The White Princess

This weekend sees the start of a new historical drama series, The White Princess, which has a particular relevance for lovers of Lydiard Park.

The White Queen, based on The Cousins’ War series of novels by Philippa Gregory set in the time of the War of the Roses, was televised in 2013 on BBC 1. This second series picks up from where the White Queen finished and features again the Lady Margaret Beaufort.

In her new role as the King’s Mother, Margaret Beaufort is central to the success of the new Tudor dynasty, powerful and influential. And she also shares a kinship with the St John family who owned Lydiard Park for 500 years.

Margaret Beaufort’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp was born in c1409, the daughter of Sir John Beauchamp and his second wife Edith Stourton. Her father died when she was very young and following the death of her brother John in 1420/1, eleven-year-old Margaret became the sole heir to her father’s considerable estates, which included property at Bletsoe in Bedfordshire and the Wiltshire estate at Lydiard Park.

Margaret Beauchamp married Sir Oliver St John in c1425 and the couple had seven children, two sons, John and Oliver, and five daughters, Edith, Elizabeth, Mary, Margaret and Agnes.

In 1445 and 1458 conveyances were made of Beauchamp held manors at Lydiard and Bletsoe and secured for Margaret’s two St John sons. Her elder son Sir John St John headed the senior branch of the family at Bletsoe while second son Oliver inherited the manor of Lydiard in Wiltshire.

Lady Margaret Beaufort was the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and her second husband John Beaufort 1st Duke of Somerset. Margaret Beaufort enjoyed a close relationship with her St John half siblings, finding minor positions for them at the court of Henry VII and arranging advantageous marriages for her kinsfolk.

Margaret Beaufort was known to be scholarly, devout and ambitious for her son. She was also shrewd, calculating and some would say murderous. There is a school of thought that puts her in the frame for the murder of the two Princes in the Tower. The two sons of Edward IV stood in the way of their Uncle Richard’s accession to the throne, and also to Margaret’s plans for her own son Henry Tudor. The jury is still out on that one, but Margaret did have a large part to play in arranging the marriage of her son Henry to Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV.

See how it all pans out in The White Princess, which begins tonight (Saturday) at 9 p.m. on the Drama Channel available on Freeview 20, Sky and Virgin and catch up on UK TV Play.


John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, died on July 26, 1680, aged 33 years old.  It had been, how can I put it, an eventful life.

The son of Anne St John and her second husband Royalist hero Henry, Viscount Wilmot, John was a bit of an embarrassment to his mother.

It wasn’t just the lewd poems or the bawdy plays, his dismissal from court or the drinking and whoring that upset her.  It wasn’t even the attempted abduction of his future, fabulously rich heiress, wife to be Elizabeth Malet that made her raise her eyebrows.  Well actually it was, but what really upset her was that he wouldn’t renounce all of the above on his death bed – and boy did she try hard to persuade him.

John was born at Ditchley, Oxfordshire and at the age of just 12 was sent to Wadham College, where it was said he ‘grew debauched.’  These things happen!  Having picked up his MA three years later, John went off on the obligatory Grand Tour, which probably finished off the debauchery tuition.

Following the abduction attempt, John married Elizabeth Malet. The couple had four children – a son who died young and three daughters.

Back home in London he was the toast of the Restoration Court.  He frequented the theatre, gave acting lessons to his mistress Elizabeth Barry and wrote a lot of very rude poetry.

But it was the death bed renunciation of his lifelong atheism that was the real best seller and remained in print for two hundred years – a cautionary tale for any young man about to embark upon a life of excess.

John died at his home in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, his body so ravaged by his lifestyle that it was unknown whether it was the effects of alcoholism or venereal disease that eventually killed him.

John’s portrait, attributed to Peter Lely, hangs in the Dining Room at Lydiard House.



Joseph Titcomb – Chelsea Pensioner

It might come as some surprise to find a Chelsea Pensioner living in Lydiard Tregoze in 1841.  The Royal Hospital at Chelsea was founded by Charles II in 1681 ‘to succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war.’ There was also an out-pension scheme for soldiers who had been wounded in battle or who had served more than 20 years in the British Army, and it was into this category that Joseph Titcomb fell.

Joseph was born in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze on February 14, 1798, the son of agricultural labourer John Titcomb and his wife Elizabeth. Joseph was destined, like his father, to spend a lifetime tilling the soil, employed on one of the several local farms owned by the St John family. But Joseph’s coat was cut from a different cloth.

