By September 1943 Swindon Corporation had already called in architect John Eric Miers MacGregor, well known for his work in historic conservation and technical adviser to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, to look at their most recent acquisition, Lydiard Park Mansion.
This is the report he delivered in which he also had a few ideas for the House and Park - some of his remarks are particularly pertinent to how the people of Swindon feel about the House and Park today.
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings,
55 Great Ormond Street, Queen Square, W.C.1. (Holborn 2646)
To:- The Committee
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
Lydiard Park Mansion, Lydiard Tregoze.
This house stands in a commanding position in the Park and estate which has recently been purchased by the Swindon Corporation.
The Council have no definite use for the building, but propose to use the grounds for general recreational purposes.
The building backs on to a very beautiful church, and it is probable that a house stood there even before the church, although I did not notice any feature in the present structure dating from earlier than the sixteenth century.
On the top floor is a tablet stating that the house was rebuilt in 1743, when no doubt the older building was incorporated. The plan consists of a main block running north-west and south-east, with receding wings at either end, and a large kitchen extension to the North, as shown on the accompanying sketch plan.
Traces of pre-eighteenth century work are to be found in all three walls of the rear court and the portions of steep-pitched slate roofs over them. See photographs Nos. 1,3, 4 and 6. I believe that the bulk of the structure was in being before 1743, when the present façade was applied, and that the design worked out along the south-east face did not quite fit the south-west, thus accounting for the double angle of the West corner. (See plan as existing).
It appears that either during the eighteenth century rebuilding, or very shortly after, the design was altered internally and external. The corner towers do not seem quite happy, and are in face only stone-faced on the sides of the main façade, the return walls being of timber; (see photograph No. 1) also the timber framing of the main south-west roof runs through to the South corner, but appears never to have been completed.
Internally there is an appearance of later work in the detail of the staircase and library than in the remaining reception rooms, which accords with the position of the blocked doors. To this later date I also attribute the northern kitchen with extension.
A new entrance was found in the North West wall of the main block in the nineteenth century, when other works of inferior quality took place.
Aesthetically the appeal of the building centres on the eighteenth century work comprising the simple imposing south-west and north-west fronts and the magnificent suites of beautifully proportioned and appointed rooms behind them an impression of which can be grasped by a glance at the orderly arrangement of the plan. Not only is the detail of skirting, dado and cornice exceedingly lavish and good, but is of most excellent craftsmanship, which remains as perfect today as when executed. The ceilings also are very rich and fine plaster-work. Even the red plush-faced paper of the walls has stood the test of time remarkably well.
That a building so rich in charm and grace should in two generations have degenerated and disintegrated to this extent while Swindon nearby was enjoying unprecedented prosperity, is a reflection indeed upon the material lust of the industrial revolution of the last century.
The structure is in an exceedingly good state, and I was nowhere able to find signs of settlement or deterioration due to anything but sheer neglect. A relatively very small expenditure would have maintained the complete building.
The position of the building has luckily saved it from wilful damage by hooligans. Wet is penetrating in many places and dry rot is rampant in the west wing. There is, however, no doubt that the building presents a far more forlorn appearance than is actually the structural condition.
Practically all the roof timbers are of oak, which being mostly well exposed to free circulation of air are unaffected by penetrating damp. Only one of the magnificent ceilings of the ground floor has so far partially fallen, and most of the fragments of this have been collected and are suitable for re-erection. I have in fact no doubt that the building presents no serious problem other than finance, in its complete reinstatement.
The cultural value of association with such a house if properly looked after, is great; and seeing that the Council has acquired the Estate for public recreational purposes, this building appears to me to be exceedingly well adapted to form a semi-residential Youth Centre – that is a Centre where young people from Swindon could go for a couple of nights at the weekend and get health-giving recreation in the grounds and social intercourse, mental relaxation and cultural advancement indoors in the evenings and wet days.
I have therefore appended a very rough sketch plan indicating how well the building divides itself, giving a central lounge, dining rooms with cafeteria service, library, and two good recreation rooms in the fine architectural suite of the ground floor, with small boys’ and girls’ writing rooms at the extra ends.
The north-west kitchen wing might well be gutted, to make a main assembly hall for concerts, dancing, etc.
The fact that the central hall extends up into the first floor provides a natural segregation of the boys and girls dormitories, while giving equal access to the main staircase. By forming new kitchens and sanitary quarters in the rear courtyards, drainage and other services could be centralised without in any way altering the old building.
The dignity, fine detail, proportions and sense of historic permanence of the building would produce an environment which frequenters would learn to revere, respect and be proud to feel in part, owners and guardians.
In short, the money expended in reconditioning this building would be invested in the well-being of the rising generation, producing a high state of interest in the form of civic pride, health and cultural advancement. It is to be hoped that the Council will consider the immediate prosecution of the relatively small works which would keep the weather out and arrest the accelerating deterioration before another winter sets in, thus, work that literally cannot be reproduced may be saved for the enjoyment of our children.
John E.M MacGregor, FRIBA