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.

hardyman

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.

 

 

 

 

An Imaginary Tour by George Rose

The gorgeous Palladian mansion we see today was in a state of dereliction when Swindon Corporation bought the estate in 1943 and it would be more than ten years before Lydiard House was accessible to the public.

In May 1955 Lord Lansdown opened the state rooms at Lydiard House and even provided some furniture for the empty rooms from his home at Bowood House, which was also undergoing some significant changes.

The following year George Rose was appointed as caretaker and guide and lived with his wife in the caretaker’s flat for 12 years. George retired in 1968 but two years later suffered a devastating stroke. Although severely disabled, George wanted to leave a record of the House he had loved and cared from during its period of restoration.

His account was published in June 1975 in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 8, just six months after his death. George’s work was entitled ‘An Imaginary Tour’ during which he shows us around areas of the House largely unseen even today.

He begins outside with the coach house and stable block, now transformed into a tea room, but then used as hostel accommodation for youth organisations. George writes:

“The ground floor of the stable block is taken up by six loose boxes, craftsman built and well ventilated, each with its own manger and soak away, together with a harness room. The latter has a fireplace – not to keep the stable hands warm but to keep the harness pliable!”

George mentions the newly built accommodation block for the Management Centre (Lydiard Park Conference Centre), which he describes as being a “monstrosity, more suited to a concrete jungle than a Georgian building.”

As the tour continues George takes the reader across a cobbled courtyard. Here there was a large barn for storing hay and various outbuildings, one used as a pig sty, another for rearing pheasants.

Entering the building we now wend our way through wash-house and drying room, to the bake-house and the kitchen with a tall iron cooking range and “a large recess, backed with a cast-iron plate, formerly for an open fire and spit. Hooks for hanging game and other meats hang from the ceiling and down the centre of the room stands a huge wooden preparation table with a scrubbed deal top.

In his mind’s eye George leads us through the house with which he was so familiar. We enter the bedroom where Lady Bolingbroke spent her last bedridden days, looking out the window to the church below where she watched people on their way to worship.

George takes us upstairs to the attics where he points out the stone plaque commemorating the rebuilding of the house in 1743.

Now we are back downstairs in the wine cellar where George describes “slate shelving under arched brick work.”

The high blank wall demolished, the stone floors covered over and the old laundry fitted with shower baths, George looked forward to the day when the Mansion would be put to good use.

George died on December 1, 1974. His request that his ashes should be scattered in Lydiard Park was granted by the local authority.

Prince George and Sir Walter St John’s School

Prince George starts school today at Thomas’ Battersea in the former Sir Walter St John’s School building, renewing a connection with Lydiard Park and the St John family.

On July 3, 1708 Sir Walter St John died peacefully at his home in Battersea, attended by his servants, just as Lady Johanna had requested in her will written in 1703.

‘I desire if Sr Walter St John outlive me him his old servants may be continued about him & that he may not be removed to Liddiard London or any other place from Battersea wher he has lived so long least he hasten his Death.’

The Manor of Battersea once belonged to Westminster Abbey but following the dissolution of the monasteries the manor returned to the Crown. In 1627 it was granted in reversion to Oliver St John, Viscount Grandison and later inherited by his nephew Sir John St John, 1st Baronet. Sir John’s son Walter and his wife Joanna lived mainly at the Manor House in Battersea, more convenient for Walter who served at various times as MP for both Wiltshire and Wootton Bassett between the years 1656-1690.

It was the feckless Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who sold the Battersea Manor to John Viscount Spencer in 1763 and less than 20 years later the greater part of Bolingbroke House, as it was then known, had been demolished.

But what has the education of the young Prince George got to do with Sir Walter St. John? Well quite a lot actually.

In 1700 St Walter founded a school for twenty poor boys from the parish of Battersea. The building that became the original Sir Walter St John’s schoolhouse was in existence before 1700 and perhaps leads credence to the belief that the school was up and running much earlier, possibly by 1650.

Sir Walter’s will, written on March 8, 1705/6 and proved three days after his death, included the following bequest:

‘I give and bequeath to the Minister of Battersea and the Schoole Master and Trustees for the time being for the Schoole of Battersea the summe of Two hundred pounds in Trust onely that the same shall as soone as Conveniently may be be layd out in the purchase of lands of Inheritance And the Incombe and Revenue thereof from time to time to be Applyed in binding and placeing out Apprentices of One or more Children to be taken out of the said Schoole Which said last mencioned Legacy or Charity of Two hundred pounds I doe Appoint shall be payd within Twelve Months next after my Decease.’

So Sir Walter left the school pretty well provided for.

A framed Abstract of the 1803 inrolment hung in the Headmaster’s study until 1988 when it was deposited in the Greater London Record Office (London Metropolitan Archives).

