Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas at Lydiard Park

Staff and volunteers have decked the hall with boughs of holly and Lydiard House is all dressed up for a Victorian Christmas. But how did an earlier branch of the family celebrate the festive season?

Custodians of the 17th century Lydiard House were Sir Walter St John and his wife Lady Johanna. In 1652 the austere Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, abolished Christmas all together and for eight years the people of Britain had little celebrate. However, with the restoration of the merry making monarch Charles II in 1660 it was party time again and records show that plans for Christmas at Lydiard House in 1661 were well underway by October.

"I doe intend gd wiling to be at Cristmas at Lidiard," wrote Lady Johanna St John from the couple's London home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard.

Ahead of the festivities Lady Johanna instructs Hardyman to brew 40 gallons of ale "so that it may be a month old before we begin it."

However the family's plans were disrupted by the political duties of Sir Walter, Member of Parliament for Wootton Bassett.

Lady Johanna writes to inform Hardyman that they will not be down as planned as Parliament was due to adjourn for just three days over the Christmas period.

But Christmas in London would be equally busy with the King likely to be popping round and Lady Johanna asks that Hardyman send her some turkeys and instructs him to "make more butter against cristmas when it is to late to make chees." She adds "your Master is so in love with Lidiard drink that I would not have the Ale drunk if yu have any Brued."

Menus created for the cook survive in the archives but with the family in London for Christmas 1661 it should asked who ate the vast quantities of food prepared in the Lydiard House kitchens. Among the dishes consumed at 'the table in the great Parler on December 27 day 1661' include "rost venson, rost beife, 2 geese and a swane' with 'Plume broth, Ince Pye and bake Pudin.'

Christmas 1662 was on an even grander scale with menus surviving for the 28 day period when the family entertained both family and friends. Dinner on December 27 was 'for Hooke' probably the estate tenant farmers, while on January 5 Sir Walter and Lady Johanna entertained the Gentry.

In 1841 Lydiard House was let to Lincolnshire landowner Thomas Orby Hunter who, at the time of the census that year, lived there with his daughter Charlotte Orby Wombwell, her husband Charles and fifteen servants.

With a household that large it's easy to see who ate all those 17th century pies.

The State Bedroom

Lydiard House pictured in all its snowy splendour

Lady Johanna

Looking across the frozen medieval lake

The Ice House - repository of Christmas goodies past

Images of Christmas decorations courtesy of Lydiard Park

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