Monday, July 3, 2017

Sir Walter St John's School and Prince George

This is the story of the education of  a 21st century Prince and Sir Walter St John, born at Lydiard House in 1622...

On this day in July 1708 Sir Walter St John died peacefully at his home in Battersea, attended by his servants, just as Lady Johanna had requested in her will written in 1703.

'I desire if Sr Walter St John outlive me him his old servants may be continued about him & that he may not be removed to Liddiard London or any other place from Battersea wher he has lived so long least he hasten his Death.'

The Manor of Battersea once belonged to Westminster Abbey but following the dissolution of the monasteries the manor returned to the Crown. In 1627 it was granted in reversion to Oliver St John, Viscount Grandison and later inherited by his nephew Sir John St John, 1st Baronet. Sir John's son Walter and his wife Joanna lived mainly at the Manor House in Battersea, more convenient for Walter who served at various times as MP for both Wiltshire and Wootton Bassett between the years 1656-1690.

It was the feckless Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who sold the Battersea Manor to John Viscount Spencer in 1763 and less than 20 years later the greater part of Bolingbroke House, as it was then known, had been demolished.

But what has the education of the young Prince George got to do with Sir Walter St. John? Well quite a lot actually.

In 1700 St Walter founded a school for twenty poor boys from the parish of Battersea. The building that became the original Sir Walter St John's schoolhouse was in existence before 1700 and perhaps leads credence to the belief that the school was up and running much earlier, possibly by 1650.

Sir Walter's will, written on March 8, 1705/6 and proved three days after his death, included the following bequest:

'I give and bequeath to the Minister of Battersea and the Schoole Master and Trustees for the time being for the Schoole of Battersea the summe of Two hundred pounds in Trust onely that the same shall as soone as Conveniently may be be layd out in the purchase of lands of Inheritance And the Incombe and Revenue thereof from time to time to be Applyed in binding and placeing out Apprentices of One or more Children to be taken out of the said Schoole Which said last mencioned Legacy or Charity of Two hundred pounds I doe Appoint shall be payd within Twelve Months next after my Decease.'

So Sir Walter left the school pretty well provided for.

A framed Abstract of the 1803 inrolment hung in the Headmaster's study until 1988 when it was deposited in the Greater London Record Office (London Metropolitan Archives).

And whereas the said Sir Walter St John is minded to found and for ever to establish a Charity in the said parish of Battersea, wherein the said Sir Walter St John now dwelleth, for the benefitt of the said parish and towne of Battersea, and to erect and indow a schoole there for the education of twenty free scholars in manner as hereinafter is menconed, and that the said messuage or tenement shall for ever hereafter be used as a Schoole House for the teaching of scholars therein ... (the transcript can be viewed in full in the Friends of  Lydiard Tregoz Report No 22 published May 13, 1989.)

The first addition to the school house was built in 1840, a two storey building consisting of one large room on each floor.

By 1858 the whole site was subject to a major rebuild. Sir Walter's original school house was demolished to make way for William Butterfield's Gothic Revivalist new building. A description of the building can be found on the Historic England website.

In 1977 Sir Walter St John's Grammar School became a Comprehensive School and amalgamated with another local school, William Blake.

Following a major review of secondary school provision in Wandsworth Sir Walter St John's amalgamated with Battersea County to become the new Battersea Park School in 1986.

The Grade II listed building was acquired by David and Joanna Thomas who founded Thomas's London Day School. Their son Ben has been headmaster at Thomas's Battersea since 1999.

In September 2017 Prince George will begin school at the Thomas's Battersea. Speculation had been that he would attend Wetherby, a pre-prep school in Notting Hill Gate, the school favoured by the Prince and Princess of Wales for the elementary education of Princes William and Harry, but William and Kate decided to go for Thomas's where the ethos places a greater emphasis on a set of core values, including kindness, courtesy, confident, humility and learning to be givers, not takers.

A lot may have changed since Sir Walter's day, but how fitting that the young prince will begin his education in buildings that once housed the Sir Walter St John School.

Prince George can trace his ancestry back to Sir John St John, First Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton, his 12 x great grandparents and Walter's parents.

Sir Walter's charitable endeavour continues today with the Sir Walter St John's Education Charity, which promotes the education and training of children and young people under the age of 25, who are in financial need. The Charity covers the London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth, with preference given to Sir Walter's old patch, Battersea.

Sir Walter St John

Sir Walter St John's School with the St John Coat of Arms - photograph published courtesy of Walking London One Postcode at a Time

Sir Walter St John's School published courtesy of Walking London One Postcode at a Time.

Anne Leighton, Sir Walter's mother and Prince George's 12 x great grandmother

Sir John St John, Sir Walter's father and Prince George's 12 x great grandfather

Princes William and Harry at Wetherby School

Prince George's first day at Westacre Nursery

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Strawberry Tea and Noah Ody.

Why don't you treat dad to a strawberry tea at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Park on Father's Day and while you're there have a wander around the ancient churchyard where burials have taken place for more than 700 years?

The oldest burial on record at St Mary's is that of Rebekah Jacob the daughter of Charles Jacob who was buried on May 6, 1666.

The first member of the Ody family laid to rest in the churchyard is that of Richard Ody who was buried on February 21, 1749.

My interest in the Ody family began with Noah, the son of George Pike Ody and his wife Mary. Noah married Sarah Clark at Brinkworth parish church on November 25, 1811 and the couple went on to have twelve children. Their sons became farmers and their daughters married farmers and this large family populated many of the farms in the local parishes.

With his large family of sons, Noah worked three farms; Hayes Knoll in Purton and Purleys and Flaxlands in Lydiard Tregoze. At the time of the 1841 census Noah can be found at Hays Knoll while his sons George 25, Noah 22 and William 19 are in Lydiard Tregoze with their 17 year old sister Sarah and younger brother Walter aged 10.

By 1871 two of Noah's sons are established in the Lydiard Tregoze farming community. George, who took over Purleys on the death of his father, is now at Wickfield Farm, part of the neighbouring Meux estate. Walter is at Lord Bolingbroke's Flaxlands Farm while brothers Thomas and William are farming in Purton and John and Noah in Brinkworth.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were still plenty of Ody's farming in North Wiltshire. Trade directories list a George Ody at Herring Stream Farm, Purton in 1901 while George William Ody is at Wick Farm opposite the entrance to Lydiard Park; Nelson Ody is at Blagrove Farm and George Ody at Pry Farm, Purton in 1911.

Another of Noah's great grandsons, Charles Victor, born at Church's Hills Farm in 1888 was the tenant at Lower Snodshill Farm. Owned by the Westminster Church Commissioners, Charles farmed there in 1912. The 75 acre dairy farm in the parish of Chiseldon was one of the casualties of the 1970s eastern expansion of Swindon and now lies beneath the Post House Motel at Coate.

Here we have a headstone with the details of Noah and Sarah on it, although whether Noah actually lies here remains a mystery as there is no mention of his burial in the parish registers. His mother Mary and father George are buried close by.

Noah and Sarah's gravestone is badly weathered but thanks to transcriptions collated by the late Rev Brian Carne in the 1970s it is possible to read the details on this and many of the other gravestones in the churchyard at St. Mary's. The list is published in The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 12 published May 19, 1979. Copies are held in the Local Studies Collection at Swindon Central Library,

You might like to consider joining the Friends of Lydiard Park. Visit the website for more information.

Strawberry tea served every Sunday in June - the first one was a bit wet!

Photographs of Noah and George Ody's headstones are published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball. 

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

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



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.