Following victory in the Napoleonic Wars, England emerged mired in debt.  As discharged sailors and soldiers swelled the ranks of the unemployed Joseph’s career path took a surprising turn when on December 4, 1815 he enlisted in the 14th Regiment of Light Dragoons.  The potential for civil unrest in these post war years was high and in 1816 Joseph was among the 677 men who embarked at Bristol for Ireland where the end of the war with Napoleon also saw high levels of unemployment, famine and epidemics of cholera and typhus.

The Regiment of Dragoons – 12 troops under the command of ‘Our mostly deare and most intirely beloved Cousin Prince Rupert’ was raised by Charles II in 1672.  The 14th has been described as one of the most illustrious regiments in the British Cavalry, a regiment famous for its esprit de corps.  Following the accession of the House of Hanover the 14th added King to its title.

Joseph was discharged at the age of 43 having served 25 years with the 14th.  In 1841 his old regiment began a 19 year deployment in India, fighting at Ramnuggur during the First Sikh War 1845-46.  But for Joseph it was a return to the quiet life, and perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, marriage and a family.  In 1843 he married Ann Young Woolford at St Mary’s Church.  The couple took up residence in Hook where their three children Elizabeth, Caroline and George were born.

By 1851 Joseph was widowed and raising his young family with the help of 17 year old Maryann Woolford. Described on the census returns as his daughter in law it is likely that Maryann was Ann’s daughter by a previous relationship.  For more than twenty years Joseph apparently survived on his army pension, giving his status as Pensioner and Chelsea Pensioner on the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census returns.  However, towards the end of his life, then in his 70s, Joseph appears in the Lydiard Park wages book employed between 1867-1870.

Joseph died at his home in Hook Street in 1875 aged 77 years and was buried on September 16 in the churchyard at St Mary’s.

Medieval painted glass

Perhaps the most striking feature of any ecclesiastical building, from parish church to cathedral, are the stained-glass windows, and St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze has examples dating back more than six centuries.

The glorious 17th century East window is the work of Abraham van Linge and was commissioned by Sir John St John in 1630. Abraham and his brother Bernard came to England from Emden, Friesland in around 1623. Examples of Abraham’s work can be seen in the V&A, Lincoln College, Oxford, Queen’s College, Oxford and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Or closer to home, in the Blue Closet or Diana Room at Lydiard House.

At the opposite end of the church the vibrant West window, erected in 1859 to the memory of local farmer John King by his two sisters Ann and Mary, was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘Large figures, strident colours, bad.’

But the jewel in the stained-glass crown at St Mary’s has to be the fragments of 15th century glass found in practically every window. Executed by long forgotten itinerant Flemish glass workers, these stories in coloured glass reveal yet more history.

“In the tracery lights of the south aisle windows are depicted four prophets, possibly Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, or they may be the four Doctors of the Church – Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, who were not often depicted in ecclesiastical vestments. One holds an open book and two hold scrolls; in each case they have hands raised in warning or have fingers pointing upwards or forwards in teaching;” Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report 38 published 14 May 2008

In the north aisle there are angels holding scrolls with the opening words of the Gloria – Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will

The window to the East of the church has been the subject of several interpretations. One figure holds a shield with a rose en soleil, one of the badges of Edward IV, and they were at one time believed to represent three Seraphim. However, it is now thought more likely that these are characters from Daniel Chapter 1-3 and represent Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were consigned to a fiery furnace. The angel with outstretched hands is the angel of God who delivered them from their ordeal.

It is believed that when the Flemish glass workers arrived at a commission they cast their eye around the local villagers for models to sit for their work, choosing those with strong and particularly beautiful features. So could the image of the Virgin crowned and holding a sceptre, and the Christ child possibly be modelled on a beautiful young mother from medieval Lydiard Tregoze with her own child.

What a thought that as we gaze up at these works of art the residents of medieval Lydiard Tregoze are looking down on us.

Royal Wootton Bassett Field of Remembrance

The Royal Wootton Bassett Field of Remembrance opened today in the Walled Garden at Lydiard Park with a Service of Remembrance. The Field of Remembrance will be open each day until November 19 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The Wootton Bassett Field of Remembrance was the first remembrance field dedicated to the British servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and was opened by Prince Harry in 2010.