And whereas the said Sir Walter St John is minded to found and for ever to establish a Charity in the said parish of Battersea, wherein the said Sir Walter St John now dwelleth, for the benefitt of the said parish and towne of Battersea, and to erect and indow a schoole there for the education of twenty free scholars in manner as hereinafter is menconed, and that the said messuage or tenement shall for ever hereafter be used as a Schoole House for the teaching of scholars therein … (the transcript can be viewed in full in the Friends of  Lydiard Tregoz Report No 22 published May 13, 1989.)

The first addition to the school house was built in 1840, a two storey building consisting of one large room on each floor.

By 1858 the whole site was subject to a major rebuild. Sir Walter’s original school house was demolished to make way for William Butterfield’s Gothic Revivalist new building. A description of the building can be found on the Historic England website.

In 1977 Sir Walter St John’s Grammar School became a Comprehensive School and amalgamated with another local school, William Blake.

Following a major review of secondary school provision in Wandsworth Sir Walter St John’s amalgamated with Battersea County to become the new Battersea Park School in 1986.

The Grade II listed building was acquired by David and Joanna Thomas who founded Thomas’s London Day School. Their son Ben, was headmaster at Thomas’s Battersea from 1999 until recently when new headmaster Simon O’Malley was appointed. O’Malley was previously headmaster at Wellesley House School in Kent and starts at the school in September.

Speculation had been that Prince George would attend Wetherby, a pre-prep school in Notting Hill Gate, favoured by the Prince and Princess of Wales for the elementary education of Princes William and Harry. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have, however, decided to go for Thomas’s where the ethos places a greater emphasis on a set of core values, including kindness, courtesy, confident, humility and learning to be givers, not takers.

A lot may have changed since Sir Walter’s day, but how fitting that the young prince will begin his education in buildings that once housed the Sir Walter St John School.
Prince George can trace his ancestry back to Sir John St John, First Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton, his 12 x great grandparents and Walter’s parents.

Sir Walter’s charitable endeavour continues today with the Sir Walter St John’s Education Charity, which promotes the education and training of children and young people under the age of 25, who are in financial need. The Charity covers the London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth, with preference given to Sir Walter’s old patch, Battersea.

Stourhead House

If you are wondering where the summer went you may enjoy revisiting the Friends Summer 2014 trip to the magnificent Stourhead House near Warminster.

The estate comprises a Palladian stately home, a Pantheon and a Temple of Apollo, plus other classical representations, set in more than 2,600 acres.

The property belonged to the Hoare banking family for more than 200 years. The estate was split in 1946 when half was gifted to the National Trust and half remains in family ownership.

Henry Hoare, who ran the bank alongside his younger brother Benjamin following the death of their father Sir Richard, purchased the medieval Stourton manor and renamed it Stourhead. He began work on the impressive Palladian mansion but unfortunately never lived to see it completed. It would be his son, another Henry, nicknamed ‘The Magnificent’ who furnished the house and created the classical landscape complete with temples and monuments.

And of course there has to be a Lydiard Park/St John family connection.

Hoare’s bank was founded in 1673, the brain child of goldsmith Richard Hoare. Sir Henry St John, the reprobate found guilty of murdering Sir William Escott in 1684, was the first family member to open an account with Hoare’s in 1697. His father Sir Walter was the second St John client, opening his account in 1704.

The third member of the family to bank with Hoare’s was the Hon. John St John, responsible for the remodelling of Lydiard House in 1745. Perhaps he popped down to Stourhead to visit his bank manager and pick up a few tips for his own grand design.

Today Hoare’s is the oldest, independently owned private bank with branches at 37 Fleet Street and 32 Lowndes Street.

In 2004 Brian Carne and Sonia St John were permitted to examine the ledgers containing entries for the three St John accounts held at the Hoare’s Bank Archive in Fleet Street. Earlier that year it had been established that Roger Morris had been paid to work on Lydiard House during the refurbishment to a Palladian style in the 18th century.

Many thanks to Sonia St John for making her research available.

 

Brookhouse Farm

Brookhouse Farm pub and restaurant is presently closed as the Victorian farmhouse undergoes a refit, and not for the first time.

 

Standing on the corner of Middleleaze Drive and Tewkesbury Way, just inside the Swindon borough boundary, with views across Lydiard Park and its back to the sprawling town, today Brookhouse Farm straddles the divide between town and country.

 

Once belonging to the St. John family at Lydiard Park, a farm has stood on the site for at least 200 years. Along with Wick Farm it made an early appearance on the 1773 Andrews and Dury map of Wiltshire. Nineteenth century particulars of the Lydiard estate reveal that parcels of land, gardens and cottages on the two farms appear to have been interchangeable.

 

Called Brook Farm until the beginning of the 20th century, the 165-acre dairy farm perched on the parish boundary of Lydiard Tregoze and Lydiard Millicent. The farm took its name from the brook that ran through the St. John’s Lydiard estate and meandered across the fields to the small settlement at Shaw in Lydiard Millicent.

