Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Imaginary Tour by George Rose

This month Lydiard House celebrates 62 years of opening its doors to the public. However, the gorgeous Palladian mansion we see today was in a state of dereliction when Swindon Corporation bought the estate in 1943 and it would be more than ten years before Lydiard House was accessible to the public.

In May 1955 Lord Lansdown opened the state rooms at Lydiard House and even provided some furniture for the empty rooms from his home at Bowood House, which was also undergoing some significant changes.

The following year George Rose was appointed as caretaker and guide and lived with his wife in the caretaker’s flat for 12 years. George retired in 1968 but two years later suffered a devastating stroke. Although severely disabled, George wanted to leave a record of the House he had loved and cared from during its period of restoration.

His account was published in June 1975 in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 8, just six months after his death. George’s work was entitled ‘An Imaginary Tour’ during which he shows us around areas of the House largely unseen even today.

He begins outside with the coach house and stable block, now transformed into a tea room, but then used as hostel accommodation for youth organisations. George writes:

“The ground floor of the stable block is taken up by six loose boxes, craftsman built and well ventilated, each with its own manger and soak away, together with a harness room. The latter has a fireplace – not to keep the stable hands warm but to keep the harness pliable!”

George mentions the newly built accommodation block for the Management Centre (Lydiard Park Conference Centre), which he describes as being a “monstrosity, more suited to a concrete jungle than a Georgian building.”

As the tour continues George takes the reader across a cobbled courtyard. Here there was a large barn for storing hay and various outbuildings, one used as a pig sty, another for rearing pheasants.

Entering the building we now wend our way through wash-house and drying room, to the bake-house and the kitchen with a tall iron cooking range and “a large recess, backed with a cast-iron plate, formerly for an open fire and spit. Hooks for hanging game and other meats hang from the ceiling and down the centre of the room stands a huge wooden preparation table with a scrubbed deal top.

In his mind’s eye George leads us through the house with which he was so familiar. We enter the bedroom where Lady Bolingbroke spent her last bedridden days, looking out the window to the church below where she watched people on their way to worship.

George takes us upstairs to the attics where he points out the stone plaque commemorating the rebuilding of the house in 1743.

Now we are back downstairs in the wine cellar where George describes “slate shelving under arched brick work.”

The high blank wall demolished, the stone floors covered over and the old laundry fitted with shower baths, George looked forward to the day when the Mansion would be put to good use.

George died on December 1, 1974. His request that his ashes should be scattered in Lydiard Park was granted by the local authority.

Lady Bolingbroke taking tea on the lawn in front of Lydiard House


wisteria climbing the Coach House Tea Rooms

“The ground floor of the stable block is taken up by six loose boxes, craftsman built and well ventilated, each with its own manger and soak away ....



The commemorative plaque in the attic

Wine Cellars



The view from Lady Bolingbroke's bedroom


View of the back of Lydiard House


Another view of the back entrance to Lydiard House
View of Lydiard House from St Mary's churchyard

Floor plan made following the purchase of Lydiard House and Park by Swindon Corporation in 1943


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Portrait of the week - George Richard

by John Hopner

purchased 1965

Like everything else in his life, George Richard's will was complicated. The original ran to 7,000 words across nineteen pages and was proved on February 14, 1825.

The summarized version reproduced in The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report 22 published in 1989 pays particular attention to the property and estate. Woodland in the parishes of Purton, Lydiard Tregoze, Lydiard Millicent and Broad Hinton was to go on the market with George Richard's eldest, abandoned son Henry having first option to buy them for £35,000.

To George and Edward Barton the two surviving sons of his incestuous relationship with his half sister Mary Beauclerk, he leaves £1,200 each. His other children receive varying amounts. George Frederick £1,000; William James, a Cornet in the 13th Regiment of Light Dragoons, £3,000; Joseph Henry, an Ensign in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards £4,000. His two sons Ferdinand and Charles are to received £3,000 each when they reach the age of 21. His daughters Isabella Marianne and Antoinette Diana who were then both living at Lydiard House, would receive £6,000 each when they either reached the age of 21 or when they married.

There is no mention of personal bequests in this summarized version - no bed furnishings, no pieces of jewellery, no items of clothing. George Richard writes: 'All the rest of my Manors and property I devise to my Wife Isabella, Viscountess Bolingbroke, together with 'All my household Goods and Furniture Books pictures and prints of every kind plate Linen China Wines Liquors Horses Carriages and Harness.'

