Lydiard Park Heritage Trust – Press Statement February 16, 2018.

After a 2.5 year outsourcing process Swindon Borough Council have unilaterally decided to abandon plans to transfer operational and management control of Lydiard Park to the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust and bring the process to an end. Their decision leaves Lydiard without an effective management team and at grave risk. Despite publically
acknowledging they do not have the skills and experience to run such an important heritage asset, the Council has rejected the sustainable future offered by the charitable Trust. The legal advice the Council used to justify their decision to the Trust, results from their own inaccurate disclosures made to all bidders in 2015/6, and suggests that the process was fatally flawed from the outset.
The shock decision came on 8 February 2018 when Trustees of the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust (LPHT) met with Swindon Council to discuss the outstanding due diligence issues jointly identified. Their public announcement of 16th February is in direct contradiction to agreements made between the parties.
Mike Bowden, Chair of the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust said:
“We are deeply concerned about the future of Lydiard Park. I have seen the comments from Cllr Perkins made to the BBC earlier today and I think it is clear that he is concentrating more on the upcoming local elections in May than on the future wellbeing of Lydiard House and Park. We have always stressed that the Trust is not party political and our sole interest is finding a sustainable future for Lydiard. However, without the local elections in mind people might like to hear what has actually happened during the 2.5 year process and why the Council’s decision to continue to manage Lydiard puts its future in real jeopardy. The parlous state of the Mechanics Institute and well publicised concerns around the Health Hydro show all to clearly what can happen if well-loved heritage and leisure assets are run by organisations that don’t have the necessary skills or interest to care for them. We were warned by many parties that attempting to work in partnership with Swindon Council would prove impossible but we genuinely
felt that Lydiard was too important to neglect and that a fresh opportunity existed to work with the council to create a secure future for Lydiard”.
As a not for profit community orientated charity, run entirely through the voluntary efforts of Trustees, LPHT was awarded preferred bidder status in March 2017. In accordance with the Councils stated process the Trust initiated due diligence work to ensure that information provided by the Council was complete and accurate and that any updated information did not have a material impact on the Trusts business plan.
During this period LPHT discovered that key information provided by SBC to all bidders during 2016 was materially inaccurate.
There were three key areas of inaccuracy:
1. The backlog of maintenance works that the council had allowed to have built up over the last decade for which the Council had set aside £850,000.
2. The financial and business performance of the operator of Lydiard Park Conference Centre Chartridge Ltd , who have run the centre under a lease with the council for many years
3. An important technical point relating to the conference centre operators obligation to repair and maintain the centre.

