr John writes that he wishes to ‘ordaine and appoint the Lord Chiefe Justice St John Executor of this my last Will and Testament’.

Dr John St John died at his home in Boult Court and was buried at the Church of St Dunstan in the West on April 17, 1660.

The St John family continues to amaze and intrigue me, especially the women, but now it’s time to get back to Henrietta. Sadly, it would appear that Dr John never married. What a story that lady would be able to tell.

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A view from the Tower walls

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On guard at the Tower

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The Norman White Tower built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s.

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Changing guards at Lucy Apsley’s former home – The Queen’s House

Sir Walter Raleigh's garden

A recent restoration of Sir Walter Raleigh’s garden.

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Traitor’s Gate

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Sir Walter St John

(c) Lydiard House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Johanna St John

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The Golden Cavalier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ditchley Park

This year’s Friends summer outing was to the magnificent Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, the Palladian mansion house built in the early 1720s for George Henry Lee, 2nd Earl of Lichfield.

First port of call for the Friends was an elegant light lunch at nearby Heythrop Park, a property built for Charles Talbot, 1st Duke of Shrewsbury at the beginning of the 18th century.

Then it was on to the main attraction …

Ditchley Park is less than 10 miles as the crow flies from Blenheim Palace and came in handy as a stopover for the guests of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. Another link with this most famous of families came during the Second World War when Winston Churchill relocated from Chequers to hold wartime working weekends on more than a dozen occasions. He was at Ditchley Park when Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess arrived in Scotland, supposedly on a peace mission.

Ditchley Park is of special interest to the Friends of Lydiard Park as there is a connection with the St John family. The 2nd Earl of Lichfield’s great grandmother was Anne St John, second child and eldest daughter of Sir John St John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton. Although there are no portraits of Anne in Lydiard House, she can be seen in St Mary’s Church, depicted as one of the kneeling daughters on the St John memorial.

Anne married Francis Henry Lee in 1632. Their marriage was sadly a short one as Francis died of smallpox in 1639, leaving Anne widowed with two young children and pregnant with a third.

A resourceful, resilient woman Anne married Royalist Henry Wilmot in 1644. Widowed for a second time she managed to negotiate the treacherous Civil War period and retain both the Lee and Wilmot estates. You will be able to read more about Anne and several of the other St John women in The Ladies of Lydiard by Frances Bevan, due for publication Spring 2020.

Ditchley Park contains some wonderful portraits (including one of Anne) among them several of Charles I and Charles II. The Earls of Lichfield trace their descent from Charlotte Fitzroy, the illegitimate daughter of Charles II and Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine who was for many years Charles II’s principle mistress and bore him several children. And here is another St John connection; Barbara was the granddaughter of Barbara St John; portraits of both women hang in the State Bedroom at Lydiard House.

Sadly, there is no evidence of the old Tudor mansion in which Anne lived and no definitive location for the property. One theory is that the present house stands on the site of the old one. Materials from the old property were incorporated into the new build.

Today Ditchley Park is owned by the Ditchley Foundation established in 1958 and hosts conferences covering political, economic, social, scientific and artistic topics. The house is not open to the public, except by special arrangement. The Friends tour was conducted by the Bursar Mike Montagu.

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Prime Theatre

Learning about our local history was a walk in the park with the Prime Theatre production, Painting the Past.

Painting the Past tells the story of Sir John St John 1st Baronet whose spirit is trapped at Lydiard Park unable to let go of the pain and loss of his life. The young time travelling painters who ‘swish, brush, etch and sketch’ celebrate the art he left behind, informing him that in 2019 people will come to admire the monuments and paintings in the church and learn about his family.

There was a courtly Elizabethan dance on the front lawn and a ghostly civil war re-enactment in the woods and my favourite scene – the History and Hers rap about the St John women who appear on the polyptych in the church.

The well-researched and historically accurate production was performed in the parkland as part of the HLF funded St Mary’s Church Conservation Project. The young actors gave a mature, thoughtful and fun performance. Painting the Past deserves to be seen again and the Friends of Lydiard Park Trustees are hoping it could be a feature of the Christmas party.

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Painting the Past

Please note that the Saturday performance times have changed. These will now take place at 6 pm and 8 pm.

 

Dear Friends

You may have already seen publicity about the theatre performances in Lydiard Park this weekend. Prime Theatre, Swindon’s youth theatre, have been working with young people to create a play inspired by St. Mary’s Church Lydiard Tregoze.  This is part of the church’s conservation project which is involving schools, community groups and many organisations in activities responding to Lydiard’s rich history. I do hope you are able to come along and support this event – it should be fun. Tickets can be booked on line – see below.

Outdoor Theatre: PAINTING THE PAST

Friday 19th and Saturday 20th July

6 pm and 8 pm
Swish. Brush. Etch. Sketch… A group of artists find themselves stuck in the past, trapped in the stories of their ancient artwork. They have one chance to escape, and it all hangs on the shoulders of one man, Sir John St. John, 1st Baronet of Lydiard Tregoze. Come on a journey through time as young actors from Swindon’s Prime Youth Theatre bring to life the stories of the artwork in St. Mary’s Church and the historic family whose legacy has shaped the Lydiard that we know and love today.

Please note: The performance will take place in various locations in Lydiard Park and audience will be asked to walk between scenes. Please meet at the picnic tables outside the stable café. Look for the gold sign! Pay and display parking is available on arrival.

Performance length: 40 minutes Tickets £5.00 Tickets can be purchased at https://www.primetheatre.co.uk/productions/painting-the-past/ Please book online to ensure a place, however there will be a limited number of tickets available to purchase at each performance. you by any chance available to volunteer to help in the Prime Theatre performance at Lydiard this Friday or Saturday.

For up to date information about the St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze Conservation Project visit www.stmaryslydiardtregoze.org.uk

Best wishes

Julie Holland

Secretary & Trustee

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The St John polyptych in St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park

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