Opportunities to volunteer at St Mary’s Church

Have you got a few hours to spare during the week? Then you might be interested in becoming a volunteer at the historic St Mary’s Church in Lydiard Park? Have you got green fingers? Do you fancy planting a wildlife garden in the churchyard? Or perhaps you’d like to help with groups of local school children visiting the church – the opportunities are many and varied.

Make a date in your diary for Thursday 2nd May, 6.30 – 8 pm (please register first by emailing wspartnershipoffice@gmail.com) when an exciting new volunteer programme to support the St Mary’s Conservation Project is being launched at Lydiard Park Conference Centre.

St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze which lies within Lydiard Park is known as one of the most beautiful small parish churches in this country. Today it is undergoing a major Heritage Lottery Fund project to conserve its medieval wallpaintings and historic art interiors. Wallpainting conservation began before Christmas and is already revealing the beauty of long hidden pictures.

The £1 million project which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Friends of Lydiard Park along with other generous donors, is also enabling a two-year programme of events and activities for the public, local schools and colleges.

An exciting new volunteer programme to support the project is being launched at Lydiard Park Conference Centre on Thursday 2nd May. The event is being hosted by The Friends of Lydiard Park and all those interested in finding out more about volunteering for the project are invited to attend.

There are a wide variety of volunteering opportunities including providing history tours, conservation care of historic furnishings and objects; helping with school groups, wildflower planting in the churchyard; and stewarding in the House and Church. To register for the event you will need to email St. Mary’s Church office wspartnershipoffice@gmail.com

There are also a limited number of volunteer training placements to work with the church’s internationally renowned wallpainting conservators. For those interested in this type of hands-on conservation a minimum commitment of 2 working weeks is required and candidates should contact the partnership office as soon as possible.

‘Volunteering at St. Mary’s is a great way to discover more about St. Mary’s rich heritage,“ said Paul Gardner, Chair of the Conservation Project. “People may have skills and ways of volunteering which we haven’t even thought of and we’re keen to hear from anyone who is interested whether they are already very familiar with the church or have never visited before.”

St. Mary’s Church is widely regarded as one of the most important small parish churches in the country on account of its exceptional interiors and monuments to the St. John family who owned Lydiard Park.

“The Friends of Lydiard Park are really excited about the Volunteer Launch,” Friends of Lydiard Park Trust, Sarah Finch-Crisp said. “There are so many opportunities for people to get involved, learn new skills and have fun at the same time. The Friends have donated over £100,000 to the conservation project and we are delighted to be hosting this event for St. Mary’s and look forward to meeting enthusiastic local residents on the 2nd May.”

The current Heritage Lottery Fund project includes conservation of the medieval wall paintings and architectural paint schemes. Alongside that is the repair of historic pews, new heating and lighting and improved access and new interpretation.


St Mary's 3

thumbnail_St Marys Lydiard Tregoze removal of royal coat of arms James I (date 1611)



An Ancient Painting found by Accident at Fine Liddiard Church September 1837 – gifted to the church by the Brake family. The Friends of Lydiard Park funded conservation and framing of the picture.


Frances Lydiard Church June 3rd 2018
Volunteer led tour of St Mary’s churchyard, June 2018.

The Woman in the Lake

Calling all lovers of Lydiard …

Do you enjoy reading time-slip novels? Or perhaps you like a murder mystery. Or maybe historical romance is your cup of tea. Well the Woman in the Lake ticks all these boxes and what’s more it is set in Lydiard House and Swindon’s Old Town.

International bestselling novelist and member of the Friends of Lydiard Park, Nicola Cornick, has brought together her extensive knowledge of the 18th century and Lydiard House to create a story of intrigue, betrayal and murder in this her latest novel.

Nicola’s previous two novels both have a local connection; House of Shadows is set against a backdrop of Ashdown House near Ashbury on the Berkshire Downs where Nicola is a volunteer guide while the Phantom Tree has a number of Wiltshire locations including Marlborough, Savernake Forest and Wolf Hall.

But for Swindonians and lovers of Lydiard, it doesn’t get more local than the Woman in the Lake. Friends will recognise scenes set in Lydiard House and Park and the characters of Lord and Lady Gerard might sound familiar, too.

As the scene shifts between the 18th and 21st centuries readers will be transported along with Fenella Brightwell and lady’s maid Constance from the recently remodelled Lydiard House to a modern apartment in the refurbished Vilett House. Take a walk past the old mill on the Goddard estate but keep a watchful eye out for the infamous Mr. Binks.

The Woman in the Lake is on sale in the Library Shop, Swindon Central Library and also from Waterstones and Amazon.

Join Nicola when she will be talking about the inspiration and her research for the Woman in the Lake at Lydiard House during the Swindon Festival of Literature in May.

And visit Nicola’s website or catch up with her on Word Wenches.

Nicola Cornick 2


House of Shadows


The Phantom Tree


Growing up on Whitehill Farm

In November 2004 I was fortunate enough to meet Mary Morse and her husband Leslie at their home in Wootton Bassett. I was researching the former West Swindon farms for a local history project I was writing for the primary schools in the area. I completed projects for Salt Way (closed in 2006), Shaw Ridge, Tregoze and Brook Field Primary Schools, and my intention was to write further projects for Toothill and Oliver Tomkins primary schools, but unfortunately funding ran out.

