Sunday, February 19, 2012

The parish of Lydiard Tregoze

The ancient parish of Lydiard Tregoze appears on Victorian maps as a T shaped area to the north of the county, west of the smaller parish of Swindon.

Lydiard Tregoze probably never had a traditional village centre clustered around a central green. A village, or more likely, a collection of farmsteads, once existed in the Wick Farm area of the parish and a hollow way, the remains of a medieval high street, runs through Lydiard Park to the church indicating a steady stream of traffic. It is thought that the village was abandoned sometime during the 13th century, possibly as the result of the plague, and by the 17th and 18th centuries the main population of the parish had moved across to Hook Street.

There have been many different spellings of the name Lydiard Tregoze. It is possible that the name Lydiard was an Old English word Lydan-geard which translates as ‘Lyda’s girded or enclosed place.’ The parish nestled in the former ancient Royal Forest of Bradon, which covered an area of some forty miles. In 1222 King Henry III ordered a perambulation (a survey) of Bradon Forest and it was then estimated to measure 30,000 acres. Lydan-geard, the enclosed place, could possibly refer to a fenced-in part of Bradon Forest.

In the Domesday Book of 1086, Lydiard Tregoze is described as comprising 7 hides (an area one team of oxen could plough in a year, approximately 120 acres) and 7 ploughs. Three hides were in demesne or privately owned, the remaining four hides were farmed by tenant farmers. There were 40 acres of meadow, 30 acres of pasture and woodland measuring about three miles long by 1½ miles wide. Before 1066 the land was valued at £10 but by 1086 it was worth £6. The Domesday Book records that there were 8 villagers and 10 cottagers with 4 ploughs and that Alfred of Marlborough owned 3 slaves.

Following the Conquest the parish was known as Lydiard Ewyas or Ewias after the family who had taken possession during the great Norman land grab.

In 1084 the Blackgrove hundred comprised Swindon, Wroughton, Lydiard Tregoze, Wootton Bassett and Tockenham. The three royal hundreds of Blackgrove, Thornhill and Kingsbridge were grouped together for administration purposes by 1236 and by the 16th century were finally merged under the title of Kingsbridge.

In the 12th century the estate passed to the Tregoz family who took their name from a village called Troisgot in Normandy and by 1268 the area was known as Lydyerd Tregos.

The jewel in the crown was the Lydiard Park estate. In the 14th century the Grandison family owned the manor and then through a series of marriages it became the property of the St. John family.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ice House

The second week in February 2012 saw a fall of snow and weekend temperatures plummet to -11 degrees. With both the medieval lake and the restored 18th century one completely frozen over it was easy to see just how the ice house at Lydiard Park was used.

Ice houses were introduced to Britain in the early 17th century. James I had one built in Greenwich Park in 1619 and another at Hampton Court in 1625/6. The one at Lydiard probably dates from about 1743 when Sir John, 2nd Viscount St John spent his wealthy wife’s dowry on remodelling the mansion house and landscaping the grounds.

The Lydiard ice house is of the Cup and Dome variety, the most popular 18th century model and apparently the most expensive. The better the brickwork the more successful and efficient the ice house where ice was packed in, sealed by layers of straw or reeds and could be expected to last up to eighteen months.

Cited away from the house in the shade of trees the Lydiard ice house follows text book plans with a brick lined underground pit and domed roof to control the circulation of air.

Ice would be gathered from the frozen estate lake during the exceptionally cold winters of the period and used in the preparation of food, particularly the 18th century novelty dessert, ice cream. Popular flavours of the day included elderflower, jasmine, pineapple, tea and white coffee. The building was also used as a larder, preserving meat that would otherwise have to be salted.

There are an estimated 2,500 ice houses in England alone but detection of lost houses is difficult due to the nature of their construction. The one at Lydiard Park has fared well though, enjoying a makeover as part of the 2005 £5 million Lydiard Park Project.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Lady St Johns of Lydiard - Marie Claire de Marcilly

While Frances Winchcombe fared badly as Henry Bolingbroke’s first wife, his second, Marie Claire de Marcilly, appeared to be the love of his life.

Marie Claire des Champs was born in the chateau of Marcilly, near Nogent sur Seine in 1675, the daughter of Armand des Champs, Seigneur de Marcilly and his wife Elisabeth Indrot.

As a young woman Marie Claire made quite an impression at the glittering court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. She was described as intelligent but unassuming, vivacious, amiable and of a sweet disposition and she attracted the attention of the wealthy Chevalier de Villette. However, it was his father Philip le Valois Villette whom Marie Claire eventually married.

Widowed in 1707 Marie Claire inherited property and an income from her husband to add to her Marcilly wealth and appeared in no hurry to remarry.

Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke and Secretary at War to Queen Anne, fled to France in 1715 having thrown in his lot with the Jacobite King James III. A Bill of Attainder was served upon Henry that same year, charging him with privately negotiating a dishonourable and destructive peace with France while a Secretary of State for Queen Anne and accusing him of advising the surrender of Tournai to the French and Spain and the West Indies to Philip of Spain. Deprived of his title, his estates and his wealth, Henry was considered by many as a traitor twice over.

Abandoned by most of his friends and associates, Henry rented a small house in Ablon where he licked his wounds and wrote ‘Reflections Upon Exile.’ It was at about this time that the widowed Marie Claire, three years his senior, became his mistress.

By 1717 Henry had moved in with Marie Claire at Marcilly. The couple were said to spend their mornings taking walks about the estate and in the afternoon they would read and talk together. Perhaps Henry had found a match for his intellect in Marie Claire that was missing in poor Frances.

Henry appeared to be a reformed character, living a life of domestic bliss, but he hadn’t changed that much. While he might have appeared content in his rural retreat, Henry had not given up on his dream of a return to England and political prominence, and in 1718 he left Marie Claire and moved to Paris to kick over the traces and indulge in the excesses of his former lifestyle. But it was to Marie Claire he returned when it all took a toll on his health.

Frances Winchcombe, Henry’s abandoned wife, died that same year, but Henry and Marie Claire were still unable to marry. Marie Claire had invested heavily in English funds which would be seized by the crown should she marry the outlawed Henry Bolingbroke, and neither of them could afford for this to happen.

As Frances had financially supported Henry for many years, so did Marie Claire. And as Frances had petitioned for his pardon, so Marie Claire used her influential friends, the Duchess of Kendal and Mrs Howard, mistress of the Prince of Wales, to plead his case.

And Henry still had some friends in parliament who argued for him and in 1723 a pardon passed the Great Seal and he was allowed to return to England. By 1725 Henry’s property had been restored and the couple settled in England and a home at Dawley near Uxbridge. However Henry was still unable to resume his political career.

While Marie Claire and his friends tried to persuade Henry to give up on politics and concentrate on his philosophical work, others thought the situation ripe for his return and even tipped him as a contender for Prime Minister. By 1730 he was leader of the Opposition despite having no seat in either House.

Marie Claire was attributed with healing the rift between Henry and certain members of his family, including his much younger half sister Henrietta, and was described as being extremely popular with the Battersea household. The only blot on her character came with her cruel comment on the death of her husband’s stepmother, Angelica de Pellisary. “Dear Lady St Jean is dead, I think it is the best thing she has done since she came into the world. They say her husband and children are no more grieved about it than I am,” she wrote to her friend Lady Denbigh.

Throughout her life Marie Claire was plagued by an unspecified internal complaint, which at times reduced her to the state of an invalid. Always less than happy living in England, she returned to France where Henry joined her in 1734. Then in her 60s, if Marie Claire hoped for a peaceful retirement in her homeland she was to be disappointed. By 1744 they were back in England, living a life of near solitude at the St John manor house in Battersea, any political influence Henry had clawed back eventually extinguished.

Frustrated and in ill health, Henry was described as ‘pendantick, fretful, angry with his wife,’ by occasional visitor William Pitt, who would lead Britain during the Seven Years War 1756-1763.

A difficult companion for the increasingly isolated Marie Claire who appears to have never acquired a proper grasp of the English language.

“I am lodging here in Pierre Point Street, between two parades, but with no air from either one of them – only the din of both streets during the day, and every night all the turnspit dogs of the city meet together and bark without ceasing,” she writes from Bath were they had gone to take the waters in 1747. “A man we sent here on purpose chose this delightful house for us; his lordship was so ill that we remained here, now that he is better it is not worth while changing as he hopes to leave at the end of the month. He does not feel that the waters have cured his stomach, which should be, we are assured, their chief property. I wished to try them but they did me harm by overheating my blood. They say the town is very full. I see no one, nor am I likely to see anyone, especially any ladies. I am too old to make new acquaintances. I do not wear panniers nor do I speak the language.”

But the irascible Henry who had behaved so callously towards his first wife, the neglected Frances Winchcombe, showed nothing but love and devotion to his second, never more so than in her final months.

On December 19, 1749 Marie Claire wrote to Lady Denbigh from their house in Soho.

“My hermit and I go to bed before six o’clock. He gives himself up entirely to looking after me, in fact, this is his only occupation. It is enough to give him the spleen, but he shows no sign of it. I cannot tell you how touched I am by his love and care.”

Marie Claire died on March 18, 1750, aged 74.

“My heart is broken, my spirit crushed and my body crippled,” Henry wrote. “I am the most miserable of all men.”

