Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lydiard Park Paperwork

When Lady Bolingbroke died in 1940 she left the remodelled Palladian mansion house and what remained of the Lydiard Park estate to the administration of her trustees.  Her son Vernon inherited the silver, pictures, furniture, books - and 500 years worth of paperwork.


The St John family roots in Lydiard Tregoze date back to Oliver St John born in about 1428, the son of Margaret Beauchamp and her first husband, also named Oliver.

Subsequent generations divided their time between their country estate in Wiltshire and homes in London, all of which generated an awful lot of documentation. But sadly today the family archive is surprisingly thin in content.

The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz, established in 1967, are responsible for collating and transcribing many of the surviving papers, among them tradesmen's bills such as one from an unnamed dressmaker. Dated March 28, 1629 the account is for 'the Lady St Johns of Lideard' which refers to 'canvas stifning and whalbone for Mistress barbares soune and white rough grosgram cote.'

A valuation of land held by Sir Walter St John, his son and grandson dated 1702 also survives and mentions tenants 'Rich: Doare, Thomas Skull and Wm Templer' and property called 'Salters peice, Seymores Close & Land and Windmilleaze,' all valuable information for those interest in local history.

Goodwyn & Son, land agents to Lord Bolingbroke, preserved documents such as the 27 deeds of farms and cottages in Hook and Lydiard Tregoze now held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. But what happened to all the rest?

A letter from Vernon St John, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, to his solicitor Mr Dale of H. Bevir & Son dated January 13, 1943 solves the mystery of why so few personal and estate papers survive for the St John family.

"I have personally handled and compiled some two and a half tons of War Salvage which the Wootton Bassett RDC collectors tell me constitutes a record for any house in their district," writes Lord Bolingbroke.

What went into that wartime skip? The everyday paperwork of running a large estate, no doubt, but what other priceless gems were lost in the dispersal.


It is said that Vernon was devastated by the loss of his inheritance. At the time of his mother's death the only surviving trustee of her will was her cousin Edward Hiscock, known among the Lydiard farming tenants as Lord Ted for his pretentious attitude. It was his decision to sell Lydiard Park to Swindon Corporation.

Many of the St John treasures have been returned in recent years due to the tireless work of former keeper Sarah Finch-Crisp and the local authority. But sadly not the paperwork, pulped more than 70 years ago.

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