Apparently everything else was devised to the executors to convert into money and to be invested.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Tale of Two Trees




Some of the lakeside trees at Lydiard Park are believed to be nearly 250 years old, dating from the mid 18th century redevelopment of the parkland. In 1743 John, 2nd Viscount St John, remodelled the medieval mansion house with his wealthy wife's inheritance before turning his attention to the parkland. He swept away the old formal gardens and introduced the new, 'natural' looking landscape popularised by leading English landscape artist Lancelot 'Capability' Brown.

In recent years the vagaries of the British weather have taken their toll on the trees at Lydiard Park and when this majestic tree (pictured above) close to the house was brought down in heavy winds, I was told the sad story of a grieving mother who planted two trees for the sons she had lost fighting in the Civil Wars.

I wondered why I had never heard this poignant story before ...

The mother in question was Anne Leighton, Lady St John, the wife of Sir John St John, 1st Baronet. But there were a few inconsistencies in the story - firstly, three sons, not two fell during the 17th century wars.

William was the first to die, killed in action fighting alongside Prince Rupert at Cirencester in 1642/3. John was killed when the Royal garrison at Newark was blockaded during the winter of the same year. The third of Anne's sons to die fighting for the Royalist cause was Edward, wounded at the Second Battle of Newbury on October 27, 1644. Edward returned to Lydiard House where he lingered, eventually dying from his wounds more than five months later.

But there was an even greater problem with this heart rendering story; Anne Leighton, died following the birth of her 13th child in 1628, long before the outbreak of war.

But then, I reflected, perhaps it was the action of a grieving stepmother, Sir John's second wife Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham. She married Sir John two years after the death of his first wife and played an active role in raising his young family. But Lady Margaret died in 1637, several years before the death of her Cavalier stepsons.

I duly reported all this back to the teller of the tale. 'Ah well,' he said, 'it makes a good story!'




















Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Anne Furnese

John St John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke had his own Grand Designs for Lydiard House. But it was only when his wealthy wife Anne Furnese came into her inheritance that he was able to call in the builders.



Born in c 1711 Anne was the daughter of Sir Robert Furnese and his first wife Anne Balam. During the early 18th century Sir Robert served as MP for Truro, New Romney and Kent. Rather too fond of the good life Robert hardly made his mark on politics, unlike his father, and was described by fellow Whig Sir George Oxenden who wrote to David Polhill in 1727 that he was “as active as a fat man can be. He sits at home most part of the day surveying the field of battle, and reviewing his forces as they are drawn out on paper and gives his directions to his agents and attendants who are writing for his success and assure his Honour of success.”

Sir Robert’s father Sir Henry Furnese had made his money as a capital merchant, dealing in hosiery, linen and fine lace. His support of King William in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 proved good for business and soon Henry was involved in some innovative experiments in public finance. Henry served as Sheriff of London in 1701 and was created a baronet in 1707. When he died in 1712 his son Robert became a very rich man indeed.

Anne probably grew up at the mansion house at Waldershare in Kent, bought by her grandfather in 1705. The Furnese family were dab hands at remodelling out of date mansions and Sir Henry had done a pretty good job on the 17th century mansion house to designs attributed to William Talman.

Following the death of Anne’s mother, Sir Robert married Lady Arabella Watson by whom he had a son Henry and a daughter Catherine. His third wife was Lady Anne Shirley who had two daughters, Selina and Anne who died as an infant.


Sir Robert died in 1733 and his 19 year old son and heir two years later. Anne brought at least £20,000 to the Lydiard coffers, worth something in the region of £32.9 million today.

Building work on Lydiard House began in 1738.


Like most enthusiastic house renovators, Lydiard wasn’t the couple’s first project. Prior to his marriage, John occupied 49 Brook Street in salubrious Mayfair. Following their marriage in 1729 John and Anne moved into a new build at 51 Brook Street, a house sited in approximately the middle of modern day Claridges.

For nearly ten years they divided their time between Lydiard, Battersea and Brook Street until 1738 when they moved to 75 South Audley Street. John paid builder Edward Shepherd £4,000 to complete two houses which the St John’s occupied as one property.

