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.

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.

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.

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 for details of opening times and forthcoming events.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yet another John St John (c1746-1793)

This John St John was born in about 1746, the youngest child and third son of John 2nd Viscount St John and his wife Anne, daughter and heiress of Sir Robert Furnese. It was this couple who set about transforming the medieval mansion house and deerpark at Lydiard – John had the vision and Anne had the money.

Anne Furnese

Their eldest son was Frederick, the infamous ‘Bully’ who married and divorced Lady Diana Spencer. Second son Henry was a General and MP for Wootton Bassett. Daughter Elizabeth Louisa, born in 1744 married William 1st Baron Bagot and tragically lost three of her children across a three day period during an epidemic of scarlet fever in June 1773. John completed the family. Sadly his mother Anne died in 1747 and his father just a year later.

Elizabeth Louisa
Young John was educated at Eton 1756-63, the school favoured by successive generations of the St John family. He then attended Trinity College, Oxford before studying law at Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple. He was called to the bar in 1770.

With brother Henry taking the family parliamentary seat at Wootton Bassett, John was elected as MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight in 1773. The newly elected MP made his maiden speech on June 10, 1773 in defence of Lord North’s East India Regulating Act – an act of parliament which sought to overhaul the management of the extensive and powerful East India Company. Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guildford, who served as Prime Minister between 1770-1782, shared a kinship with the supportive John St. John. Frederick’s stepmother, Catherine Furnese, his father’s third wife, was half sister to John’s mother Anne.

John went on to serve as MP for Eye in Suffolk for six years before being re-elected for Newport in 1780. He was also Surveyor General of Crown Lands, a lucrative post estimated to be worth £1,400 a year, from 1775-84.

So what kind of man was this junior member of the St John family? Opinions varied widely. John’s eldest brother Frederick wrote to George Selwyn in 1766 - “The intricacies of law, which may puzzle some of the peers on this occasion, I fancy are great, and I do most heartily lament with you that my brother has turned his thoughts to intrigue, dress, and all the personal accomplishments of the most refined Macaroni. Had he not done so, I doubt not but his clear apprehension, and very distinct and short method of explaining himself, would have made him a match upon this occasion, for a Mansfield or a Camden.” Perhaps he could have even followed in the footsteps of his famous uncle, statesman and orator Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke.

However John was described as delivering “a legalistic speech, precious and precise” when he spoke on the third reading of the Massachusetts Bay Bill, which may or may not be a compliment, while A M Storer wrote to Lord Carlisle on June 28, 1781 that “John St John is more dull, more tedious, more important than ever.”

John turned his hand to writing and his work includes a quantity of blank verse, a book entitled Observations on the Land Revenue of the Crown and a pamphlet against Paine’s Rights of Man. He also wrote two plays - a tragedy called Mary, Queen of Scots starring the celebrated Mrs Sarah Siddons in the title role and The Island of Marguerite, an opera in two acts, both produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1789.

Described as both a fop and a Macaroni (an 18th century English Dandy and fashionista) you get the impression that our John was a complex character.

John died at his home in Park Street, Grosvenor Square on the night of Tuesday October 8, 1793. He was interred seven days later in the family vault at St Mary’s alongside his brother Frederick. His brother Henry raised a marble mural tablet with an affectionate verse. The memorial can be seen in the south aisle, close to his John's burial place.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

John St John (1702-1748) 2nd Viscount St John

John St John 2nd Viscount St John is the man we have to thank for Lydiard House as we know it today. Well actually it's his wife,wealthy heiress Anne Furnese, we should really thank as while he might have had the vision it was her money that paid for the remodelling of the old medieval mansion.

John was born on May 3, 1702, one of four surviving children from the marriage of reprobate Henry St John and his second wife Angelica Pelissary.

John studied at Eton before being sent to complete his education in Paris in 1720. On his return to England he took up the position of Comptroller of the Customs of London in reversion, a post his father had negotiated with the Duchess of Kendal, George I's mistress. It is believed Henry had paid the Duchess £4,000 for the reversion of the customs sinecure worth £1,200 a year for the lives of his two younger sons John and Holles. This wasn't the first time Henry had used his royal connections to advantage. He was said to have bought his title from the Duchess in 1716 as well.

John married Anne in 1729 and the newly weds set up home at 51 Brook Street in a new property that today lies beneath the foundations of  Claridges. Once Anne came into her inheritance the couple began work on Lydiard, dividing their time between these two properties and the manor house at Battersea. One can't help but wonder how much time and effort John put into his role as Tory MP for Wootton Bassett as he completed his grand designs on both a London and a country property.

This portrait of John in his coronation robes is one of two that hang in Lydiard House. I suppose once you've shelled out on a bit of ermine you want to get your money's worth out of it.

The coronation of George II took place in 1727 which would tie in nicely with the youthful appearance of John in this portrait and the lifespan of the artist, Scottish portrait painter William Aikman who died in 1731.

Anne died in the summer of 1747 and within a year John had remarried. He married his second wife Hester Clarke at St Anne's, Soho on June 19, 1748 but within less than six months he was dead. John is buried in the St John vault beneath St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

A plan of the new and the old

Lydiard House as it is today.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jewels in the Stained Glass Crown

Perhaps the most striking feature of any ecclesiastical building, from parish church to cathedral, are the stained glass windows, and St Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze has examples dating back more than six centuries. 

The glorious 17th century East window is the work of Abraham van Linge and was commissioned by Sir John St John in 1630. Abraham and his brother Bernard came to England from Emden, Friesland in around 1623. Examples of Abraham's work can be seen in the V&A, Lincoln College, Oxford, Queen's College, Oxford and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Or closer to home, in the Blue Closet or Diana Room at Lydiard House.

At the opposite end of the church the vibrant West window, erected in 1859 to the memory of local farmer John King by his two sisters Ann and Mary, was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'Large figures, strident colours, bad.'

But the jewel in the stained glass crown at St Mary's has to be the fragments of 15th century glass found in practically every window. Executed by long forgotten itinerant Flemish glass workers, these stories in coloured glass reveal yet more history. 

When the glass workers arrived at a commission they cast their eye around the local villagers for models to sit for their work, choosing those with strong and particularly beautiful features. What a thought that as we gaze up at these works of art the residents of medieval Lydiard Tregoze are looking down on us.

"In the tracery lights of the south aisle windows are depicted four prophets, possibly Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, or they may be the four Doctors of the Church - Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, who were not often depicted in ecclesiastical vestments. One holds an open book and two hold scrolls; in each case they have hands raised in warning or have fingers pointing upwards or forwards in teaching;" Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report 38 published 14 May 2008

Centre window includes the Virgin crowned and holding a sceptre, and the Christ child. Possibly modeled by a beautiful young mother from medieval Lydiard Tregoze with her own child.

In the north aisle angels holding scrolls with the opening words of the Gloria - Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis - Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will

Angel playing a mandolin

This window to the East of the church has been the subject of several interpretations. One figure holds a shield with a rose en soleil, one of the badges of Edward IV, and they were at one time believed to represent three Seraphim. However it is now thought more likely that these are characters from Daniel Chapter 1-3 and represent Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were consigned to a fiery furnace. The angel with outstretched hands is the angel of God who delivered them from their ordeal.