Debra Melsom

Our Friend of the Month is Debra Melsom, whose ancestors lived and worked within the Bolingbroke estate, worshipped and plied their trades in St Mary’s Church.  Debra says:

I started to trace my family tree 26 years ago, not knowing where any ancestor beyond my Grandparents came from.  At my twin nephews’ christening in St Mary’s Church on 17 July 1988 we noticed the family surname ‘Edmonds’ (my maiden name) gravestones in the churchyard whilst having photos taken and I recall us jokingly saying maybe they could be related to us?  Little did we know!

Me on the right with 80s hairdo!

Research revealed the gravestones belonged to my G-G-G-G and my G-G-G Grandfather, both baptised in St Mary’s in 1757 and 1787, with many other ancestors baptised and married there and buried in St Mary’s churchyard, sadly without gravestones.  It’s wonderful to know my DNA is in the graveyard!  My G-G-G-G-G Grandfather Jonathan married in St Mary’s on 16 November 1755, and with his ancestors being stonemasons, I believe they came to Lydiard to work on the remodelling of Lydiard House in 1743.  Other jobs the family held over the years in Lydiard Tregoze include glazier, tailor, chairmaker, shoemaker, mason and bricklayer, carpenter, baker and machine maker.  One later ancestor purchased ‘Lot Number 16 of 52 acres, Park Copse’ at the auction of the estate in 1943.

In the park in 1984, me on the left with my Mum, niece and Archie the dog
On the left in the State Bedroom with my niece in 1984
Wiltshire Centre Caravan Club plaque August 1984

I loved Lydiard from my first visit, long before I knew about my family.  In August 1984 we stayed in our caravan with the Wiltshire Centre Caravan Club on what is now the school field of Lydiard Park Academy.  I’ve also been lucky to have experienced an attic tour of Lydiard House with Sarah Finch-Crisp back in the 1990s.  I became fascinated with the parkland, and loved to hunt out lost pathways and tracks, especially as it was more overgrown back then.  I would wonder about abandoned parkland walls, where were the various carriage entrances, why have some features disappeared, why do some remain.  I went on to study Landscape Archaeology and I have a large collection of old local maps.  I’ve worked at Historic England/English Heritage for 20 years, now as a Senior GIS (Geographic Information System) Application Specialist, so I study maps old and new, LIDAR, conservation areas, contours, boundary lines and listed buildings all day!

Another historic place that captured my imagination when I was aged five was Littlecote House near Ramsbury.  I heard the ghost!  It’s said they don’t exist, but I know I heard the cry of the ghostly baby when on the haunted landing and the moment we left the room it immediately ceased.  I was lucky to become a tour guide for many years at Littlecote, unlocking the doors of each extraordinary room and the Great Hall early every Sunday morning, switching on the lights and feeling the privilege of being alone in the house.

Me guiding a tour around Littlecote House

So it’s exciting to have recently taken on a volunteer role promoting the work of the Friends of Lydiard Park with their social media and PR, also to be giving a guided tour of Lydiard House in December.  I will show personal family photographs of those who worked on the estate – William, Gardener to Lord Bolingbroke and Jacob Jnr and Jacob Snr, Parish Clerk at Lydiard Tregoze whose gravestones lie between the house and church. 180 years ago, mischievous Edwin left his mark both inside and outside St Mary’s, and I will explain where to find this, along with similar inscriptions left by fellow workers.

With my G-G-G-G and G-G-G Grandfathers’ graves between the house and church
Volunteering in St Mary’s

I also volunteer in St Mary’s and enjoy being able to spend time studying the St John monuments, but especially the fabulous polyptych.  It’s lovely to meet so many visitors and tell them about all the beautiful aspects of Lydiard and the work of the Friends of Lydiard Park.

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