Launched in 2005 the Friends of Lydiard Park is the successor to the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz whose 40 years of published research raised awareness and appreciation of this unique historic estate.
The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz was founded in 1967 by Canon Brian Carne, then vicar of St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze to address ‘the needs of the day’. Virtually no research existed on the Parish of Lydiard Tregoze and since Swindon Corporation’s purchase of Lydiard House and Park in 1943 and its subsequent opening to the public, it was felt that more needed to be known.
Brian’s intention, strongly supported by Swindon Town Clerk David Murray John, was to bring together people, locally and elsewhere, who had an affection for and interest in Lydiard and to provide an expanding body of knowledge, published in its annual historical reports and shared with the membership at its popular May meetings. Find our more about Brian’s contributions.
The society’s first President, Lord Methuen (1968-73) had been instrumental in the restoration of Lydiard House after World War 2. Swindon Town Clerk, David Murray John, wrote that ‘he guided and supported the Council in their application to the Historic Buildings Council for a grant towards the cost or restoration, which resulted in the Council receiving one of the first and largest of the grants made by that body’.
Swindon Corporations purchase of Lydiard House and Park in 1943 had been an inspired initiative and the Friends were staunch supporters of the property’s continued conservation and improvement. Brian provided a vital link between the corporation and the 6th Viscount Bolingbroke who had retired to Hampshire. He negotiated the loan of many of the St. John family portraits which the council later acquired at a reduced price. The concept of returning original items to the House gathered pace over the next three decades, often with assistance from the Friends.
In 1972 Mr Frank Smallwood, for forty four years on the staff of the Sir Walter St. John School in Battersea, succeeded Lord Methuen as president of the Friends. Mr Smallwood had undertaken a vast amount of research into the school and its connection with the St. John family who owned Battersea Manor and he became an important contributor to the annual reports. As a result a number of ‘Sinjuns’, old boys of the school, became Friends.
The connection with Battersea was reinforced by the appointment of Dr Arnold Taylor on Mr Smallwood’s retirement as president (1983 – 1985). Formerly Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings, he was a grandson, son and brother of headmasters of the Sir Walter St. John School. Paintings formerly hanging at the school including one of Dr Taylor’s father and those of the school’s 17th Century founder Sir Walter St. John and his wife Lady Joanna St .John, hang in Lydiard House.
The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz (1967-2005) were not set up to be a fundraising body but thanks to the generosity of officers and memorial donations the society was able to provide modest sums to help with conserving monuments and historic artefacts in the church and house.
Two important acquisitions for Lydiard House were the Letters Patent creating Lord St. John of Bletsoe first Earl of Bolingbroke in 1624 and the associated volume of pedigrees and genealogical information prepared by Sir Richard St George to mark the creation of the earldom.
In 1985, Gerard Leighton became our President and led the Friends for the next twenty years, overseeing its transition into The Friends of Lydiard Park in 2005. Gerard was Chairman of the Bristol Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches and the Somerset Record Society, and held several other senior posts in the heritage and architectural world. His commitment and support to the Friends was effective and unswerving.
Gerard played a pivotal role in securing external funding to repair and conserve the great St. John family polyptych and the church’s east window, ensuring that conservators of the highest calibre were appointed. He did much to increase Lydiard’s network of interested individuals, excellent speakers and supporting organisations.
The 21st Century brought new opportunities to Lydiard Park. The Heritage Lottery Funds (HLF) ‘Parks for People ‘programme offered substantial grants for restoring historic landscapes and Lydiard Park was an obvious candidate. In 2005, to meet this new opportunity, and assist Swindon Council in raising funds for such an ambitious project, the Friends of Lydiard Park Charitable Trust was created with the membership transferring to the new organisation.
The new trust was led by Denys Hodson CBE, formerly Director of Arts and Recreation at Swindon Council and Deputy Director of The Arts Council. Under his leadership the Friends were instrumental in helping Swindon Council secure Heritage Lottery Funds and attract major business funding which the local authority was not able to access. Members of the Friends were increasingly active in championing and participating in the £5.3 million project which successfully restored Lydiard’s historic landscape.
By joining the Friends of Lydiard Park, you’ll be supporting an important part of our heritage and a hugely popular community resource. You’ll also be part of a friendly and diverse group that enjoy regular meetings and events.