 

The farm complex, auctioned at the Goddard Arms Hotel, Swindon on Friday June 28, 1901 was described in the sale particulars as including a substantial house, brick built with slate roof, facing due south.

 

On the ground floor there was a drawing room with bow window, a dining room 21ft by 14ft, (6.4 x 4.2 metres) a morning room, large entrance hall and a kitchen ‘with a capital dresser as fixed.’ Above the dairy, ‘a capacious Cheese Room fitted with tacks and stands’ – and of course there were the ‘usual Domestic Offices.’ With five bedrooms and a box room on the first floor and two servants’ bedrooms on the second, this was definitely a desirable residence.

 

At the time of the 1901 sale the owner was Joses Badcock. His wife Sarah, had grown up at Brook Farm, the daughter of Thomas and Joan Plummer. First married to Richard Frampton Tuckey, Sarah was widowed in 1863. She married Joses Badcock, himself a widower, in 1868. The couple lived first at Millicent House in Lydiard Millicent before returning to Sarah’s childhood home in the 1870s.

 

Brook Farm had just a handful of owners during the first half of the 20th century, among them Miss Elizabeth Akers, Alfred Leonard Purkis and Harold Pears. When Harold Pears sold the property in 1939 a note is made that: The Owner is at present renting a further 61 acres from Lady Bolingbroke, the tenancy of which could no doubt be transferred.’ So, nothing much had changed!

 

Brookhouse Farm pub and restaurant reopens on August 13.

 

Pictures published courtesy of the Brookhouse Farm Facebook page.

 

 

 

Croome Court

The weather here today at Lydiard Park is overcast and threatening rain, so we thought a revisit of last year’s summer outing was called for!

“Welcome to my office,” said Joe as he led the Friends of Lydiard Park group from the visitor’s centre along a winding pathway which opened up on to a breath-taking view.

Croome Court has been a work in progress for more than 260 years as restoration continues today. The 6th Earl of Coventry’s £400,000 (worth £35 million in today’s money) project began in 1751 with the building of a Palladian mansion and a landscaped parkland and work continued throughout the 18th centuries. Croome Court was sold in 1948 following the death of the 10th Earl at Dunkirk in 1940.

The National Trust acquired 670 acres of the Park in 1996 and in 2007 the Croome Heritage Trust bought Croome Court and leased it to the National Trust on a 999 year lease. The house opened to the public on September 26, 2009.

The 6th Earl of Coventry inherited Croome Court in 1751 when he was 28 years old, but he already had a vision for his family home. He engaged Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who designed first the house and then the grounds) and Robert Adam neoclassical architect, interior and furniture designer, to fulfil his ambitions.

At my first glimpse of Joe’s ‘office’ I could see many similarities to Lydiard House. Admittedly on a larger scale, well yes a MUCH larger scale, but then John St John probably didn’t have £400,000 at his disposal.

Joe walked us past the Georgian Gothic church, built when the 6th Earl demolished the medieval church which stood too close to the house, pointing out the world’s most impressive greenhouse in the distance and up to the stairs on the north front where we met volunteer guide Rosie who gave us a most fascinating and comprehensive tour of the house.

Most exciting for me was visiting the apartments occupied by the 6th Earl’s 2nd wife Barbara St John.  Barbara was the fourth daughter of John St John, Baron St John of Bletsoe and his wife Elizabeth Crowley.

Barbara was no slouch in the beauty stakes as is evident from her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds around the time of her marriage.  Today the portrait is part of the Faringdon Collection and is on display at Buscot Park.

The Earl’s second marriage was much more successful than his first to the actress and society beauty, the stunning Maria Gunning. The teenage Maria and her sister Elizabeth were presented at Court to George II in December 1750 and in little over a year they were both married.  Elizabeth to the 6th Duke of Hamilton and on March 5, 1752 19-year-old Maria married George William 6th Earl of Coventry.

In his second wife Barbara the 6th Earl found a soulmate, a meeting of like minds.  She was interested in birds and animals and George created a menagerie and a model dairy and farm for her.  Boating parties took place on the lake with firework displays to entertain their guests.

Barbara’s rooms at Croome Court were among those re-decorated by one of the more recent owners of the property who gave her elegant bedroom a bathroom makeover. Quite what happens to this room is still up for debate as the National Trust occupancy is still relatively recent and there is an awful lot of work still to do.

So what were the best bits of my day – well, I loved standing in Barbara St John’s rooms, and the attic rooms, oh and the Church where I discovered the grave of William Dean (more of that to follow) but I didn’t have time to explore the parkland with its numerous follies or visit all the rooms in the house, or the walled garden not to mention the RAF Defford Museum where radar was developed.

Croome Court most definitely requires a second visit…