From Lydiard to Mapledurham and the Tower of London | A tale of two families

In the peaceful countryside, facing each other across the River Thames, once lay two estates. On the north bank in Oxfordshire is Mapledurham, home of the Blount family since 1490. On the Berkshire south bank, the now extinct Manor of Purley Magna was in possession of the St.John family for almost three hundred years, eventually leaving the family when George Richard, the son of Frederick Viscount Bolingbroke, sold the manor in 1789 to Robert Mackreth.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the two family’s fortunes were intertwined, and their homes were sociable and active residences. Mapledurham still exists, whereas all that remains of the St.Johns at Purley are scant memorials in the church of St. Mary the Virgin, where Anne St.John’s daughter, the wife of Edward Hyde, rests.

In the Tower of London, the families face each other again. Located within the church of St Peter ad Vincula overlooking Tower Green, stands a marvellous monument to the Blount family. Two of their members, Richard and Michael, were lieutenants of the Tower in the late 16th century. Taking up most of the south wall of the chapel, and originally incorporating an organ with carvings by Grinling Gibbons, the monument faces the simple black marble tablet marking the interment of Sir Allen Apsley, 17th century Lieutenant of the Tower, and husband of Lucy St.John of Lydiard, the 1st Baronet’s youngest sister.

Blount tomb, St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London. Find a Grave.

In 1627 Sir Allen travelled on the war expedition to the Isle of Rhe with the Duke of Buckingham and witnessed his will. As the brother-in-law of the duke’s half-brother, Sir Edward Villiers, Allen was probably the closest trusted family member to the duke on the eve of battle. The campaign was a disaster, and Allen, against high odds, made it home, not severely wounded but desperately ill from the terrible conditions and voyage.

Based on biographical information in the DNB, we believe that Allen recuperated at Purley, for he was too sick to resume his duties at the Tower. However, he kept up with his letters, and tried to defend the disastrous campaign from his sickbed. It would have been a peaceful and healthy location, and no doubt his devoted wife and daughters were with him, for in 1629 Lister Blount of Mapledurham married Jocasta Apsley, daughter of Sir Allen Apsley and stepdaughter to Lucy St.John.

Jocasta and her brother Peter were young children when Lucy and Allen married in 1615. They likely travelled with the family into residency at the Tower of London in 1617 when their father was appointed lieutenant. Although Peter left to follow his own adventures, Jocasta remained with Lucy and Allen.

After Lister’s death in 1657, Jocasta married William, the 2nd Earl of Dalhousie, and died in 1663, in the Savoy. Fire destroyed her monument in the Savoy chapel, but an etching exists, showing a very dignified lady.

Another 17th-century marriage of note was that of George Ayliffe (who is buried at St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze). George’s first wife was Anne St.John, the sister of Lucy. Their daughter, Anne, married Edward Hyde, the future Earl of Clarendon, and tragically died of smallpox. She is buried at St. Mary the Virgin in Purley, since she fell ill while staying there. After Anne St.John’s death, George went on to marry Martha Blount, probably Lister’s sister, in 1634, showing once again how these two families stayed in close contact with each other. As another interesting naming side note, George and Anne Ayliffe are recorded as having a daughter, Apsley Ayliffe. More research has to be done to establish her birth and death dates.

Visiting the water meadows and beautiful countryside of Mapledurham, it just takes a little imagination to think of the Blount and St.John families rowing across the peaceful Thames, enjoying each other’s company and deepening their bonds through courtship and marriage.

View all the Tales of Lydiard articles