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 Halloween than a tale 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



‘Mind the gap’

Best selling historical novelist Elizabeth St John launched her latest book, By Love Divided, at Lydiard House, a setting that plays an important part in this 17th century story.

The book launch began with a tour of St Mary’s Church during which Elizabeth introduced us to some of the characters in her book. Paul Gardner, Chair of the St Mary’s Conservation Appeal, opened the St John polyptych, a genealogical masterpiece at the centre of which is a family portrait of Sir John St. John 1st Baronet with his wife, parents and six sisters, four of whom appear in Elizabeth’s novels.

Guests at Thursday’s event included the Earl and Countess of Bathurst of Cirencester Park, who trace their ancestry back to Allen Apsley, a central character in By Love Divided; Nicola Cornick, author of House of Shadows, and Jane Rutherfoord, an internationally renowned wall painting conservationist who has recently completed a survey on the wall paintings in St Mary’s Church.

The afternoon was steeped in 17th century history as Elizabeth gave us some background to the series of novels in The Lydiard Chronicles and the people and places that played such a significant role in the English Civil War.

An engaging and entertaining speaker, Elizabeth makes light of the hard work involved in writing her novels.

So how does the historical novelist work? Elizabeth gave some insights into the documents she has researched and places she has visited including The Queen’s House at the Tower of London where Lucy and Sir Allen Apsley raised their family to Donnington Castle, the site of a field hospital where Allen Apsley took his mortally wounded cousin, Edward St John.

But of course, there is always the period in between historical events where there is no recorded evidence where Elizabeth reminds herself to ‘Mind the gap.’

Elizabeth now returns to the US where she will begin to map out the next book in The Lydiard Chronicles, introducing her readers to two larger than life characters, John Wilmot, the licentious 2nd Earl of Rochester and his cousin, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, mistress of Charles II and mother of five of his illegitimate children. This should be fun!

The monuments of Lord Bolingbroke’s family

The programme of conservation at St Mary’s Church has been an ongoing project for more than 120 years.

In 1886 the Bristol firm of Joseph Bell & Sons undertook a number of decorating jobs in the church including ‘renovation and decoration of Monuments of Lord Bolingbroke’s Family .’ This included the complete repainting of both the Mompesson monument and the oldest monument in the church, that of Nicholas St John and his wife Elizabeth.

The shields and lettering on what was then described as ‘the Bedstead tomb’ were repainted as necessary while the Golden Cavalier had ‘all the accessories of the figure’ repainted and the renewal of ‘such lettering as may be traced and such cleaning as the gilding of the figure will admit to be done.’ The whole job came in at a cost of £81 6s 6d. (£81.32)

And it didn’t stop there. In 1901 restoration work began again under the direction of Charles Edwin Ponting, an eminent church architect working in the Gothic revivalist style.

Work continued throughout the 1960s and in 1977 attention returned to ‘the Bedstead tomb.’ For some time the magnificent memorial made of alabaster, black carboniferous limestone and clunch, a hard, compact grey chalk, had been supported by a cradle of scaffolding and awaiting attention by conservator John Green.

The St John monument commemorates Sir John St John, first Baronet, his two wives and the thirteen children he had with his first wife Anne Leighton. Sir John commissioned the monument some fourteen years before his death. In style and quality the tomb has been compared to work by Nicholas Stone, a leading 17th century sculptor. It was made in London and transported to Lydiard Tregoze in sections where it was reassembled in St Mary’s Church.

By the 1970s the monument was in a sorry state with rising damp and water damage to the plinth and the entablature. Part of the structure had already collapsed, including the heraldic cartouche which had fallen and smashed into pieces on the church floor while figures on the upper canopy were also in a perilous condition.

The monument measures approximately 4 metres long, 2 metres wide and stands nearly 4.5 metres tall. The tremendous weight of the monument required considerable support beneath the church floor and during the restoration work a pile of 17th century bricks was discovered to be doing just this.

John Green set to work on the monument with his assistant Michael Bayley. First it was completely dismantled, then cleaned, repaired and a damp proof membrane was inserted.

In 2012 conservation work in the church began again with grant funding from English Heritage and other generous donors as repairs on the roof and windows made the church weather and water tight. The following year emergency stabilisation to some of the wall paintings took place and in 2016 a successful programme of fund raising saw the restoration of the 18th century Reredos behind the altar.

This year the Conservation Project raised the £55,000 match funding required to complete the development phase ahead of an application for a further HLF grant of £615,000 to be submitted in the spring of 2018.

The church is open to the public most weekends; visit The Church in the Park facebook page for more information about weekday opening times.

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The Friends of Lydiard Park is an independent charity dedicated to supporting the conservation and continued enhancement of Lydiard House and Park.