Lydiard Park Heritage Trust engaged leading Conservation Architects Caroe and Partners to undertake a condition survey of Lydiard House and other estate buildings. The findings of that survey differed from the council’s own condition survey and revealed extensive works are required to address the neglect of maintenance on the Grade 1 building over a 10 year period. The council were presented with these findings in 22nd Aug 2017 but despite repeated requests it was not until Nov 3rd that the council agreed to meet the Trust. In that meeting the Council agreed to a) Lydiard Park Heritage Trust to convene a meeting of surveyors from both sides to agree the extent of work required on the buildings and b) that the council would seriously consider undertaking the work themselves on the basis that a local authority would be able to procure works more cheaply than an independent charitable trust. In this way, there would be no transfer of cash, and the Council could get the best possible value for their money in repairing, what would remain their asset, over a period of years that worked for both the Council’s finances and the Trust’s business plan.It is therefore disingenuous for Cllr Perkins to claim that the Trust had asked to be paid some £4 million pounds.
The surveyors met on the 27 November 2017 and agreement was reached on the need to undertake over 80 % of the backlog maintenance contained within the Trust’s report. A few items required further discussion and the remainder of backlog works were deemed to be dilapidations, which had the council arranged matters with Chartridge on a professional basis would have been put right before Chartridge leaving the premise. In essence there was no material difference over the extent of the backlog maintenance required on the property.
The announcement that the Chartridge Lydiard Park Conference Centre will close in April with the experienced staff made redundant was an entirely avoidable event had the Council worked constructively with LPHT. The conference centre should be providing a critical income stream to support the effective running of the house and park.
In the upcoming local elections, and more generally, the Council needs to convince all parties that they have a credible strategy, which they are capable of implementing, that preserves and improves the unique Heritage and much loved Lydiard Country Park.
LPHT notes that the Council have reconfirmed they will abide by undertakings put to them by The Friends of Lydiard Park in 2015. LPHT will not be alone in holding them to account if the deterioration of Lydiard is allowed to continue. It is imperative that the Council publicly commit to undertake the backlog maintenance and repairs that they have allowed to build up over the last decade, and that they come up with a credible and sustainable plan to improve revenue streams from assets such as the Conference Centre, catering and events capabilities, as set out in our business plan.
The uncertain state of The Mechanics’ Institute, and more recent concerns about the Health Hydro, serves as a stark reminder as to what harm negligent and/or intransigent owners can do to the town’s cultural and heritage assets (both current and future).
Comments on Process
It has become apparent that the Council did not have officers with sufficient knowledge of relevant public sector procurement, asset transfer and leasing rules to operate such a complex process/processes. At best they failed to obtain appropriate professional advice or to undertake their own due diligence to ensure all relevant information was provided to bidders at the outset and would not create the issues they have now identified. Actions undertaken by officers during the process have also seriously prejudiced the due diligence process. The Trust has trustees with specific expertise in these areas and tried to gain clarity over the rules the Council were following several times during the process. The grounds given for abandonment contradict previous correspondence and again raise serious concerns about the Council’s management of their process.


A lesser known St John

This little dimpled darling is Holles St John, youngest son of Henry 1st Viscount St John and his second wife Angelica Pellisary.

Angelica had 12 children, but only four survived to adulthood, George (1693-1716); Henrietta (1699-1756); John (1702-49) and Holles (1710-38).

Little is know about Holles excepting that he was an equerry to Queen Caroline, according to his memorial in Battersea church.  He was very close to his sister and would appear to be the only member of her family who continued to see her following her expulsion by husband Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough.

Holles was also very fond of the theatre, although whether as an enthusiastic member of the audience or as an actor is unknown. On his death he left his sister shares in Covent Garden Theatre, naming her as executrix of his Will.

In the name of God Amen I the Honoble Holles St John Esq youngest son of the Right Honble Henry Lord Viscount St John being of sound and perfect mind and memory thanks be given to God for the same do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner and fform following ffirst I give and devise all that my ffreehold Estate whereof I stand seized pofsefsed of or Interested in called ffreien Court with the Mefsuage Outhouses Lands and premifses thereunto belonging and appertaining now in the occupation of Richard Perry or his undertenants Situate lying and being at Peckham Rye in the Parish of Camberwell in the County of Surry unto my sister Henrietta Knight Wife of Robert Knight Esq for and during the term of her Natural Life and from and immediately after the decease of the said Henrietta Knight then I give and devise the same to my Niece Henrietta Knight daughter of my said Sister Henrietta Knight for and during the term of her Natural Life and from and immediately after the decease of the said Henrietta Knight the daughter then to the heirs Males of her Body lawfully to be begotten And for want of such Issue Remainder to my own right heirs for ever Item I give and bequeath unto Sir Peter Soame Baronet two hundred pounds and to his Sister Msrs Jane Sarah Soame five hundred pounds of lawfull money of Great Britain I give to my Servant Jeremiah Trean (?) ffifty pounds and all my apparel both woollen and Linen I desire my Executrix herein after named to lay out ffifty pounds on a Monument to be Erected in the Church where I happen to be buryed I give to my Brother the late Lord Viscount Bolingbroke my Diamond ring which was given me by me ffather and after my Debts ffuneral Charges and the Legacies hereby given are paid and Satisfyed I do hereby give and bequeath all the rest and residue to my personal estate Goods and Chattells whatsoever and wheresoever unto my said Sister Henrietta Knight and her Afsigns whom I hereby constitute and appoint Sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament In Witness and whereof I the said Holles St John have hereunto sett my hand and Seal the first day of November in the tenth year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord George the Second over Great Britain King Defender of the ffaith And in the year of Our Lord One thousand Seven hundred and thirty Six Holles St John Signed Sealed Published and Declared by the Testator Holles St John as his last Will and Testament in the Presence of us who set our hands as witnesses in the presence and at the Desire of the said Testator – Morris Jacob Wale Tho: Osbourne

