Bridget St John signed her will at her home in Lydiard Millicent on April 15, 1672 and in this document gives us a glimpse of an extended branch of the St John family line.
Bridget describes herself as the relict of Nicholas St John whom she married in 1655. The wedding is quite unusual as it appears in two sets of parish registers, All Saints Church, Lydiard Millicent and Elcombe in the parish of Wroughton where Bridget grew up. Bridget was the daughter of William Sadler, a member of a large landowning family with property in Elcombe, Over Wroughton, Purton and Broad Hinton.
But which Nicholas St John did Bridget marry? Styled Nicholas St John of Lydiard Millicent and Marlborough, he is supposedly the son of Oliver St John of Lambeth, Winchelsea, Marlborough and Lydiard Millicent by one of his three wives. However this Nicholas was born in c1587 and would have been at least sixty eight years old at the time of his marriage to Bridget. Unusual but not unheard of, and if Bridget was a more mature lady would also account for why there is no mention of any children of the marriage. Other researchers have suggested that Bridget’s husband might be the son of Nicholas by his first wife Alice Goddard and also named Nicholas.
This branch of the St John family, descended from a second son of John St John and Joan Ewarby, included Parkside Farm in Lydiard Millicent among their properties. It is believed the house was built on the northern boundary of Lydiard Park as a dower house. The coat of arms and supporters above the porch is dated 1581. And it was probably here that Bridget composed her will in April 1672.
Bridget begins her list of bequests having described herself as ‘Sick in body but of good and perfect memory’ and with the usual preamble thanking God for His benevolence and commending her soul to ‘my Saviour and Redeemer.’
She leaves ‘my house and all my Land thereunto belonging situate and being in Luddyard Millicent [sic] in the County of Wilts which was the Estate of my late husband Nicholas St John Esq unto my two sisters Ann Tooker and Joan Madockes to be equally divided between them only the Comon belonging to the said Land excepted.’ To her ‘kinsman’ Walter St John she leaves 'Comon in Clintons Wood and Braydon.'
But it is the list of more personal items left to various relatives that is most evocative. ‘Item I give my Cozen Katherine St John Daughter of Henry St John my Rought bed,’ a valuable piece of furniture in the 17th century.
‘Item I give and bequeath to my Cozen St John my husband’s Goddaughter my pearle necklace Item I give and bequeath unto my Cozen Johanna St John my Amatist Ring Item I give and bequeath to my Cozen Barbara St John my Little Saphier Ring.’ And then, most intriguingly ‘Item I give and bequeath unto my Cozen Ann St John my little picture of the Kings set in gould.’ Had this picture actually once belonged to the King?
At his coronation in 1626 Charles I revived an ancient law called the Distraint of Knighthood. All men with landed income worth more than £40 a year were required to present themselves for knighthood at the King’s coronation. Nicholas, whose father Oliver had died the previous day, failed to turn up and subsequently received a fine. It seems unlikely that this monarch would have handed out presents to a tax dodger.
Bridget leaves £100 to be distributed for charitable purposes and cash amounts to her mother Ann Sadler and various relatives and servants including ‘to Ann Colman my servant over and above her wages ten pounds.’
She also makes a bequest to Sir Walter St John’s Servants, left to her sister Ann Tooker to sort out as she thinks fit. Did Bridget end her days at Lydiard House or perhaps Sir Walter drafted in servants to care for her at Parkside Farm at the end of her life.
Bridget made her two sisters Ann Tooker and Joane Madockes her sole Executrixes and her last will and testament was witnessed by Walter St John, Casar ffreeman and Susanna ffoot.
Bridget’s will reveals a woman at the centre of both her birth family and her husband’s, whichever Nicholas St John he might have been!
Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire 1810
Picture postcard view of The Street, Lydiard Millicent - www.flickr.com/photos/swindonmuseumandartgallery