‘Here is a good old mansion-house…


By the mid 19th century the Palladian mansion house at Lydiard Tregoze was a little the worse for wear. Generations of St John’s had chosen to spend their declining fortunes on racehorses, fine porcelain and grand tours rather than a bit of DIY and the ancestral home was beginning to show its age.

Radical politician William Cobbett rode through the parish in September 1826 and later wrote:

‘Here is a good old mansion-house and large walled-in garden and a park, belonging, they told me, to Lord Bolingbroke.  I went quite down to the house, close to which stands the large and fine church.  It appears to have been a noble place; the land is some of the finest in the whole country; the trees show that the land is excellent; but, all, except the church, is in a state of irrepair and apparent neglect, if not abandonment.

William had pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The house had served as a holiday home for the family for close on 150 years. Despite a major make over in the early 18th century subsequent St John’s had elected to live in London close to where the action was, popping back to Wiltshire for a spot of shooting and partying.  By the 1830s Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, was renting out the house and parkland.  His wife, Maria, Lady Bolingbroke was in Aberystwyth at the time of her death in 1836 and Henry was in Scotland at the time of his in 1851.

So, who was living in a house like this?

Not any old family, but one that had extended links to the St John’s.  At the time of the 1841 census Thomas Orby Hunter was the tenant at Lydiard House with his daughter and son-in-law Charles and Charlotte Orby Wombwell and their baby daughter.

On June 6, 1841 the servants quarters was pretty much full with sixteen members of staff living in on census night and a further three recorded in the stables.  Most gave their birthplace as out of the parish, so presumably Thomas brought his own staff with him.

Ten years later and Charles Orby Wombwell had taken over the tenancy.  He had cut down on the indoor servants but there were still an impressive eleven in residence on census night, including a governess, butler, housekeeper, cook, kitchen maid, two housemaids, a nursemaid, a footman and a groom. This time there were more local folk on the pay roll – Elizabeth Hiscocks, the daughter of Lydiard gamekeeper Robert Hiscocks, Ann Dobson from Lydiard Tregoze, Richard Weeks from neighbouring Lydiard Millicent and Jesse Turner who would later become butler to Lord Bolingbroke.

So what is the connection between the Wombwell and the St John families?

Charles Orby Wombwell  was the son of Sir George Wombwell and his second wife Eliza Little.  He and his elder half brother George both married daughters of Thomas Orby Hunter.  As we have seen Charles married Charlotte, his brother married Georgiana.

Sir George and Georgiana’s son George married Julia Sarah Alice Child Villiers – are you keeping up – now Julia was the daughter of George Augustus Frederick Child Villiers 6th Earl of Jersey and his wife Julia Peel.  The young Mrs Wombwell could trace her ancestry back eight generations to Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John who grew up at Lydiard House, one of the six daughters on the magnificent St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church.



Kith and Kin

These two cousins, born just six years apart, bear an uncanny resemblance.

The portrait of Henry Bolingbroke by Jonathan Richards the Elder hangs in the dining room at Lydiard House where he was born in 1678, the only surviving child of Henry St John and his first wife Lady Mary Rich.  His mother died within weeks of his birth upon which the infant Henry was moved from Lydiard to Battersea Manor where he was raised by his puritanical grandparents Sir Walter and Lady Johanna St. John.

Henry, statesman, writer and libertine was undoubtedly the most brilliant and probably one of the most notorious members of the St. John family. He served as Queen Anne’s Secretary At War from 1704-1708 and Secretary of State from 1710-1714 and numbered satirist Jonathan Swift and the poet Alexander Pope among a wide, eclectic group of friends.

Instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Utrecht which helped to end the War of the Spanish Succession Henry was created Viscount Bolingbroke, a huge disappointment as he was hoping for the earldom.

In 1714, with the Queen desperately ill and fading fast, Henry rapidly allied himself with the Jacobites and the Queen’s Catholic half brother James, the Old Pretender. Henry plotted with the Pretender while taking the oath of allegiance to the Hanovarian successor. However, the new King George, hammered the final nail in Henry’s political coffin, informing Henry that his services were no longer required. Henry walked to the Cockpit accompanied by the Duke of Shrewsbury and Lord Cowper to watch the sealing of his papers. It was, quite obviously, all over. On March 27, 1715, Henry set sail for exile in France.

