Sue Gray

Since supporting the Friends successful campaign to protect Lydiard House and Park from outsourcing in 2016/17, art lover Sue Gray has become a passionate supporter; volunteering at St. Mary’s Church and even flying over the park in a light aircraft with camera to the ready. Here she describes her Lydiard journey:

‘I first came to live and teach Geography in Swindon in 1974 and coming from a rural area near Bath the walks around Coate Water and Lydiard Park were great places to enjoy the wildlife and feel more at home! At this point I must mention my favourite tree species the Ginkgo Biloba which is regarded as a living fossil! Lydiard Park has a tall specimen near the archway to Lydiard House, I still check on it regularly on walks and this spring it is dormant, unusual for a conifer, but snow drops are blooming at its base

Ginko Biloba at Lydiard Park

For many years as a Head of House at The Commonweal School in Old Town we enjoyed using Lydiard Park to run team building exercises in the autumn for our Year 7 intake. Through these group activities the children made new friends and gained considerable enjoyment which improved their confidence and learning at The Commonweal. We also used the conference facilities to hold our annual Summer Ball for our school leavers.

Friends of Lydiard Park public meeting to protest at Council plans to outsource Lydiard House and Park to the private sector, January 2016 ©Calyx Friends of Lydiard meeting

On retirement I joined The Arts Society Kennet & Swindon www.theartssocietykennet.org.uk. Through their monthly lectures I became more and more interested in Swindon’s amazing Art Collection in Old Town and in Lydiard House itself and enjoy visiting both regularly when permitted and at present their Zoom talks. My interest became even more concentrated when Swindon Borough Council planned to effectively sell Lydiard Park and House a few years ago. It was amazing to see how the residents of Swindon rallied together to oppose this proposal, with that I became a member of The Friends of Lydiard Park.

‘Molly Long-Legs’ by George Stubbs 1761

On a trip to Liverpool I made a beeline to The Walker Art Gallery to see George Stubbs’s 1761 ‘Molly Long-Legs’ the thoroughbred horse owned by Frederick St John the 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke. Sadly I was not allowed to bring it back to Lydiard House but it was fun to say loudly in the gallery “that’s from Swindon!”.

The Arts Society Kennet & Swindon were also asked to provide volunteers to extend the opening hours of St Mary’s church on a Friday for the community and visitors, ably organised by Janet Cooper-Tydeman our Heritage Volunteer co-ordination. On these Friday’s, from April to October, our members thoroughly enjoyed guiding visitors around explaining the colourful connection between the St John family and this gem of a parish church. Due to this The Arts Society were asked to be involved in St. Mary’s Heritage Lottery bid for their conservation funding, this was an absolutely fascinating process and insight into the amount of hard work needed to apply for funding! When Covid is over The Arts Society volunteers are again looking forward to welcoming old and new visitors from around the world to view this fantastic church and conservation project.

Thanks to a friend I had a fantastic opportunity to take a flying lesson and asked my instructor if I could fly over Lydiard, this was during a prolonged drought and showed up some fascinating hidden sections of Lydiard.

With my membership of The Friends of Lydiard Park I continue to enjoy learning about Lydiard from speakers with a great passion and more often a personal connection. It is great to meet such interesting people and support a wonderful resource for Swindon.’

See previous Friends of the Month