On January 30 1649 Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. This unprecedented event came at the culmination of seven years of civil war. Did this usher in a period of peace and prosperity for the population? Were families reunited who had been torn asunder by divided loyalties?
Written in their Stars by Elizabeth St. John is the story of the Interregnum, that period in between the execution of one king and the restoration of another, told from the perspective of three women, members of the extended St. John family. Nan, Lady Wilmot, daughter of Sir John St. John of Lydiard, her cousin Luce Hutchinson and Luce’s sister in law Frances Apsley.
Each woman has a role to play in the new order, but which side do they support? Each has a husband in danger, children to protect, a home to preserve.
Elizabeth St. John creates an evocative account of the fear and chaos in which people continued to live during this turbulent period, especially those who still had much to lose.
Charles II and Cromwell both play a cameo part in this fast-moving novel, the third in the Chronicles of Lydiard series. In Written in their Stars Elizabeth St. John completes the story of her 17th century family. Perhaps she will next the next generation of her ancestors through to the 18th century. We can only hope this is not the final chapter of The Lydiard Chronicles.
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.
This little dimpled darling is Holles St John, youngest son of Henry 1st Viscount St John and his second wife Angelica Pellisary.
Angelica had 12 children, but only four survived to adulthood, George (1693-1716); Henrietta (1699-1756); John (1702-49) and Holles (1710-38).
Little is know about Holles excepting that he was an equerry to Queen Caroline, according to his memorial in Battersea church. He was very close to his sister and would appear to be the only member of her family who continued to see her following her expulsion by husband Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough.
Holles was also very fond of the theatre, although whether as an enthusiastic member of the audience or as an actor is unknown. On his death he left his sister shares in Covent Garden Theatre, naming her as executrix of his Will.
In the name of God Amen I the Honoble Holles St John Esq youngest son of the Right Honble Henry Lord Viscount St John being of sound and perfect mind and memory thanks be given to God for the same do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner and fform following ffirst I give and devise all that my ffreehold Estate whereof I stand seized pofsefsed of or Interested in called ffreien Court with the Mefsuage Outhouses Lands and premifses thereunto belonging and appertaining now in the occupation of Richard Perry or his undertenants Situate lying and being at Peckham Rye in the Parish of Camberwell in the County of Surry unto my sister Henrietta Knight Wife of Robert Knight Esq for and during the term of her Natural Life and from and immediately after the decease of the said Henrietta Knight then I give and devise the same to my Niece Henrietta Knight daughter of my said Sister Henrietta Knight for and during the term of her Natural Life and from and immediately after the decease of the said Henrietta Knight the daughter then to the heirs Males of her Body lawfully to be begotten And for want of such Issue Remainder to my own right heirs for ever Item I give and bequeath unto Sir Peter Soame Baronet two hundred pounds and to his Sister Msrs Jane Sarah Soame five hundred pounds of lawfull money of Great Britain I give to my Servant Jeremiah Trean (?) ffifty pounds and all my apparel both woollen and Linen I desire my Executrix herein after named to lay out ffifty pounds on a Monument to be Erected in the Church where I happen to be buryed I give to my Brother the late Lord Viscount Bolingbroke my Diamond ring which was given me by me ffather and after my Debts ffuneral Charges and the Legacies hereby given are paid and Satisfyed I do hereby give and bequeath all the rest and residue to my personal estate Goods and Chattells whatsoever and wheresoever unto my said Sister Henrietta Knight and her Afsigns whom I hereby constitute and appoint Sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament In Witness and whereof I the said Holles St John have hereunto sett my hand and Seal the first day of November in the tenth year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord George the Second over Great Britain King Defender of the ffaith And in the year of Our Lord One thousand Seven hundred and thirty Six Holles St John Signed Sealed Published and Declared by the Testator Holles St John as his last Will and Testament in the Presence of us who set our hands as witnesses in the presence and at the Desire of the said Testator – Morris Jacob Wale Tho: Osbourne
This Will was proved at London before the Right Worshipfull John Bettesworth Doctor of Laws Master Keeper or Commifsary of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfully constituted the Seventeenth day of October in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and thirty Eight by the Oath of the Honble Henrietta Knight (Wife of Robert Knight Esq) the Sister of the deceased and Executrix in the Said Will named to whom administration was granted of All and Singular the Goods Chattells and Creditts of the said deceased being first Sworn by Commifsion duly to Administer
An obituary published in the Gentleman’s Magazine descibes Holles as being ‘of a lively Genius and a sparkling wit,’ but not every publication was so complimentary. The author of Bolingbroke and His Times – The Sequel, published in 1901/2 calls him ‘fat, unwieldy, and, like them all, turbulent.’
Holles died on October 6, 1738 aged 27. He was buried in the family vault at St. Mary’s, Battersea where Henrietta erected a monument to his memory, according to wishes expressed in his will.
The portrait by Maria Verelst hangs in 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 withDoctor 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