A Bill of Attainder was served upon Henry that same year charging him with privately negotiating a dishonourable and destructive peace with France while a Secretary of State for Queen Anne and accusing him of advising the surrender of Tournai to the French and Spain and the West Indies to Philip of Spain. Deprived of his title, his estates and his wealth, Henry was considered by many as a traitor twice over.

Henry married twice, firstly to Frances Winchcombe whom he deserted and secondly to Marie Claire de Marci whom he adored. He eventually returned to England and his childhood home at Battersea. He died on December 12, 1751 and was buried with his second wife in the parish church of St. Mary’s, Battersea.

Henry’s younger cousin John Fitzgerald Villiers, 5th Viscount Grandison, was born at Dromana House in County Waterford in 1684, the son of Brig Gen Edward Villiers and wealthy Irish heiress Katherine Fitzgerald. The two lookalikes were third cousins, tracing their ancestry back to Sir John St John and his wife Lucy Hungerford. In this portrait painted in 1743 by Allan Ramsay John could be sharing the same jacket as well as the same face as Henry.

John got off to a good start following his succession to the Grandison title and the Fitzgerald land.  He transformed the Dromana estate, planting thousands of trees, building new stables and engaging in a modest bit of DIY on Dromana House.  His greatest achievement was probably the construction of Villierstown village to accommodate the workers in his newly instituted linen industry.  He built 24 houses, a schoolhouse, church, police barracks and a quay on the river.

But ‘Good Earl John’ found it difficult to live within his means – a common St John failing he would have appeared to inherited along with his features.

An account of the Villers-Stuart archive held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland describes John as having a ‘pride of ancestry’ – shades of Henry 5th Viscount Bolingbroke here – and that his ‘somewhat limited intelligence caused him to be ripped off by unscrupulous agents who flattered and deferred to him’ when he was forced to sell some £50,000 worth of land.

John served briefly as MP for Old Sarum May-December 1705.  In 1721 he was made Privy Counsellor for Ireland when his title was upgraded to an earldom and in 1733 he was Governor of Waterford.  He married Frances Carey and they had five children.  John died on May 14, 1766 and was buried at Youghal, County Cork.




Mr Love’s Heritage Cider

Mr Love’s Heritage Cider is once again available from the Coach House Tea Rooms in Lydiard Park.

Today James Love has become a 21st century advertising phenomena and it is his name that appears on the Lydiard Park heritage cider, complete with photograph and the proud boast that ‘all apple varieties used date back to 1743 or earlier.’

The Love family history in Lydiard Tregoze was explored by local historians Mark and Lorraine Child in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 33 published in 2000 and entitled ‘For the Love of an Angel.’

When Mark and Lorraine’s research of St Mary’s parish registers revealed numerous entries of babies baptised under the name ‘Angel or Love’ they set about discovering the reason, suspecting an illegitimate birth might have set the trend.

And sure enough it was. In 1763 unmarried Martha Angell took her baby son to St Mary’s Church where he was baptised Joseph Angell. Three weeks later she married John ‘Love alias Luff’ who was, presumably the baby’s father.

Now a person can only have so many alias’ so young Joseph dropped the ‘Love alias Luff’ and settled on sometimes Angell (with or without a double l) sometimes Love and sometime both.

In 1828 John Angel married Mary Ann Watson and they named their children with various permutations of the names; Elijah Angel, John Love, Mary Angel or Love, Edwin Angel or Love, Keziah Love, Louisa Love, Julia Angel or Love, George Love and Abraham Angel or Love.

When their son, John junior, came to marry and raise a family all his children were given the surname Love, including his son Henry James who later followed another family tradition by becoming the Lydiard Park estate gardener as had his great uncle Abraham Angel who held the position in 1825.

James was presumably employed chiefly about the walled garden, which served as a vegetable garden during the Victorian period. He appears on the 1901 census living in Hook with his wife and their five children where his occupation is recorded as gardener. However he does not appear to have been the gardener for very long, although he was probably an estate employee for most of his life.