This Will was proved at London before the Right Worshipfull John Bettesworth Doctor of Laws Master Keeper or Commifsary of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfully constituted the Seventeenth day of October in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and thirty Eight by the Oath of the Honble Henrietta Knight (Wife of Robert Knight Esq) the Sister of the deceased and Executrix in the Said Will named to whom administration was granted of All and Singular the Goods Chattells and Creditts of the said deceased being first Sworn by Commifsion duly to Administer

An obituary published in the Gentleman’s Magazine descibes Holles as being ‘of a lively Genius and a sparkling wit,’ but not every publication was so complimentary. The author of Bolingbroke and His Times – The Sequel, published in 1901/2 calls him ‘fat, unwieldy, and, like them all, turbulent.’

Holles died on October 6, 1738 aged 27. He was buried in the family vault at St. Mary’s, Battersea where Henrietta erected a monument to his memory, according to wishes expressed in his will.

The portrait by Maria Verelst hangs in Lydiard House.



The sad story of Robert Harwood

house (10)
Lydiard House

Robert Harwood got up early on Sunday morning, July 21 1872. He picked up the gun that once belonged to his father and set off across the fields to Toothill Farm. He knew the area well – this was where he had lived with his parents and his two brothers John and William and his sister Ellen just a few short years ago; where he had worked as a farm labourer and had learned to shoot before securing a job in the Great Western Railway as an engine driver. He knew every inch of this farm and he knew where to bag a rabbit or two.

He was found later that day – dead; the rabbits at his feet. At the inquest held at the farm on Monday the coroner told how it was his opinion that as Robert drew his gun to shoot again it became entangled and exploded; the charge entering the victim’s throat under the left ear. The verdict was recorded – “Accidentally killed by a gun while unlawfully shooting rabbits.” He was 28 years old.

The funeral was reported in the Swindon Advertiser thus:

“On Wednesday afternoon last, the remains of the late Mr R Harwood (who met with his untimely end on Sunday morning last) were borne to their final resting place in the parish churchyard of Lydiard Tregoze. The deceased being a member of the “Mackie’s Good Intent Lodge of Oddfellows, was carried to the grave by the brethren of that Lodge followed by his sorrowing relatives, a large number of odd-fellows and fellow servants in the employ of the GWR Company, as further proof of the great respect in which the deceased was held. Several persons attended from Chippenham to shew their last token of respect. The service was impressively performed by the Rev W.H.Ed. McKnight.”


In Memory of

Robert Harwood

Who Departed This Life

January 18th 1864

Aged 55 Years

Also of


Son of

Robert and Susannah Harwood

Who Departed This Life

July 21 1872

Aged 28 Years




Marriage Lines

A church has stood on the site of St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze for more than a thousand years and during that time there have been a great many weddings take place there.

Although members of the St John’s brought their babies to be baptised at the 13th century font and some were buried in the family vault beneath the south chapel, they invariably chose to marry elsewhere.

However, the parish church has solemnized a good few weddings – over 1000 and that’s only between 1666 and 1840.

It was Henry VIII’s right hand man Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General, who issued a 1538 edict in the wake of the dissolution of the monasteries that the clergy keep records of all baptisms, marriages and burials. Few of these earliest registers survive but those at St. Mary’s date from 1666 with the first recorded marriage between Richard Herringe and Elizabeth Holloway on February 9.

The number of marriages in the small rural parish fluctuated during this period. In 1682 there were 20 while in 1712 there was just one.