During the First World War centenary period we remember the stories of those who worked on the Lydiard Park estate and served on the battlefields.

Harry Titcombe, 27, was the eldest of the three men who volunteered.  Born in Purton the son of Richard and Hester Titcombe he had grown up at Greenhill. In October 1915 Harry enlisted at Swindon where during his medical inspection he was described as ‘a very good man, but left thumb wanting.’  Harry served in the Royal Field Artillery first as a gunner and later as a driver and saw action in both France and Italy. Harry was one of the lucky ones – he returned home to Lydiard Millicent. Arthur Lockey and William Aldridge didn’t.

Arthur William Lockey was born in Lydiard Millicent, one of Charles and Caroline’s twelve children. Arthur’s elder brother Charles enlisted at the outbreak of war.  Despite receiving gun shot wounds to his back, shoulder and hand, Charles survived the war.  A sergeant in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he left the army with a machine gun instructor qualification.

Arthur left his job on the Lydiard Park estate and enlisted at Devizes.  He served in the 5th Wilts moving with his regiment to Mesopotamia in February 1916.  Arthur was killed in action on January 25, 1917 during an attempt to relieve the Turkish held garrison of Kut.  He is buried in the Amara War Cemetery.  He was 19 years old when he died.

William Ernest Aldridge was born in Lydiard Millicent where he grew up at Greatfield, one of Ernest and Lila Aldridge’s eight children.  He served as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery 281st Siege Battery.  The 281st, equipped with heavy howitzers, went out to the Western Front on March 21, 1917, its objective to destroy and neutralise enemy artillery.  Nineteen-year-old William died of his wounds on October 23, 1918 less than three weeks before the Armistice.  He lies buried in the Awoingt British Cemetery.

In 1933 the headstones of the war graves in Amara Cemetery were discovered to be deteriorating, damaged by salts in the soil, and were removed.  A screen wall was erected with the names of those buried in the cemetery.  The current situation in Iraq makes it impossible for the Commission to maintain the cemeteries there but Arthur’s name appears on a two volume Roll of Honour, which is displayed at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Head Office in Maidenhead.

Both William Aldridge and Arthur Lockey are remembered on the war memorial in All Saint’s Church, Lydiard Millicent.

These photographs were taken after the Remembrance Service in 2012 when Strictly Come Dancing stars Anton du Beke and Kristina Rihanoff danced to Stronger Together sung by the Military Wives Choir.

St Mary’s Church Conservation Project

St Mary’s Church Conservation Project team are pleased to announce after a competitive tender process, that St Mary’s have appointed Rutherfoord Conservation Limited to undertake the conservation of the medieval wall paintings, monuments & polychromy. The team is lead by the internationally acclaimed conservator Jane Rutherfoord and includes Deborah Cartly and Eddie Sinclair.

Jane and her team have spent two weeks on site at St Mary’s undertaking a detailed survey of the wall paintings, monuments and polychromy for the project in order to inform the Round 2 application to HLF which is planned for March 2018.

The £1 million Heritage Lottery funded project 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 there is planned 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 are extremely pleased that we have secured Jane’s expertise again following her successful conservation of the Reredos in 2016. Conserving the 18th century Reredos, along with associated building works, was a £40,000 project funded by the congregation, wider public and grants.”

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

Walking in the footsteps of history

Visitors to Lydiard House were treated to a tour of the state rooms led by Sarah Finch-Crisp as part of the Celebrate Swindon weekend, and rare access to the St John family’s private entrance to the church.

An exuberant group of children kept the questions coming as Sarah told them some Lydiard House stories, such as the one about the American servicemen stationed at Lydiard House during the Second World War who tried to take one of the fireplaces back to the States as a souvenir.

The highlight of the tour came when Sarah led the visitors out of the private back door of the Palladian mansion house to a secret garden (the area reclaimed by George Richard, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke who objected to the funerals taking place close to his home) and a view of the Tudor house behind the 18th century remodelling.

Sarah then led us out of the gate and through the St John family’s private entrance into St Mary’s. In the church she explained that scaffolding had been erected to allow the conservators to get up close to the church’s historic ceilings and walls to carry out their investigations.

Rutherfoord Conservation Limited have begun their detailed examinations of the historic church following St Mary’s successful Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid earlier this year.

The £1 million Heritage Lottery funded project 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.