Ten years earlier he had been living in one of the Flaxlands Farm cottages and in 1911 he is described as Manager of Farm, still at Flaxlands, where in trade directories dated 1915 and 1920 he is working as baliff to Edward Hiscock esq Flaxlands.

In 2005 the neglected walled garden was restored and replanted as part of the Lydiard Park Project. More than one hundred and fifty fruit trees were planted, among them old varieties of apple including the Bedwyn Beauty.

So why not raise a glass to Mr Love with a bottle of his Still Cider available from the Coach House Tea Rooms at £4 a bottle?





Walled Garden

Are you gardening on a budget? Apparently so was Sir John St. John married to wealthy heiress Anne Furnese, when he transformed the gardens at Lydiard Park in 1743.

Sir John had the 17th century formal gardens tended by his grandmother torn up in the name of changing garden fashions for a romantic, more natural looking landscape. It was out with the old and in with the new and the formal fruit and flower garden was relocated to the back of the house.

Lady Johanna, wife of Sir Walter was a keen gardener. Letters written from her home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard indicate how involved she was with the planting and development of the garden.


I bid richard brown send down some slips of the austrian rose if he hath sent them set them betwen the lawrel tre in the court if ther be any that stand far enough asunder…

Another letter to Hardyman gives instructions for Rudler, the gardener regarding a consignment of seeds…to send him a noat of the number and how to use them but the seed must not be s[own] till next yere tell him he must not brag to much least he lose them and tel him I would have all the white and yelow crowns planted in the outward garden as wel as thos that are turned plaine red or yalow or white bid him also save some of his white stock seed for us…

The walled garden was central to the ambitious 2005 Lydiard Park Restoration Project championed by former keeper of the house Sarah Finch-Crisp.

The garden is surprisingly large with an area measuring 4,500 square metres. It’s an odd shape too, a parallelogram. The northeastern wall is taller than the others to offer better protection against winter winds. While three of the corners are angled, the fourth is rounded. It has been suggested that a curved bench was probably positioned there to catch the last rays of the setting sun.

Wessex Archaeology made an excavation of the walled garden in 2004 ahead of the four-year restoration programme. Among the finds made was evidence of ornamental garden features and a well with a stone cistern.

Over 300 years later, the letters of 17th century Lady Johanna St. John contributed to the design of the restored walled garden. Gardeners in charge of the 21st century planting have where possible selected plants, which would have been popular in St. John’s day.

In the 17th century the purchase of a tulip bulb could lead to bankruptcy. Today they are a tad cheaper, good news for gardeners working to a budget.


Lucy Hungerford

Author Elizabeth St John recently posted this portrait of Lucy Hungerford on her Facebook page. Elizabeth says: I love this portrait of the Lady Lucy St.John. I like to think it was painted to honor the occasion when Elizabeth I visited Lydiard and knighted John St.John. Beautiful jewels, gown and I especially like the girdle book.

Read more about the disreputable Hungerford family and the incorruptible Lucy.

Upwardly mobile Thomas Hungerford, the first Speaker of the House of Commons, bought the Manor House at Farleigh on the Somerset/Wiltshire border in 1370 and soon set about turning it into a castle.

It was here that Lucy Hungerford (later to become Lady Lucy St John) was born in c1560. Lucy’s parents, Sir Walter and his second wife Anne Dormer, had a turbulent relationship.  In 1568 Walter accused Anne of adultery and also of trying to poison him in 1564, presumably unsuccessfully as he waited four years to point the finger.

Anne was acquitted but Walter was a sore loser and refused to pay his legal costs which saw him incarcerated in the Fleet Prison.  Anne settled in Belgium where she petitioned for her children, concerned that her revengeful husband would disinherit them. Following the death of his son, Walter left his property to his brother Sir Edward with remainder to his sons by his mistress.

