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.