In the mid 19th century one local family celebrated seven weddings, two of them on May 4, 1841. Jonas Clarke, tenant at Wick Farm, married Alice Pinnel in 1853. The couple had lived together for more than thirty years but had to wait for the death of Jonas’ first wife before they could marry. The first of Jonas and Alice’s five daughters to tie the knot was Alice who married John Wyatt a farmer from Wootton Bassett in 1839.

The double wedding in 1841 was between two more Clarke daughters, Sarah who married Thomas Hall, a farmer from Broad Blunsdon and Jane who married Francis Carey, also from Broad Blunsdon.

Mary Clarke married William Knapp, a Swindon grocer, on May 4, 1847 and youngest daughter Anne married Walter London, a draper from Aldershot while son Jonas married widow Elizabeth Bathe Humphries in 1859.

The summer months of June and July notched up just 128, presumably everyone was too preoccupied during this busy time in the agricultural calendar. Just 56 couples married in January during the 174-year period between 1666 and 1840.

October was by far the most popular month for marriages during this time with around 180 weddings, seven in 1680 alone. With the Michaelmas tenancies secured and the harvest out the way, this appears to have been a favourite month to wed.

Today the church of St Mary’s is a popular wedding venue and couples are required to book the church many months in advance of their big day.


New Year plans for St Mary’s Church

Remember to visit St Mary’s today (December 29) on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket and view the rare surviving wall painting.

Catch up with what’s happening with the St Mary’s Church Lydiard Tregoze Conservation Project and the exciting plans for 2018.

St Mary’s Church Lydiard Tregoze Conservation Project wins Heritage Lottery Fund support for its £1 million pound conservation project

We are delighted to announce that St. Mary’s Church has been successful in our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We have been awarded a grant of £131,700 towards the £186,700 development phase of the project. We have already raised the £55,000 match funding required to complete this development phase.

Completion of the development phase will allow St Mary’s to further refine the delivery phase for which it will apply for a further grant of £615,000 in the spring of 2018.

St Mary’s still needs to raise the balance of £155,000 to complete the funding of this delivery phase, however this now stands at £75,500 following the award of grants from Garfield Weston Foundation, All Churches Trust, The Leche Trust , Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust, The Alan Evans Memorial Trust, St Andrew’s Conservation Trust and continued public fund raising.

The scheme will restore St. Mary’s historic interiors and make it more accessible to the public with access improvements, imaginative interpretation and lively education programmes. The main focus of the delivery phase is the conservation of the extensive medieval wall paintings, which have been identified by the Church of England as one of the 100 artworks currently most in need of conservation in their 100 Church Treasures Appeal .

In conjunction we are also planning a whole range of activities which include the participation of local schools, volunteers, children’s theatre, skills training, imaginative interpretation and a national symposium for professionals in the heritage and conservation sector.

Appeal Chairman Paul Gardner said “we have successfully raised the match funding for the first stage of the project and thank Heritage Lottery Fund whole heartily for making this crucial award. We are looking forward to beginning this new and exciting phase in the New Year.”

Throughout the summer and continuing into October Volunteers from Nationwide are giving their full support to the corporate volunteer programme of the conservation project. This has included clearing and preparing a new wild flower bed in the grounds of St Marys, painting the railings & gate to St Marys, and further works in the grounds of St Marys.

Nerys Watts head of HLF South West said “At the heart of Swindon’s Lydiard Park St Marys is an important part of the town’s history and home to a unique and nationally significant collection of medieval wall paintings. Thanks to National lottery players we are delighted to support this first vital step towards and its historic Grade 1 listed home enabling even more people to enjoy the stories they hold.”

Rt. Reverend Dr Lee Rayfield Bishop of Swindon said “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. St Marys is a national treasure and preserving its unique features will benefit both local people and the nations heritage “

We have recently appointed the internationally acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherfoord and her team to undertake the conservation work to the medieval wall paintings and monuments.

In early 2018 we expect to see on display in St Marys the restored 180 year old painting which is a detail of the medieval Thomas Becket wall painting.