But the Hungerford’s domestic was nothing compared to the shenanigans of Walter’s father, Walter 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury.  Former squire of the body to Henry VIII, Lucy’s grandfather was attainted by act of parliament in 1540.  Walter was charged with an involvement in various seditious plots against the King and also with ‘committing unnatural offences.’  He was beheaded at Tyburn on July 28, 1540 gaining the dubious distinction of being the first person to be executed under the Buggery Act of 1533.  Sir Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s favourite henchman, lost his head alongside Walter that same day.

Lucy Hungerford married John St John in about 1584 and there was never any suggestion that their marriage was anything other than harmonious.

Their only surviving son Sir John St John, 1st Baronet, went to great pains to revere his ancestry, and especially the memory of his parents in the magnificent polyptych in St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

The portrait is an idealized view of the St John family, gathered around their devout parents.  When the painting was completed in 1615 John had been dead for 21 years and Lucy for more than fifteen.

A second portrait of Lucy painted in c1590, when she was about thirty, hangs above the Drawing Room doors in Lydiard House in which she appears as the very model of respectability in her richly embroidered but sombre dress accessorized with some impressive pieces of jewellery.  Perhaps she felt the spectre of those riotous ancestors at her shoulder.

In 2002 Janet Backhouse, former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Museum Library, examined the portrait anew and drew attention to the girdle book hanging from Lucy’s waist.  Particularly popular in the 16th century, the girdle book contained either a religious text or collection of prayers, further emphasizing Lucy’s impeccable character.

Following John’s death in 1594, Lucy married a distant cousin Sir Anthony Hungerford and gave birth to three more children, bringing her combined family up to a count of thirteen children.

Two of her six St John daughters married into the most prestigious families of the day, the Villiers and the Apsleys while Bridget Hungerford married Sir Alexander Cheeke the King’s Proctor.

Her eldest son Sir John St John, 1st Baronet, supported the Royalist cause during the English Civil Wars in which three of his sons were killed.  Sir Edward Hungerford, her son by her second marriage was on the opposing side and commanded the local forces of Wiltshire for the Parliamentarians in 1642-45.


Proposed housing development at Lydiard Park

Yet again Lydiard House and Park is under threat from a proposed housing development on its very doorstep.

The owner of Brook Cottage, the former gamekeeper’s cottage on Lord Bolingbroke’s estate, has submitted planning permission to build four executive houses on land adjoining Brook Cottage in Lydiard Park.  This is the field immediately on your left as you enter the drive to the House.

So, why is Lydiard Park so important. This is what Historic England has to say:

Lydiard Park, formerly known as South Lydiard, Lediar, is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086); a former manor of Alfred of Marlborough it was acquired by the Tregoze family in c.1198, and was later known as Lydiard Tregoze. In 1270 Henry III gave Robert Tregoze a royal licence to impark a nearby woodland in order to create a deer park. From 1300 until 1348 Lydiard was owned by the Grandison family, and subsequently by the Beauchamps. In 1420 the estate came to the St John family through marriage (whose main seat was at Battersea, London), and they were to hold it until the Second World War. The court met at Lydiard in 1592 during Elizabeth I’s royal progress, and John St John was knighted. In 1583 it was recorded there was a park at Lydiard Tregoze owned by Nicholas St John, and much correspondence exists from 1659-64 from Johanna St John, wife of the third baronet, who was a keen amateur gardener.

During the early C17, probably during the time of Sir John St John, formal gardens including a canal were created as part of changes made to the medieval house at Lydiard (Swindon BC 2002). Sir John also laid out a series of formal avenues in the park. By c 1700 (Map of Lydiard Park), Lydiard had a park with formal avenues and woodland plantations, and a series of formal gardens including ponds and terraces. In 1742-3, under the ownership of the second Viscount St John, the south-east and south west fronts of the House were remodelled in the Palladian style. The house and parkland appear in two equestrian paintings by Stubbs in 1764-66. By 1766 many of the formal elements in the park had been removed, together with the formal gardens (Willington, 1766).

