Friday, November 6, 2015

A passionate affair

Last night I gave a sell out talk in a packed reading room at Swindon Central Library. Now that's not me showing off. I freely admit that I am not the world's best public speaker (at least this time I didn't drop my notes all over the floor).

On a dreary, wet and windy Guy Fawkes evening people turned out to listen to a not-terribly-good speaker. Why? Because I was talking about something both they and I feel passionately about - the future of Lydiard House and Park.

Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, only one of the 52 local Councillors I invited was in the audience, but I'm hoping he left with a few ideas, because that's what my talk was about, in part.

The Council needs to reduce the £450,000 subsidy it pays to keep the House and Park running and has called in an independent property advisor Bilfinger GVA to identify joint venture partners to work with them. In effect this means leasing out the property.

There are two public engagement days scheduled at the Visitor Centre, Lydiard Park on November 18 and 22, and for those unable to attend you can email your thoughts and ideas to For more details visit the online SBC newsletter

This is the extent, it would appear, to which local people are allowed to be involved in the consultation process that decides the future of a property bought for us, the people of Swindon, in 1943.

Last night I talked about a few members of the St John family who owned Lydiard House and Park during 500 years of occupancy and asked the question why are we not capitalizing on their incredible, scandalous history? And between myself and the audience we had a wealth of ideas - and all for free!

I shall be writing again to the 52 Councillors I could contact, and offering to put on my talk at the Civic Offices, if this is more convenient for them. I may not be the most polished of speakers, but I speak with passion and I think that goes a long way.

And for those of you who turned out on such a dreadful evening, thank you - and here's the middle bit of the Henry and Bessie story, which I inexplicably managed to miss out.

Well, for awhile Henry divided his time between Ellen and their daughter in London and Bessie in Bath.

Bessie had two sons. And then Ellen died. Henry had her buried as Viscountess Bolingbroke in Highgate Cemetery in the Egyptian catacomb avenue and then he set about re-writing history through the pages of Debrett. He claimed he had married Ellen and that Bessie's two sons were from that marriage.

Vernon (Henry and Bessie's only legitimate son) had to fight for his inheritance and in 1922 petitioned the government for recognition of his titles. The whole sordid story received extensive press coverage.

Imagine the embarrassment - poor Ellen Rose never recovered.

Ellen Rose (Henry and Ellen's illegitimate daughter) died in poverty; her last home was two squalid rented rooms in Croydon. In a series of letters to the St John family solicitors, Bevirs in Wootton Bassett, Ellen begged for help from Lady Bolingbroke, not understanding that Bessie was struggling to keep the Lydiard roof over her own head.

Nellie died in 1942 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Croydon Cemetery.

If you were at the talk last night this will all make sense. If you were not, then perhaps you would like me to give a repeat performance. I can't promise I will give a flawless delivery - but it all comes from the heart, and that must count for something.

And here are a few of the cast member's from last night's talk 'Who Would Live in a House Like This?' But do you know where they fit into the St John family and the history of Lydiard House?

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