Over the last 5 years the church has successfully raised funds to restore the buildings structure and make it weather tight and in June 2016 year we celebrated the restoration of the 18th century Reredos . Conserving the Reredos, along with associated building works, was a £40,000 project funded by the congregation, wider public and grants. The work was carried out by the internationally acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherfoord.

For further information, images, interviews and private visits please contact Paul Gardner at or 07831868429

If you wish to make a direct payment donation to support the conservation of St Marys Church the BACS details are follows –

Account Name: Building Fund

Bank: CAF Bank

Sort Code: 40-52-40

Account Number: 00017800



‘A Copy of an Ancient Painting found by Accident at Fine Liddiard Church’

A previously unseen picture has been donated to St Mary’s Church Lydiard Tregoze Conservation Project just as Jane Rutherfoord, team leader at Rutherfoord Conservation Ltd., began a survey of the medieval wall paintings in the church in Lydiard Park.

The picture depicts the murder of Thomas Becket and has the inscription ‘A Copy of an Ancient Painting found by Accident at Fine Liddiard Church’ and dates from September 1837, just a month after another picture of the wall paintings was made that now hangs in Lydiard House.

The first picture depicts the scene above the chancel arch and is entitled ‘A Drawing From An Ancient Painting Found In Fine Liddiard Church Wilts August 1837’, drawn and painted by Henry Gibbs. It is tempting to wonder if both pictures were painted by the same artist?

The Thomas Becket painting has been donated by Mrs Joy Brake who grew up with the picture but cannot explain how it came into her family’s possession.

“I remember it always hung in the house in Wood Street.”

Although Joy Brake grew up at 32 Wood Street, Swindon her family roots are planted deep in the history of Lydiard Tregoze.

The Victorian Edmonds family was large and well established in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze with records dating back several centuries. The grave of Joy’s great grandparents Edwin and Rhoda Edmonds stands just inside the gate to St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoz.

Joy’s great grandfather Edwin Edmonds was one of the first organists at St Mary’s. The name Edwin Edmonds occurs etched in several panes of glass in the church windows during repair work and although it is doubtful this is Joy’s great grandfather, the glazier is most probably a member of her extended family. Edwin was a popular name in the Edmonds family.

In the census of 1871 Joy’s great grandfather Edwin George Edmonds 45, a widower and master agricultural engineer is living at Lower Hook with his younger children, including Joy’s grandfather Edwin Hugh Edmonds who at 16 years of age is working in the family business as an engine fitter.

Edwin George died in 1884 but the engineering business went from strength to strength in the hands of his capable son Edwin Hugh Edmonds who worked as an agricultural and general machinist and threshing machine contractor at Coped Hall, Wootton Bassett.

Joy’s father, Fred was born at Coped Hall, Wootton Bassett in 1885, one of Edwin Hugh and Fanny Edmonds’ 14 children. Fred worked alongside his father in the agricultural engineering business before establishing the Swindon Motor Company.

Joy recalls her father’s close attachment to the village of Hook where he donated land on which Hook Village Hall was built.

“He wanted me to get married at St Mary’s but I wanted to get married at Christ Church,” said Joy.

But taking another step back in Joy’s family history might provide the answer to how the picture was acquired. Joy’s great great grandfather Jacob Edmonds was born in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze in 1787 and was baptised in St Mary’s Church on May 27 of that year.

Jacob worked variously as a carpenter, mealman and grocer and tea dealer, but the clue comes on the census of 1871 where he describes his occupation as Parish Clerk. Jacob died three years later in 1874 and the headstone on his grave stated that ‘he was for 62 years parish clerk’. The discovery of the wall paintings in 1837 would therefore have occurred during his tenure as parish clerk.

Conservation work on the picture has been completed by Caroline Harris and is now awaiting framing. The cost for the conservation and framing has been paid for by The Friends of Lydiard Park.

The church will be open from 10 am to 4 pm on December 29, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, when a reproduction of the picture will be on display. Members of the church will be available to tell visitors about this and other wall paintings in St Mary’s.