PRINCIPAL BUILDING Lydiard House (listed at Grade I) is situated in the eastern half of the site. Together with the Church of St Mary (listed at Grade I; and several Grade II listed tombstones in churchyard) which is situated immediately to its north, it forms an important group of buildings dating back to the medieval period. The fabric of the House dates mainly from the C17, but the south-west and south-east fronts are in the Palladian style, following their remodelling of 1742-3 by the second Viscount St John. This remodelling has been attributed to the architect Roger Morris (CL 1948). Attached to the rear north-west end of the house is a late-C20 conference wing. The former L-shaped stable block, now converted to a cafe, offices and education centre, stands circa 30m to the north-west of the house.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The pleasure grounds consist of a small woodland to the south-west of the House, since the late C19 called The Avenue, separated from the park by an C18 ha-ha built of brick (restored late C20), and a terrace and lawn to the south front of the House’.

For the full entry visit the Historic England website.

This application for permission to build within the essential setting of Lydiard Park comes hot on the heels of the failed Taylor Wimpey attempt. Should this current application be successful it would pave the way for Taylor Wimpey to resubmit their plans, and to expect to also be successful.

If you are as concerned about this as we are please lodge your objections with Swindon Borough Council planning department by September, 4.

You can view the application and register your objections online click here to be taken to the SBC planning application portal, and type S/16/1832 into the search box.

When viewing the application in the SBC portal you can register your comments by clicking the ‘make a public comment’ button.

Please note you must login/register yourself (top tabs on the page) before the button becomes visible.

You can also send an email direct to the planners at sbcdc@swindon.gov.uk. You must provide the S/16/1832 reference in your email together with your name and address, otherwise your comments will not be registered.

Alternatively, you can write to the case officer, Sarah Smith at Civic Offices Euclid Street Swindon Wiltshire, SN1 2JH. You must provide the S/16/1832 reference in your email together with your name and address, otherwise your comments will not be registered

Please note there is a very tight time scale for objections to be registered – SEPTEMBER 4.

For more information visit http://www.shawresidents.org.uk/


The Life of a Dairymaid

This history of cheesemaking in North Wiltshire is as old as history itself and in the 19th century the dairy farms in Lydiard Tregoze owned by Lord Bolingbroke were still busy producing the local cheeses. At Wick Farm it is recorded in a small notebook that on Feb. 11th 1869 there were 126 Thick Cheese,11 from Salthrope weighing in excess of one ton, stored in the cheese room.

Windmill Leaze Farm was the Lydiard estate home farm.  The present farmhouse is about 200 years old but the farm itself dates back much further than this. A ‘Rent Rooll’ dated 1672 records Anthony Street paying an annual rent of £116 for lands at Winmill Leeze.

A local history project written by a member of the Friends for four West Swindon primary schools explored the history of the local farms and the farming families.

In 1891 Elizabeth A. Johnson worked at Windmill Leaze Farm. Here is a fictional account of her life as a dairymaid.

‘My name is Elizabeth Johnson. I am eighteen years old and I was born in Bishopstone in Wiltshire. Mr. William Kinchin employs me at Windmill Leaze Farm as a dairymaid. Mr Kinchin is an elderly gentleman, a widower, his wife dying many years ago. His son, Mr William Plummer Kinchin, does most of the work on the farm. I have my own room in the attic. It is comfortable enough, although it can be very cold in the winter and the bed linen is a bit thin and worn.

Mr Kinchin has a herd of 50 short horn cows; an excellent dairy animal and much favoured in Wiltshire. Some of the local farmers have started sending their milk up to London on the train but Mr Kinchin sells his locally. He also provides Lord Bolingbroke at Lydiard House with milk and dairy produce, although Mr Kinchin says not so much entertaining takes place there as in the old days.

I am in the dairy early in the morning, before the first milking of the day takes place. I do not milk the cows myself. The milk pails are brought to the dairy and left in the prentice, a lean-to area outside, for me to collect. This way the milk is protected from the weather and the dirt of the farmyard stays outside. The dairy has to be kept spotlessly clean and a large part of my day is spent cleaning; scaling the utensils I use and scrubbing the work surfaces and the floor.

Being a dairy maid is very hard work. Some say the dairymaid is the hardest worker on the farm. There are times, especially in the busy summer months, when it seems I am on my feet all day long. I wear good strong shoes because the dairy floor is always wet. I wear my skirts well of the ground otherwise they would drag on the damp floor. I wear a heavy linen apron to catch the spills and splashes from the milk and whey.