Mary was very generous with her time, sharing her memories of growing up and living in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze.

I filed my notes and unfortunately they were never published. Sorting through my boxes of research I recently rediscovered Mary’s story, which I am posting on the Friends blog. I’m sure there are many local residents who will recall those times and remember Mary.

Mary’s father Wilfred Parsons returned from service in Egypt during the First World War and in 1920 he became a tenant at Whitehill Farm, then owned by Wiltshire County Councils.

Toothill Farm (5)
Toothill Farm

Whitehill Farm was once part of what was known as the Charterhouse Lands. In 1611 high ranking civil servant Thomas Sutton founded a hospital for pensioners and a school for forty poor boys at a former Carthusian monastery near Smithfield in London.  He bought various properties, the rents of which funded this charitable venture, among them Whitehill, Mannington and Toothill Farms in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze.

Mannington Farm

In 1616 John Lawe farmed 65 acres at Whitehill Farm.  In 1799 Richard Dore King signed a twelve year Lady Day lease on the farm where the wealthy King family remained in residence for much of the nineteenth century.

The three farms continued in the ownership of the Charterhouse Trustees into the 20th century. They were eventually sold in 1919 to Wiltshire County Council and broken up into small holdings for the use of returning ex-servicemen following the end of the First World War.

Mary’s parents met at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park. Ada Carter was originally from Ashbury while Wilfred came from Lydiard Millicent where his parents kept the village shop.

DSC05120 - Copy
St Mary’s Church

Before the war Mary’s father had worked as a groom for Captain James Sadler at Lydiard House, Lydiard Millicent. Mary still had a leather case used to store shirt collars presented to her father by the Captain on the occasion of his 21st birthday.

St Mary’s played a major role in Mary’s life and she spoke with great affection of the Rector who had been there during her youth and the Fellowship group he established. She mentioned the names of members of the congregation who continued to worship there in 2004.

She recalled watching Lady Bolingbroke and her son Vernon taking their place in the St John family pew and church events that punctuated the year, some of which took place in the mansion house.

Z Postcard Lydiard House - Copy
Old postcard view of Lydiard House

Mary was born in 1928 at Whitehill Farm. She had an elder brother Gordon and talked about being ‘daring’ and joining in with the games the boys played. She recalled the swing the boys made using a rope slung across a branch of an oak tree just inside the farm gate. She had one go on the swing then as the boys winched her up again the rope snapped and she came crashing down to the ground.

A local nurse checked her over and said she had not broken anything but to rest for a day or so. Her father would have had to travel into Swindon to get a doctor so he was grateful for the diagnosis. In later years Mary suffered from intermittent back pain and after the birth of her second son the doctor said she had some damage to her spine and queried whether she had ever had an accident as a child.

From a very young age Mary had farm chores to complete. At just three years old she helped to feed the hens and as she grew older she helped at busy times on the farm such as haymaking. She milked the cows and helped her mother churn the butter. She pumped water from the well to use in the dairy and cut with a scythe the strip of grass  the mower couldn’t reach close to the hedgerow.

Mary and her brother attended Clifton Street School in Swindon, cycling behind their father’s horse drawn milk cart. Wilfred delivered milk door to door in Swindon, ladling the milk from churns on the cart into jugs provided by the housewives.

Mary had vivid memories of living at Whitehill Farm during the Second World War when a camp with a hundred soldiers was billeted on one of the fields. 377 Battalion, followed by 419 Battalion and later both German and Italian prisoners of war camped there. Three antiaircraft guns and a machine gun were erected in this field (which is now the site of Beaumaris Road) and Mary recalled seeing a Messerschmidt plane fly so low she could see the pilot.

There was no NAAFI for the soldiers billeted at Whitehill so Mary’s mother provided them with provisions while the officers used the farm parlour as a living room. Mary recalled the camp dances and celebrating her 21st birthday in one of the Nissan huts.

Deacons, Wood Street, Swindon  c1990s photograph published courtesy of Local Studies, Swindon Central Library

Mary told me she had no desire to work anywhere other than on the farm with her father. However Mr Deacon from the china and jewellers shop in Old Town offered her a job. She was to have a month’s trial but after the first week she told her father she didn’t want to be an errand girl. Her father told her she would have to work out her month’s trial. Mary ended up working for Deacon’s for 55 years.

Mary’s brother took over the farm after their father’s death, but post war changes for Swindon were already on the way.

With the adoption of the Town Development Act 1952 Swindon embarked upon an ambitious development programme.  Further boundary changes added a large part of the old parish of Lydiard Tregoze and with it the former Charterhouse lands.

‘A 300 acre site at Toot Hill south of the A420 Swindon to Wootton Bassett road will provide the homes in a new urban village,’ the Advertiser reported on Wednesday November 17, 1971 as Thamesdown Council received approval for the western expansion of the town.

Today Whitehill Farmhouse stands on the corner of Beaumaris Road and Rowton Heath Way in Toothill, and remains a Swindon Borough Council owned property.

Mary died on December 20, 2009 aged 81. Her funeral took place at St Mary’s, Lydiard Park, the church that had been central to her life where she served as churchwarden, chorister, a member of the parochial church council and on various church committees.




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The Country House Companion

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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.

Gardeners – HRP Blogs

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

Conservation – HRP Blogs

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

Curators – HRP Blogs

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