Based in North London Florence has a keen interest in her family history, raising awareness of the important influence of Ambrose St. John on his great friend John Henry Newman, one of the 19th century’s most famous clergymen. A theologian and poet Newman wrote popular hymns including ‘Lead, Kindly Light’ and ‘Praise to the Holiest in the Height’.
‘As a member of the St John family, I greatly value all the Friends of Lydiard Park do to ensure the lasting importance of the historic church and the house, their contents and the parkland.
The portraits in the house pertain to both sides of the St John family – mostly the Wiltshire St. John’s but also their Bletsoe cousins including Oliver Cromwell’s Chief Justice Oliver St John (1598-1673). Our Australian family is a collateral branch of the Bletsoe side whose seat is Melchbourne in Bedfordshire which has belonged to the St. Johns since the 17th century.
The present 21st Baron is Anthony Tudor St John, born in 1958, an elected hereditary peer since 1999. He is a lawyer and a business man and the running of Melchbourne reflects this. Unlike his predecessors he has no contact with our Australian branch, founded by my grandfather, Henry St John, who, in 1869, aged 17, settled on the north coast of New South Wales.
My grandfather Henry returned to England three times and visited both Lydiard Tregoze and Melchbourne. The 19th Baron St John of Bletsoe and, separately, his sister, visited our family in Australia.
Henry’s move to Australia in 1869 was supported by his uncle and guardian, Ambrose St John, closest friend and fellow convert of the recently canonised Cardinal Newman. Both were originally Anglican clergyman, ordained together as Roman Catholic priests. They are buried together near Birmingham Oratory.
Two of Henry’s sons, including my father, Frederick de Porte St John, became canons of the Church of England.
Peerage proofs came to the vicarage regularly from Burke and Debrett and informed us about our background.
I am the seventh child of Frederick de Porte and the sole survivor of my generation. I feel more affinity with Lydiard Tregoze than with Melchbourne and regret the fact that, beyond attending the AGMs, I have been unable to visit more and help more. Because of my husband’s work as an academic and as a United Nations representative, we were often away in North and South America and Australia.’