Documentary evidence survives suggesting that Roger Morris was the architect of the remodelled house. Morris was assistant to popular architect Colen Campbell whose commissions included Wilton House and Longford Castle in Wiltshire.


It is thought that Nathaniel Ireson was the builder engaged on the Lydiard project. Henry Cheere is suggested as the sculptor of fireplaces in the Drawing Room, Dining Room and State Bedroom, which have features very similar to those in Ditchley Park, the home of John’s cousin George Henry Lee, Earl of Lichfield.

The remodelling of Lydiard was constrained by financial restrictions and it is believed that the house is only half the original design.

Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke wrote scathingly to his half sister Henrietta – “They have made them selves a proverb in the country for their stingyness.”


The house was pretty much finished by 1743 according to masonry in the attic. But after all their hard work, the couple had scant time to enjoy their new country seat. Anne died in July 1747. Less than a year later John remarried only to die within four months of the wedding. Anne is buried with her husband and his second wife in the family vault at St Mary’s Church.



Following Anne’s death Henry offered to help his widowed brother, but not surprisingly John chose to make his own arrangements for his young family.


Henry was to write to Henrietta: “He took no notice of the offer, and I am satisfied with having done what I thought became me. I wish that the prejudices and habits which his late wife gave him, & which are none of the best, do not stick by him, she had sense and cunning , but I never knew a creature so avaricious, more selfish or more false.”

Lydiard House is a tribute to Anne Furnese for without her money it is unlikely the rebuilding would have taken place. Yet sadly the only comment on the lady herself comes from the brother in law who loathed her.


Images Anne Furnese and John St John in Coronation robes are published courtesy of Lydiard Park visit www.lydiardpark.org.uk

Monday, August 4, 2014

Friends of Lydiard Park Summer Outing





As a new member of the Friends of Lydiard Park, I was able to join them on their recent annual summer outing.

The Friends, an independent charity dedicated to supporting the conservation and continued enhancement of Lydiard House and Park, was established in 2005, a successor to the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz founded in the 1960s. With a new website launched in May and a facebook page just hours old, the Friends are getting their message across to a modern, media savvy audience.

This year's trip was to the magnificent Stourhead House near Warminster. The estate comprises a Palladian stately home, a Pantheon and a Temple of Apollo, plus other classical representations, set in more than 2,600 acres.

The property belonged to the Hoare banking family for more than 200 years. The estate was split in 1946 when half was gifted to the National Trust and half remains in family ownership.

Henry Hoare, who ran the bank alongside his younger brother Benjamin following the death of their father Sir Richard, purchased the medieval Stourton manor and renamed it Stourhead. He began work on the impressive Palladian mansion but unfortunately never lived to see it completed. It would be his son, another Henry, nicknamed 'The Magnificent' who furnished the house and created the classical landscape complete with temples and monuments.

And of course there has to be a Lydiard Park/St John family connection.

Hoare's bank was founded in 1673, the brain child of goldsmith Richard Hoare. Sir Henry St John, the reprobate found guilty of murdering Sir William Escott in 1684, was the first family member to open an account with Hoare's in 1697. His father Sir Walter was the second St John client, opening his account in 1704.

The third member of the family to bank with Hoare's was the Hon. John St John, responsible for the remodelling of Lydiard House in 1745. Perhaps he popped down to Stourhead to visit his bank manager and pick up a few tips for his own grand design.

Today Hoare's is the oldest, independently owned private bank with branches at 37 Fleet Street and 32 Lowndes Street.


Clock Arch







Pantheon

Grotto

Temple of Flora
Gothic Cottage

Members of the Friends with Emily, our guide, in front of the Pope Cabinet
In 2004 Brian Carne and Sonia St John were permitted to examine the ledgers containing entries for the three St John accounts held at the Hoare's Bank Archive in Fleet Street. Earlier that year it had been established that Roger Morris had been paid to work on Lydiard House during the refurbishment to a Palladian style in the 18th century.

Many thanks to Sonia St John for making her research available.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walled Garden



It would appear that the Lady St. Johns had a penchant for gardening. And while it was down to the men to make sweeping changes to the parkland, it was the women who attended to the finer details.

