During the winter months the Friends of Lydiard Park, in partnership with Lydiard House, will be holding a series of free talks and tours called Behind Closed Doors.
Lydiard House has a fantastic collection of portraits and paintings, and I will be introducing you to some of the fascinating Ladies of Lydiard during a guided portrait tour on Saturday January 23 at 2.30 pm and again on Wednesday February 24 at 7 pm.
The remodelled Palladian mansion dates from the middle of the 18th century and incorporates features from a much older Tudor building, but a dwelling has existed in the parkland for much, much longer than this.
So who was the first lady to live at Lydiard Park? Well it wasn't Edith Stourton, born in around 1375 who became the second wife of John Beauchamp, 3rd Baron Beauchamp. John succeeded to the title of Lord Beauchamp of Bletsoe following the death of his father Roger in 1406 and inherited estates in Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire along with the manor of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire.
John died in 1412 leaving Edith with two small children. Their son and heir, also named John, died in 1420 aged just 10 years old. His 11 year old sister, Margaret, became Baronnes Beauchamp of Bletsoe and inherited her father's estates. In 1425, aged about 16, she became the bride of Oliver St John, ten years her senior. Widowed in 1437 Margaret married John Beaufort in about 1442, by whom she had one daughter, Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.
Edith married second husband Robert Shottesbrooke and died in nearby Faringdon on June 13, 1441.
Could Sybil Pateshule have been the first lady to take up her duties as chatelaine at Lydiard? Sybil was the wife of Roger Beauchamp, 1st Lord Bletsoe, who was Keeper of Devizes Castle in 1340, fought in the French Wars in 1346 and was Captain of Calais in 1372.
The Manor of Lydiard Tregoz was confirmed to Roger and Sybil in 1348/49 and the couple resided at both Bletsoe and Lydiard. But was Sybil the first lady to balance the household budget at Lydiard?
In 1270 Henry III gave Robert Tregoz a royal licence to impark a nearby woodland in order to create a deer park in the manor of Lydiard Tregoz.
Perhaps his wife Juliana De Cantilupe watched from a window as Robert and his chums set off in pursuit of a side of venison for dinner. What did the property look like then? Was it a medieval manor house or a more modest hunting lodge?
The first lady at Lydiard might even have been a well to do Romano-British woman whose name has long since been lost. A foundation course of stonework belonging to a Roman building was discovered during archaeological excavations in 2003 made in the area of the car park below the church, ahead of the extensive Lydiard Park Project restoration work. The construction of the course work used material believed to be from a more grand Roman building. Did a Roman villa complete with frescoes, mosaics and under floor heating once stand on the site of Lydiard House?
But while the identity of the first Lydiard lady is up for debate, that of the last lady to live at the mansion house is well known.
Joyce Ingram lived in a suite of rooms in Lydiard House for almost 25 years, firstly with her caretaker husband Norman, and then from 1975 taking over the job of caretaker herself. In 1989 Joyce talked to the Swindon Advertiser about her impending retirement, her love of Lydiard House and her relationship with the ghost of Sir John St John.
Joyce said: "It's strange really but I never feel alone or frightened here. I always think Sir John is looking after me."
Joyce worked a 42 and a half hour week back in the day (when admission to the House was free.) From 8.30 am to 6.15 pm, Joyce welcomed members of the public, sold souvenirs and kept the state rooms spick and span.
Joyce retired on May 26, 1991. Sarah Finch Crisp, Keeper at Lydiard House, wrote in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report of that year; "Her love for Lydiard and for the people who visit it has always been paramount, and her commitment to the Museum's service, never in doubt."
Lady Mary, 5th Viscountess Bolingbroke died in 1940 and in 1943 the trustees of her will sold the mansion house and parkland to Cllr Francis Akers who held it on behalf of the Swindon Corporation until funds could be found to buy it for the people of Swindon. In 1966 Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, by then living in Hampshire, offered thirty one portraits to Swindon Corporation and the Ladies of Lydiard returned home, along with their esteemed Lordships.
If you would like to attend any of the Behind Closed Doors talks or join one of my portrait tours, please contact Charlotte Thwaites on 01793 465277 or email her at CThwaites@swindon.gov.uk. The talks and tours are free, but places are limited and you need to book.
|Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII|
|A page from the Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours.|
|Joyce pictured with the portrait of Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine by Peter Lely returned to Lydiard House in 1982|
|Joyce pictured in 1989|
|Sir John St John 1st Baronet - Joyce's ghostly companion|