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.

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.

 

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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.