Lady Johanna, wife of Sir Walter St John 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 to us …


Following his marriage to wealthy heiress Anne Furnese in 1729, Sir John remodelled the manor house and landscaped the parkland at Lydiard. Anne’s dowry didn’t extend to a complete rebuild of Lydiard House and the garden makeover had to come within budget as well - the new walled garden to the west of the house was constructed using bricks from the old one. Sadly the formal gardens that his grandmother Lady Johanna presided over were swept away.

The unhappy Lady Diana Spencer who married John and Anne’s dissolute son Frederick, sought consolation in the walled garden and added her contribution to its design and content.

Inside, the walls enclose a surprising large area of 4,500 square metres. The unusual parallelogram shape of the garden was designed to maximise sunlight throughout the year. The north eastern wall is slightly higher than the rest, providing a barrier against the winter winds, while the corner of the eastern wall is curved, a perfect place to sit and watch the setting summer sun.

The main gated and pillared entrance is approached via an avenue of incongruous fir trees planted in the 20th century. A small arched doorway in the north eastern wall is linked by one of two footpaths crossing south west to north east. The 1766 estate map shows an outer footpath and others crossing south east to north west.

In 1886 only the perimeter pathway and the one between the main entrance and small door remained. By then the garden was no longer a place of recreation for the Lady’s of the house to take a little exercise, but a Victorian vegetable garden complete with glass house and potting shed.

In 2004 Wessex Archaeology made an excavation of the walled garden in advance of an ambitious four year restoration programme.

Evidence of many of the original features was revealed and a well with a stone cistern was discovered. Many sherds of Romano British pottery were found during the course of the archaeological dig, dating from the 2nd to 5th century when there was a large production site in the Shaw Ridge area of West Swindon.

Sherds of wheel thrown medieval pottery produced in nearby Minety were also discovered. And just one small piece of Tudor Green ware produced in great quantity in the early 16th century - perhaps a jug from the table of Margaret Carew who married John St John in about 1525.

Two sherds of Creamware reveal that the St. Johns were buying from 18th century pottery mogul Josiah Wedgewood, hardly surprising as Lady Diana contributed designs for the potter’s Jasper ware.

Fragments of clay pipes, the cigarette butt of an earlier age, less offensive and a useful dating device, were discovered. As tobacco prices dropped, bowl sizes increased and this along with pipemakers marks make pipes easily dateable.

More than 300 years on, the letters of 17th century Lady Johanna St John have contributed to the design of the restored walled garden. Those responsible for the 21st century planting have where possible selected plants that would have been popular in Lady Johanna’s day. In the 17th century the purchase of a tulip bulb could lead to bankruptcy. Thankfully today they are a tad cheaper.












Saturday, July 26, 2014

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, died on July 26, 1680, aged 33 years old.  It had been, how can I put it, an eventful life.



The son of Anne St John and her second husband Royalist hero Henry, Viscount Wilmot, John was a bit of an embarrassment to his mother.

It wasn't just the lewd poems or the bawdy plays, his dismissal from court or the drinking and whoring that upset her.  It wasn't even the attempted abduction of his future, fabulously rich heiress, wife to be Elizabeth Malet that made her raise her eyebrows.  Well actually it was, but what really upset her was that he wouldn't renounce all of the above on his death bed - and boy did she try hard to persuade him.



John was born at Ditchley, Oxfordshire and at the age of just 12 was sent to Wadham College, where it was said he 'grew debauched.'  These things happen!  Having picked up his MA three years later, John went off on the obligatory Grand Tour, which probably finished off the debauchery tuition.


Following the abduction attempt, John married Elizabeth Malet. The couple had four children - a son who died young and three daughters.


Elizabeth who married Edward Montague, 3rd Earl of Sandwich.


Anne who married first Henry Bayntun and next Francis Greville.


And Malet who became the wife of John Vaughan, 1st Viscount Lisburne.

Back home in London he was the toast of the Restoration Court.  He frequented the theatre, gave acting lessons to his mistress Elizabeth Barry and wrote a lot of very rude poetry.

But it was the death bed renunciation of his life long atheism that was the real best seller and remained in print for two hundred years - a cautionary tale for any young man about to embark upon a life of excess.

John died at his home in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, his body so ravaged by his lifestyle that it was unknown whether it was the effects of alcoholism or venereal disease that eventually killed him.

John's portrait, attributed to Peter Lely, hangs in the Dining Room at Lydiard House.  Visit the website on www.lydiardhouse.org.uk for details of opening times and forthcoming events.