The Friends of Lydiard Park are championing a major £1 million project to conserve St. Mary’s jewel like interiors from increasing dilapidation. Now well underway, works include the rescue of rare medieval wallpaintings which has led to some exciting discoveries. The project welcomes public participation and is accompanied by a varied education and events programme.
After five years of fundraising and emergency repairs the Grade 1 church embarked on a £1 million project in 2018 following a major award from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. Following repairs to the roof, work began to conserve the buildings most fragile medieval wallpaintings, decorative architectural features and 17th Century family monuments.
Observing strict working practices necessitated by Coronavirus, Ellis and Company completed building repairs to St. Mary’s Church just before Easter. You can view some of these improvements here.
During 2019 twenty three conservation students from across the world spent the summer learning a wide range of conservation techniques under the expert guidance of the St Mary’s conservation team. The students have not only helped to preserve St. Mary’s for future generations but will be the conservators of the future, working on precious historic buildings in this country and abroad.
The conservation team made an exciting discovery when removing 18th century memorial tablets from the nave walls to relocation in the south porch. Behind the tablets were hidden details of the church’s St. Christopher wallpainting and an ornamental niche which had been filled with rubble and plastered over, probably at the time of the Reformation. Inside the niche they discovered part of a painted stone head, most likely the remains of a statue of St. Christopher himself. It’s hoped this will be displayed as part of the church’s new interpretation in 2020.
In October 2019 scaffolding which had filled St .Mary’s for much of the year was finally taken down and the results of meticulous conservation work revealed. Remains of the building’s extensive and once brightly coloured wallpaintings, like the murder of Thomas Becket, Saint Christopher and Christ the Crown of Thorns are now refreshed and more striking. The 17th Century Royal Coat of Arms has been beautifully restored and its unicorn given a new twirled horn to replace the missing original.
The monument to Sir Giles Mompesson and his wife, the former Katherine St .John who features on the famous St. John family Polyptych, now looks considerably smarter and the chapel’s cloud and star spangled ceiling boasts a brighter canopy. Removing layers of grime and Victorian overpainting from the building’s decoratively patterned walls has helped to harmonise historic paint schemes in the St. John Chapel, the nave with its Tudor barrelled ceiling and the formerly inaccessible south porch.
Meanwhile young people have been taking centre stage with school activities and theatre inspired by St Mary’s rich history, helping to create new education sessions and inspiring more people to explore the church.
In July 2019, pupils developing their acting skills with Swindon’s Prime Theatre produced and performed their own play, capturing audiences with their imaginative portrayal of Sir John St. John and his family during the English Civil War.
A St. Mary’s Church Art Residency has added another creative dimension to the project, culminating in an exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery commencing on 14th January – 24th March 2020.
Angels, Buckets and Bells is based around the work of two local artists, Felicity Cormack and Judy Thomson who have been drawing and painting the St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze Conservation Project and the life of the church during the course of 2019.
The conservation works were virtually completed during the early part of 2020 with final touches being made to the wallpaintings, historic pews repaired and improved heating installed. Coronavirus has meant that the St. Mary’s did not reopen at the end of March as planned, but it will do so when government guidelines allow.
Still to come are new interpretation displays and a rescheduled programme of public activities which will help to tell the fascinating story of St. Mary’s to a wider audience and develop its potential as an inspiring educational resource.
For more information about the project, events, education and volunteering opportunities visit the St. Mary’s conservation website.