Frances Bevan

Local historian and Friends of Lydiard Park trustee Frances Bevan has been breathing life into Lydiard characters and stories for over thirty years and it’s definitely an upstairs, downstairs adventure. Sharing her enthusiasm with us now, Frances writes,

‘When I moved to West Swindon thirty years ago, I couldn’t believe how many historic buildings had survived the extensive 1980s housing development and at its centre was the historically important Lydiard House and Park.

As a local historian and writer, I continue to research the history of Lydiard Park, its owners and occupiers and the people of the parish of Lydiard Tregoze, and I’m nowhere near finished!

Did you know that Henry VIII’s grandmother owned the Lydiard estate in the 15th century; or that the modern royal children, Princes George and Louis and their sister Princess Charlotte, trace their ancestry back to John St. John 1st Baronet, the 17th century owner of Lydiard Park.

Sadly, the St. John men made notoriously bad husbands. Spare a thought for the unhappy Lady Diana, wife of the dissolute Frederick, Viscount Bolingbroke, who sought solace in the beautiful walled garden. You can imagine her drawing inspiration for the paintings and designs that would provide her with an income after her divorce from Frederick.

Then there was Henry, fifth Viscount Bolingbroke, who objected to the GWR Works’ hooter sounding in Victorian Swindon and disturbing his sleep. Bachelor Henry eventually married his mistress Mary Howard, the gamekeeper’s granddaughter, but not until she had already given birth to two illegitimate sons and was pregnant once again.

And then there is the army of staff who worked on the estate. Thomas Hardyman, the steward whose job it was to keep the 17th century estate productive and running smoothly, or Ann Dobson, a 17-year-old housemaid employed at Lydiard House in 1851. I wonder how many times she ran up and down the servant’s staircase?

Frances Bevan with her book ‘Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon’ at Swindon Library. Courtesy of Swindon Advertiser

My interest in the women in the St. John family has led me to research and write about the extended family with some fantastic finds and connections. You might like to read these stories on the Good Gentlewoman blog, which will soon make an appearance on this website. You can read the story of Mary Howard, the gamekeeper’s granddaughter who married a peer of the realm in ‘Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon’, a book about women’s lives and the fight for equality, available through the Library Shop – for details of how to order visit https://libraryshop.wordpress.com/

Credit: Frances Bevan
Credit: Frances Bevan
Credit: Frances Bevan

I love Lydiard Park with its lakeside views and woodland walks which I regularly photograph, but for me the history will always come first. Perhaps I’m a little bit bonkers but I love to imagine John, Viscount St. John with his wife Anne, whose inheritance paid for the 18th century remodelling of Lydiard House, arriving in their carriage along The Avenue.

And if every anyone discovers how to time travel; I will be at the front of the queue.’

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