The cheese making season begins in April and ends in September. I make a few cheeses during the winter but not many farms make cheese all the year round these days.

To be a good cheese maker you have to have a feel for the work and you have to be well organised. I work to a strict timetable, always thinking of the next job ahead. My mornings are spent making cheese, my afternoons cleaning the dairy, salting, cleaning and turning the cheeses. Making a cheese with a well-rounded taste and a pleasing texture is all about skill, knowing when milk is tainted and should not be used. Making sure you heat the milk and junket to the correct temperature and for just long enough. All these things, plus a certain flair, are the qualifications of a good cheese maker.

Even though every dairymaid works in much the same way, the cheese she produces is unique to her dairy and the farm on which she works. All sorts of things affect the flavour of a cheese. Things you probably wouldn’t even credit. Different breeds of cows produce different types of milk but that is not the only factor. The soils and the type of grass an animal grazes on affects the milk she produces. The pasture varies at different times of the year according to the season and the weather. Wiltshire dairymaids prefer a poor pasture for cheese making. A rich milk does not make a good cheese.

My last job each day is to place the evening milk in the cheese vat. This is covered and left overnight to ripen. The next day I add the morning milk and then test it for acidity. Sometimes the milk lacks acidity, especially incold weather, and then I have to add a starter.

I then begin heating the milk as I stir it and slowly bring it up to a temperature of 80 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. When it reaches this temperature, I add the rennet which curdles the milk and makes it solidify.

I continue to stir the milk using a curd agitator, shaped like a shovel with a meshwork of slats. The milk, now called junket, is left for 20-25 minutes. It should be thick enough to cut with a curd knife.

Now it is time to heat the junket. This is called scalding and the temperature is raised to 102–104 degrees. More stirring and gradually the curd separates from the whey. The whey is drained off and used for pig feed.

The curd is left for awhile to ripen. I then put it through a curd mill where it is ground into tiny pieces. Salt is added and now the cheese is made.

Next comes the pressing. The chopped curd is placed in a muslin-lined mould shaped like a beer barrel. A wooden block called a follower is placed on the top and the mould is placed in the cheese press where it is left overnight to squeeze out the last drops of whey.

The following day I turn the cheese in the mould and place the mould in a bath of warm water. This encourages the curds to stick together. Then the mould goes back in the press overnight.

The next morning I take off the muslin wrap and smear the cheese with melted lard. I then put the muslin cloth back and wrap the whole thing in a thick linen bandage, which I sew on. This is so that the cheese doesn’t lose its shape. I then date stamp the cheese and take it to the cheese room.

For the first two weeks, I turn the cheese every day, twice a day in the summer, just once a day in winter. After that that I turn the cheese every other day. It is very heavy work.

In April, I make the tradition ‘thins’. This cheese requires only a short time to ripen, just six weeks, then it can be sold at market and provides Mr Kinchin with much needed cash after the winter months. For the rest of the season I make truckle cheeses. At any one time we have cheeses weighing several tons in the cheese room, all of which have to be turned at regular intervals.

As well as providing cheese for Lord Bolingbroke, Mr Kinchin sells his produce at local markets in Swindon, Wootton Bassett and Chippenham. The peak month for the sale of cheese is September.

I enjoy my work and Mr Kinchin is a good master to work for but I do not want to be a dairymaid when I am older. The work is heavy and the hours long. The damp of the dairy gets to your bones and most dairymaids suffer from rheumatism in old age. I’d like to go into service, go up to London and work in one of those big houses with many servants, perhaps become a lady’s maid – that would be a nice job. But for now I’ll stay where I am.’

Elizabeth Ann Johnson married Tom Cook on Boxing Day 1896 at the parish church in Bishopstone. At the time of the 1901 census they were living at No. 6 Lilian Cottages, Hyde Road, Kingsdown. Tom was a sawyer working in the GWR Works. They have a 2 year old son Frederick.

The photograph of Windmill Leaze Farm (featured image) is published with thanks to the Rumming family. It is believed the men pictured are members of the Kinchin family.