‘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.