Gill Carne – Part 3

In this third and final reflection, Gill Carne recalls meetings with Lydiard’s last lord, Vernon St.John Viscount Bolingbroke; a decidedly canine mansion; and a subterranean discovery in the church crypt. Gill accompanied her husband Brian on many of his expeditions to research the St.John family and Lydiard Tregoze, including visits to Lord Bolingbroke in Hampshire. She tells us:

‘We visited Vernon  Lord Bolingbroke, several times in his cottage at Fordingbridge Hants. His garden was full of long grass. He was no gardener, but I expect his butterflies loved the wildflowers. He had family portraits on the walls and everywhere. He showed us his butterfly collection and told us he was careful not to have red spiders collecting near them as they would spoil them.

Vernon St.John, Viscount Bolingbroke, and Miss Catherine McClean at Moorhayes, c1970

Vernon was always welcoming. He talked to Brian for hours. I went into the kitchen with Catherine McClean, his housekeeper. She had lung problems and so always seemed poorly. The bungalow was small and cluttered but we enjoyed our time there. The house was also cold and Catherine asked Vernon whether they could have central heating.  He said NO.  After a time she saw adverts in the papers and left them open where her preferred heating system was advertised.  One day he said he had seen an advert for central heating and suggested they had it installed!  Catherine got what she wanted.

Vernon was remembered at Lydiard Tregoze, not always quite accurately.  I remember when a child was born in the parish, Brian asked what name he was to be given. Mum answered “ He’s to be called Vermin, like Lord Bolingbroke!”. Some years later, I was coming downstairs and thought “What is Lord Bolingbroke’s name?” Then I thought how stupid I was being. Later the same morning we heard the news that Vernon had died.

During our time at Lydiard we visited St.John family homes, some were huge estates. One person lived in the rooms where a famous St.John had resided. He had large dogs and it was difficult to get to the front door because of the huge poo piles. Inside there were 3 chairs.  Arthur Carden (member of the Friends and fellow researcher ) who came with us sat one chair – Brian on another, the house owner on the third. I sat on the floor and realised it was wet – dogs incontinent – lovely!

We also went to see Sir Roland Gibbs (St.John family descendent and Vice President of The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz)  to look at a box of papers. He had waited until Brian arrived to open it and they had a great time going through letters and documents that added more and more to the St.John history. It was amusing to watch their glee as sitting on the floor together they unearthed one treasure after another.

St.John family graves in the vault beneath St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze

One memorable time Brian and I, along with American researchers, went down the steps into the St.John family vault inside St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze to examine the old family graves. The lead-boxed coffins were piled one on top of another. Some had sunk into each other. The air was fresh and ventilated. We had all gone down to see if the coffins had gable ends. The ones we saw did not, but there was another cavity but this needed breaking into and time was too short.’

You can see more photographs and read about the search for gable-ended coffins in The Lydiard Archives.

Our special thanks to Gill Carne, a founder member of the Friends in 1967, for enabling and supporting the work of The Friends for so many years and for her continued interest and enthusiasm.

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