Sunday, November 1, 2015

Who would live in a house like this?

In 1420 eleven year old Margaret Beauchamp became sole heir to her father's considerable estate, including some 3,000 acres in the parish of Lydiard Tregoze. Five years later she married Sir Oliver St John, when the St John story at Lydiard House begins.

A house has stood on the site of the Palladian mansion in Lydiard Park since the 13th century and until 1943, when it was purchased by Swindon Corporation, had just five owners, the Tregoze, Grandison, Beauchamp and St John families.

During the 500 years of St John occupancy the house had the odd makeover, was remodelled in the middle of the 18th century and then left in a state of benign neglect until the death of Lady Bolingbroke in 1940 when the trustees of her will put the property on the market.

For more than 70 years the local authority has restored and refurbished the fabric of the building, tracked down and purchased furniture and artefacts that once belonged to the house, including numerous stunning portraits and paintings that now hang on the walls.

In 2005 a £5 million restoration programme saw the parkland and walled garden returned to their former 18th century glory and it looked like the future of Lydiard House and Park was secure.

Restoring the house was once a matter of civic pride but in these cash strapped times it would now appear that Lydiard House has become a liability for the local authority. In September Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council's Cabinet Member responsible for Lydiard, told the Swindon Advertiser: "Lydiard is one of Swindon's jewels and we want to keep it that way, but our financial position dictates that we have to reduce the park's current subsidy."

Swindon Borough Council has subsequently announced two public engagement events to be held at the Visitor Centre, Lydiard Park on November 18, 8.30am - 3.00pm and November 22, 9.30am - 3.30pm. For those unable to attend, email with your thoughts and ideas.

We know how committed the local authority is to promoting our fantastic history; the evidence is in the Swindon Heritage Strategy document written in 2013 and available to read online.

So before Swindon Borough Council leases out the property to the highest bidder, we ask them to investigate ways to turn around the fortunes of what they constantly refer to as 'the jewel in Swindon's crown' and what better place to begin than to tell the story of the scandalous St John family.

With Tudor cousins, royal playmates, a murderer, a bigamist and more mistresses then you could shake a stick at, the St John family is the stuff of historical novels.

Bestselling novelist Nicola Cornick has already pledged her support to put Lydiard House on the romantic and historical novelist trail.

Let's invite Man Book prize winning Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall, to give a talk and book signing in the Grand Hall; or ask Philippa Gregory to tell us why she painted such a sinister portrait of Margaret Beaufort in the Red Queen.

Want to know more? Discover how the big spending, wild living, riotous St John's could save Lydiard House more than 70 years after they packed up and moved out in 'Who would live in a house like this?' at Central Library on November 5, 7.15pm. Tickets cost £1.50 for library members, £2.50 for non members, available at the General Help Desk, Ground Floor, Central Library, Regent Circus or telephone 01793 463238 for more details.

The remodelled 18th century Palladian mansion house set in the history Lydiard Park medieval deerpark. 

The 18th century walled garden, beautifully recreated as part of a £5 million restoration in 2005.

Prince George and Princess Charlotte can trace their ancestry to the St John family, owners of Lydiard House for 500 years.

Margaret Beaufort, above and as portrayed by actress Amanda Hale in the BBC One series The White Queen, aired in 2013 and now available on DVD.

Henry VII - the first of the Tudor monarchs. His uncle of the half blood was Oliver St John who inherited Lydiard House and Park.

Elizabeth I visited her cousin John St John at Lydiard House in 1592.


  1. The Local council, here in Newport, Gwent, have leased their own precious jewel - Tredegar House - to the National Trust for 50 years. They run the place and because they have such a huge membership they immediately increased the visitor numbers, simply by putting the property into the NT handbook. It might be worth their while to at least talk to NT before looking at the commercial market

  2. Thank you for your comment. I think the National Trust route has already been explored, but it won't hurt to suggest it again.