Marie Claire was buried in the parish church of St Mary’s, Battersea. The inscription on her memorial reads – ‘She lived the honor of her own sex, the delight and admiration of ours. She dyed, an object of imitation to both, with all the firmness that religion can inspire.’

Following her death the Marechal de Montmorin, husband of Marie Claire’s stepdaughter, challenged her will on the grounds that her marriage to Henry in May 1720 in Aix la Chapelle had never been legally solemnised. Without documentary evidence the French courts decided in favour of de Montmorin.

Henry appealed against the judgement but by then he was terminally ill. He died on December 12, 1751 unaware that the French Chamber had reversed the decision of the courts and validated his marriage.

Just one portrait of Marie Claire hangs in Lydiard House, but even this is the subject of some controversy.

Fashion designer and dress historian, the late Stella Mary Newton, wrote an article for the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz annual report in 1988 in which she made the following observations.

‘The other mystery is this large and romantic looking portrait of Marie Claire de Marcilly who was the second wife of the first Viscount Bolingbroke.

She died in 1750, he in 1751. But this was not the way that ladies dressed in the early years of the 18th century, nor is it the way that drapery painters represented them as being dressed.
Nor were they, at that time, placed on the canvas in this manner, in a vacuum, as it were.

Her face, yes, that accords with the mid-century very well, but that little flat drapery over her head, her high set waistline, and her straight skirt would have been totally rejected.

I am going to be very daring, and suggest that here is an instance where the portrait was begun, but that the sitter died in 1750 before her dress and general appearance could have been agreed with the drapery painter. The unfinished canvas may have remained until the end of the century, the romantic period leading up to what has been called the ‘Empire’ period, and was then worked on to produce this appealing but extraordinary effect.

The first Lord Bolingbroke had been a very distinguished man, if no portrait of his wife had survived, or rather no finished portrait, it may have been thought desirable to clothe the existing face.’

Dress and Fashion in the Portraiture at Lydiard Tregoze Report No 21 1988

Henry and Marie Claire's monument in St. Mary's Church, Battersea courtesy of the Church Monuments Society

Portraits of Marie Claire de Marcilly and Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke courtesy of Lydiard Park

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nelly O'Brien

By 1762 the marriage between Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and his wife Diana, eldest daughter of Charles, 2nd Duke of Marlborough was on the rocks.

Frederick, who would famously divorce Diana in 1768 on the grounds of her adultery with Topham Beauclerk, had failed to moderate his own lewd lifestyle.

His casual encounters with prostitutes are frequently referred to in contemporary memoires, but one woman who earned more than just a passing reference was Nelly O’Brien.

Nelly was born c1739 and little is known of her early life or her family background. Her career as an actress appears to have ended when she found a more lucrative one as a courtesan. Her entrance onto the 18th century society stage probably predates her visit to Joshua Reynolds in 1762 when Nelly was introduced to the popular portrait painter by Augustus Keppel, Admiral and 1st Viscount Keppel. Whether she was Keppel’s mistress or Reynold’s, who had a penchant for risqué actresses, is not known, but by 1763 she was most certainly Frederick St. John’s.

Reynolds was to paint at least two portraits of Nelly, one while he was working on another of Lady Diana Bolingbroke, both paid for by Frederick.

Horace Walpole, Whig politician, art historian and society gossip wrote: “Lord Bolingbroke said to him [Reynolds] ‘You must give the eyes something of Nelly O’Brien, or it will not do.’ As he has given Nelly something of his wife’s, it was but fair to give her something of Nelly’s; and my Lady will not throw away the present!”

Nelly was rumoured to have had a son by Frederick in 1764, but she soon moved on to another lover, Sackville Tufton, 8th Earl of Thanet, for whom she bore two sons – Alfred born in 1765 and Sackville in 1766.

The life of a top class courtesan was one of highs and lows, as Nelly’s short life was to illustrate. Fame, fortune, access to the celebrities of the day and invites to all the best parties are in stark contrast to the end of a relationship when it came.

The Earl had set Nelly up in a house in Brook Street but ended the affair under pressure from his family to marry.

“Concerned that AT is detained in London due to illness; Mrs Curteis thinks that ‘your mother did not die until about the period of Lord Tufton’s marriage, which was more than 2 years later than you suppose – she was then great with child and the probable cause of death was grief and vexation at the marriage and desertion of the Earl of Thanet,” the Duchess of Northumberland wrote in her diary. She also comments that ‘Nelly O’Brien thought it hard that Lord Thanet should turn her out of his house before she was brought to Bed.’ She subsequently miscarried and died in child bed according to the Duchess.

It would appear that Nelly’s two young sons were raised by their father and possibly his new wife, or at the very least kept in close contact with their extended family.

