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The History of Lydiard House & Park
At the heart of Lydiard Park is Lydiard House – a striking Grade I listed Palladian house that for 500 years was home to the St John family.
The following information was orginially published by Lydiard Park here.
Medieval and Tudor
Lydiard House was the home of the St John family for more than 500 years. They inherited the house through marriage, when Margaret Beauchamp married Oliver St John. Margaret was a powerful, wealthy woman. In her second marriage, she married John Beaufort and was grandmother to Henry VII.
Margaret Beauchamp had inherited Lydiard Park from her father, and it was passed on to her second son, Oliver. Before the Beauchamp family, Lydiard Park was also held by the Grandison, Tregoze and Ewyas families.
Lydiard Park remained in the possession of the St John family until 1943, when it was sold to Swindon Corporation. In the 18th century, the family gained the title Viscount Bolingbroke, which paid tribute to Margaret Beauchamp. Through Margaret, the family claimed a distant connection to King Henry IV, who was born at Bolingbroke Castle.
In Medieval times, there was a deer park and manor house at Lydiard Park. St Mary’s Church dates back to medieval times and has wonderful examples of early architecture, sculpture, painted glass and metalwork.
Lydiard House is a beautiful, Georgian stately home which was redeveloped in the 1740s. The work was commissioned by John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke thanks to the wealth of his wife, Anne Furnese.
Lydiard House is a Palladian mansion, with symmetrical details, a grand entrance and lots of details inspired by classical architecture. These include the elaborate pediment on the front of the house, the corner towers and the detail seen around the windows on the ground floor.
Fine Georgian design can be seen throughout the state rooms, which have stunning plasterwork and fireplaces. The grand hall is decorated with plaster busts, a high ceiling and intricate plaster moulding. Elsewhere, visitors can see original marble fireplaces, pier glasses and an incredible library from the 1700s.
Within the State Rooms, there are portraits of many members of the St John family, including John and Anne. John’s half-brother Henry 1st Viscount Bolingbroke was a famous Tory politician, and features in numerous paintings and a marble bust carved by Michael Rysbraek.
The War Years
In 1943, Lydiard Park was requisitioned by the military and served three important functions during the Second World War. At the same time, the St John family decided to leave their ancestral home. Town Clerk David Murray John negotiated the sale of Lydiard Park to Swindon Corporation for £4,500.
Lydiard Park served as a large station hospital for the American 101st Airborne Division, and treated casualties from the D Day Landings. The camp was located where the sports and event pitches are today. From 1943, the American hospital became a Prisoner of War hospital, and housed up to 200 German Prisoners of War at a time.
Elsewhere in the park, the Great Western Railway Home Guard used the fields and woodland for training and target practice. Following the war, the military huts were used as a temporary housing estate. Many families lived at the ‘lost estate’ at Lydiard Park until the 1960s.
Lydiard Park Today
Lydiard House opened to the public in 1955. Following years of decay, it was restored with a grant from the Minister of Works. As the building was purchased empty, members of staff have worked tirelessly to track down paintings and furniture and return the house to its former glory.
Lydiard House & Park has always been an extremely popular visitor destination for local residents and visitors. However, in the last few decades the parkland had been in decline and many historic features were at risk. In 2005, Swindon Borough Council was awarded £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to begin an extensive project to restore the handsome landscaped parkland of the 18th century.
As part of this project, this unique ice house and castellated dam wall were restored; the lake was reinstated; the Walled Garden was planted with flowers and fruit; a new native woodland was created, and the park had new footpaths and visitors facilities. The Lydiard Park Project was also supported by national organisations including English Heritage and Natural England, and local businesses including Intel Corporation UK, The BMW Group and RWE npower. It was completed in 2009.
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