Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Ghost of Christmas Past at Lydiard House

I wrote this article during the Christmas 2012 celebrations at Lydiard House and Park. Lydiard House was beautifully dressed for Christmas, busy and full of visitors. 

This year I visited the day before Christmas Eve. With no Christmas programme the House was quiet and during my visit an electrician suddenly appeared unannounced and plunged the State Rooms into darkness. Now if I were a glass half empty type of person I could view this as prophetic, but I think the fortunes of Lydiard House and Park could easily be turned around without leasing it to a private partner.

If, like me, you want to see Lydiard House busy again, its future and that of the park safe, secure and accessible to the people of Swindon, please sign the Friends of Lydiard Park petition and attend the public meeting on January 12. Meanwhile why not come to one of the talks and tours in the Behind Closed Doors event? For further details about the petition, meeting and events please visit the Friends of Lydiard Park website.

Following persistent heavy rain throughout the previous day, Lydiard Park wasn't looking its best on Saturday. But as I walked along narrow Hay Lane, once open to traffic but now the province of dog walkers and cyclists, a sudden movement in the parkland caught my attention.

In the blink of an eye they were there and then gone; three deer, leaping through the trees just yards away from a modern housing estate.

Ancient Bradon Forest, a vast expanse of woodland, waste ground, moor and common, once extended across Purton and into the parishes of Cricklade, Ashton Keynes, Charlton, Lydiard Millicent and Lydiard Tregoze. Writing in The Story of Purton published in 1919 Mrs Story-Maskelyne suggested that ancient oaks, then still surviving on Blagrove Farm, probably marked an outlying part of a black grove of the old forest.

Records reveal that in 1135 Bradon Forest was a Royal forest and by 1228 enclosed an area of some 46 square miles.  In the mid 13th century the Tregoz family at Lydiard House obtained a Royal licence to enclose woodland to create a private deer park and Henry III made them a gift of 11 deer to get the enterprise established.

During excavation work undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in 2008 evidence was discovered of a medieval park pale constructed near the present park boundary with Lydiard Park Academy.  The ditch and bank topped by a wooden park pale allowed deer to enter the park but prevented them from escaping.

For a fleeting moment the glimpse of those three wild and wonderful animals transported me back more than 700 years to the park's medieval history.

Up at the house Christmas celebrations were in full swing where the St Mary's Ukulele Ladies were entertaining visitors with some Victorian Carols.

Two watercolours of Lydiard House interiors by Canadian war artist George Campbell Tinning, recently purchased by Swindon Borough Council for Lydiard House with grants from The Art Fund and the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, were also on display. The two paintings of the main entrance hall and the dining room (pictured here in the library) were commissioned to accompany an article written by Aldous Huxley and published in the Lincoln Mercury Times in 1951

Visit the house all dressed up for Christmas in traditional greenery and handmade decorations. Normal museum entry charges apply.  Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 4pm.

Lydiard House is closed to the public from December 24 to March 18. The House reopens on Saturday, March 19.

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