Monday, November 2, 2015

The End of an Era

When Lady Bolingbroke died in 1940 she left the 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 of paperwork!

The St John family roots in Lydiard Tregoze date back to Oliver St John and his wife Margaret Beauchamp, the grandmother of Henry VII.

Subsequent generations divided their time between their country estate in Wiltshire and various homes in London, all of which generated an awful lot of documentation.

The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz, established in 1967, are responsible for collating and transcribing many of the surviving papers, among them trademen's bills such as one from an unnamed dressmaker. Dated March 28, 1629 it lists various items for 'the Lady St Johns of Lideard' including 'canvas stifning and whalbone for Mistress barbares goune and white rough grosgram cote.'

A valuation of land held by Sir Walter St John, his son and grandson dated 1702 also survives, mentioning tenants Rich: Doare, Thomas Skull and Wm Templer and property called Salters peice, Seymores Close & Land and Windmilleaze, all valuable information for those interested 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 the rest?

A letter from Lord 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,' Lord Bolingbroke wrote.

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 and why did Vernon, Lord Bolingbroke throw out so much of not only his own family history but that of the local community as well.

It was said that Vernon was destroyed 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 the Swindon Corporation.

Due to the tireless work of museum staff past and present, many of the St John treasures have been returned, but sadly not the paperwork, pulped more than 70 years ago.

Vernon 6th Viscount Bolingbroke pictured in middle age

Nicholas St John 1523-1589

Nicholas St John and His wife Elizabeth - the oldest monument in St Mary's Church.
The one that got away - the will of Nicholas St John preserved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1384-1858

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