When Sackville Tufton added a codicil to his will on April 5, 1794 shortly before his death, he bequeathed £50 ‘to each of my brothers and sisters issue of my father the late Earl of Thanet namely the now Earl of Thanet the hon Charles the hon John and the hon Henry Tufton, the right hon Lady Elizabeth Tufton and the right hon Lady Caroline Barham.’

Perhaps more poignantly Sackville adds ‘and the rest and residue of my property I give and bequeath to the brothers and sisters of my late mother Eleanor O’Brien and to their issue if any there be equally to be divided among them share and share alike … I then give the interest and annual produce of the residue of my property to the Mother of my Mother Eleanor O’Brien for the term of her natural life.’

Nothing is known of the whereabouts of Nelly’s grave, nor of the child she gave birth to in 1764, believed to have been Frederick’s son and named Arthur.

However, the burial register for St Ann’s, Blackfriars includes an entry made on December 29, 1767 – Eleanor O’Brien aged 29.

Portraits of Nelly O'Brien painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Bottom - The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, top - The Wallace Collection

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

His Lordship - Frederick 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick St John inherited titles, property and a predilection for the good life. Born in 1732, the son of John 2nd Viscount St John and his wealthy wife Anne Furnese, he came into his inheritance young.

Following the death of the boy’s parents, Henry St John, political philosopher and Secretary at War in Queen Anne’s government, undertook guardianship of his orphaned 14 year old nephew, but soon regretted his decision.

He described the boy as the ‘plague of his life’ and wrote that Frederick ‘has not only the vices of a young fellow, that may be overcome or moderated, and in the meantime laughed at, he has all those of a good for nothing fellow of forty confirmed in moroseness, and insensibility to friendship, to gratitude, and to every notion of honour.’

Frederick inherited his father’s title 3rd Viscount St John in 1748 and that of 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke after his uncle Henry’s death three years later.

In 1762 Frederick sold the family pile at Battersea to his wife’s cousin, John, Earl Spencer for £30,000 to settle some pressing debts, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. A large slice of the family fortune had already gone on wine, women and an impressive collection of valuable Sevres porcelain.

But probably Frederick’s greatest weakness was gambling and his passion for racehorses. Frederick had a stable at Newmarket and enlarged those at Lydiard Park to accommodate his every increasing string of racehorses, an estimated 70 acquired during a five year period in the 1860s.

Frederick also raced his own horses and sustained an injury after falling from his mount as reported in the London Chronicle, July 15 1765.

“On Wednesday last, the Lord Viscount Bolingbroke had the misfortune to be thrown from his horse on the heath Newmarket, by which he received a violent contusion in his leg; but by the immediate assistance of a Surgeon, his Lordship is in a fair way of recovery.”

This was the same year in which Frederick bought Gimcrack, a small grey stallion standing just fourteen hands high, from William Wildman after watching it win its first ever race at Newmarket in the spring of that year. On July 10 Frederick raced Gimcrack, an easy winner, against Sir James Lowther’s Ascham in a grand match run on Newmarket racecourse. Bets that day exceeded £100,000 with one unnamed nobleman punter placing a wager of more than £30,000.

In October 1765 Gimcrack was beaten for the first time and Frederick parted company with the horse he had owned for just three months, selling it to the Comte de Lauragais. Gimcrack went on to race against all the top racehorses of the day, racking up 27 wins out of 36 races, eventually retiring to stud at Grosvenor.

Ten years later and Frederick had acquired yet another promising yearling, Highflyer, who ran under Frederick’s racing pseudonym of ‘Mr Compton.’ He was eventually forced to part with the horse to settle yet more gambling debts, selling him to Richard Tattersall for £2,500. Highflyer retired to stud at Red Barns, Suffolk where he became the most successful sire of the 18th century, earning Tattersall an estimated £15,000 a year.

Frederick was an early patron of the artist George Stubbs and commissioned at least four works, including one of Lustre, Turf, Hollyhock and Gimcrack painted in front of the Rubbing Down stand at Newmarket with his jockey, trainer and stablelad with the race taking place in the background. The paintings, including the famous Gimcrack one, were sold at Christies on December 10, 1943 by Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke during the disposal of the family estate. The painting came up for sale again in the summer of 2011 for just the third time in its long life. It sold for a record breaking £22.4 million on Tuesday July 5, 2011.

Despite his many affairs, Frederick famously divorced his wife Lady Diana Spencer, in 1768 following her adultery with Topham Beauclerk, the great grandson of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwynne.

Frederick suffered both mental and physical ill health towards the end of his life and was once described as being ‘out of his mind.’ He died on May 5, 1787 and was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze eight days later.