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.

hardyman
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 www.lydiardhouse.org.uk for details of opening times and forthcoming events.