Ghostly goings on at Lydiard House

What better subject for a ‘nearly’ Christmas post than tales of ghostly happenings in Lydiard House. Like any self respecting ancient property Lydiard House boasts a spectral presence or two.  But like a thing of beauty, could the Lydiard House phantoms be just an imaginative figment in the eye of the beholder?

There have been the occasional sighting of a 17th century gentleman roaming the grounds and giving directions to lost visitors, supposedly Sir John St John, first baronet, who died in 1648. Sir John is depicted in portraits in the house and in St Mary’s Church he can be seen recumbent on the magnificent bedstead monument and portrayed in the St John polyptych he commissioned in memory to his parents.

Now I’m not saying that Sir John wasn’t a thoroughly nice man, but my feelings are that he would be more likely to point a musket at visitors wandering about his estate rather than give them a guided tour.

In 1996 Margaret North contributed an article to The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz annual report recalling her time living at the Rectory on Hay Lane when her father Rev William Henry Willetts was Rector at St Mary’s.  In February 1940 Lady Bolingbroke lay close to death in the crumbling mansion.  Margaret was a young student nurse training at the Victoria Hospital, Swindon and visiting her parents when Lady Bolingbroke’s condition deteriorated.

“I was at home for a few days and Doctor Oakley Brown who was the Bolingbroke’s doctor, called at the Rectory to see if I would spend a night at the mansion as Lady Bolingbroke had had a stroke.  I agreed to do so and went to see Lady Bolingbroke with Doctor Oakley Brown.  He told Lord Bolingbroke and Mr Hiscock that I would be there all night and as I was young and would need feeding in the night.  I did what I could for Lady Bolingbroke, at midnight Lord Bolingbroke came to tell me some supper was ready.  I joined the two men in the sitting room.  The house was lit by oil lamps and candles and some how the conversation got around to hauntings and queer happenings.  I was so scared I did not know how to get up from the table and return to Lady Bolingbroke’s room.  at last I forced myself to get up and walk up the eerie staircase.  Half way up the staircase was a model of a knight in armour and I was supposed to see a hand covered in blood on the wall quite near him, where a murdered man fell and his hand struck the wall.  From that day the imprint of the blood stained hand is supposed to be seen.  My heart was beating with fear by the time I reached Lady Bolingbroke’s room, I closed the door behind me and remained in that room until morning.  Lady Bolingbroke died during the following day.  I do not think Lord Bolingbroke and Mr Hiscock realised how frightened I really was.”

By the 1950s the house and parkland had been purchased by Swindon Corporation and the St John family long departed – or had they?

Joyce Vincent formerly Gough , the daughter of the first caretaker at Lydiard House recalled how – “On another occasion, my sister and I were taking a small party of ten around a tour of the house.  It was a late summer’s evening and the light was just beginning to fade.  Two members of the party were Americans, one was most inquisitive and had to open every door and drawer that he saw, particularly in the library.  In the meantime my mother had come in through the back way, with two other people who wanted to join the party.  As the nosy American opened the next door in the library, what should he see but the unexpected figure of my mother framed in the doorway, with her snowy white hair and clothed in a pale grey dress! His hands flew up into the air, he gave forth an almighty yell, then collapsed in a heap on the floor, in a deep faint.  To add insult to injury, our terrier dog did not take kindly to anyone dancing or running or falling about and proceeded to bite the poor fellow on the rear.  I often wonder if this cured him of his nosiness.”

But stories of a ghostly presence continued and Joyce adds –  “I did not ever see the ghost – but my mother did on many occasions, but only my mother.  She said he was very small, dressed in what appeared to be a dark brown cloak.  She saw him entering the gun room, sometimes half way up the back staircase in the room that was our kitchen.  She said he always seemed to be mischievous.”

My Memories of Lydiard Tregoz by Margaret North published in Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No. 30 1996 – Life in Lydiard Mansion by Joyce Vincent published in Lydiard Life