Friday, April 27, 2012

Henry and the Hooter

Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke spent just two months of the year during the shooting season at his country home of Lydiard Park, where he liked it to be, above all else, quiet.

But there was one big spanner in the works - the GWR factory hooter.

Originally mounted on 'R' shop, now the home of the STEAM Museum, the hooter had a range of between 12-15 miles, reaching the far flung corner of Lydiard Park, and sounding at various times throughout the day.

But it was the early morning calls at 5.15, 5.45 and 6 am to which Lord Bolingbroke particularly objected, claiming a subsequent lack of sleep was jeopardising his weak heart.

Henry began his campaign to silence the hooter in 1868 and succeeded in persuading the GWR to construct a screen around the offending instrument, thereby muting the sound.

However, after complaints by the workmen, the screen was eventually removed, but Henry refused to concede defeat.

On January 9, 1873 he presented an 11 point memo to the New Swindon Local Board, spelling out his grievances.  The Advertiser published his lordship's application for the removal of the hooter.

"I am disturbed in the enjoyment of my said property, and I am prevented from residing at the said mansion house so much as I should otherwise do, and I could not let it except at a reduced rate," Henry stated.

"That I am informed and believe that the said New Swindon Local Board then consisted and still consists of twelve members of whom no less than nine were and still are officers and persons in the employ of the Great Western Railway Company, and that two other of the said members were also some years since in the employ of the said company," he wrote, referring to his earlier protest, hinting at political bias and unfair representation at local government level.

A deluge of letters submitted by the railway workers of New Swindon arrived at the Advertiser offices.

"I have a wife and four children, wages 16s per week, and being a sound sleepers, I am satisfied I should lose many morning quarters if the whistle was discontinued," wrote one employee. "I do assure you, that I can scarcely make both ends meet and to lose a quarter or two would be a great loss to me and my family."

Men whose livelihood depended upon getting to work on time defended the continued use of the hooter and 4,339 of them signed a petition, among them landlords and tenant farmers from Hook in Lord Bolingbroke's parish, and neighbouring Lydiard Millicent, Wootton Bassett and Purton.

The Town Hall in Old Swindon was packed for the subsequent inquiry at which Lord Bolingbroke was the victor.  The hooter was silenced, but only temporarily.

Following a people's protest meeting at the Mechanics' Institute the ruling was overturned.

The Swindon New Town Local Board reply to the Memorial of Henry St John Viscount Bolingbroke concluded:

That taking into consideration the wishes of the inhabitants of any important and populous district, as expressed in the petitions above mentioned, and the necessity for the efficient carrying on of the works in the factory of the Great Western Railway Company of the use of a steam whistle - this Local Board came to the unanimous conclusion that it would not be right in them to deprive the public of what they considered to be a great boon, and for the reasons above stated they respectfully submit to your Honorable Board that the license given by this Local Board to the Great Western Railway Company to use their steam whistle ought not to be revoked. 

The ruling was overturned and the hooter was reinstated.

Did the return of the hooter cause Lord Bolingbroke to fall into a decline?  Apparently not.  He died peacefully at his home in Lydiard Park, twenty five years later, on November 7, 1899 aged 79.

The hooter was later moved to the Hydraulic House were it can still be seen today.  The blast of the hooter was last heard on March 26, 1986 at 4.30 pm when it poignantly sounded until the steam ran out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

John St John

Some writers have erroneously claimed that the estate at Lydiard passed seamlessly down the St John family, father to son.  With premature deaths, a murderer and an attainted politician in the family it was never going to be that neat and tidy.

Sir John St John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton produced 13 children and no doubt expected their inheritance was well protected.  However, of this large family only three survived their father's death in 1648.

Eldest son Oliver died in 1640/1 followed by his brothers William in 1642/3, John in 1643 and Edward, the Golden Cavalier, in 1644, all killed during the English Civil War.

When Sir John died his property at Lydiard Tregoze was inherited by his 12 year old grandson, John.

Young John St John was the eldest son of Oliver St John and his wife Catherine Vere.  The couple had married in Hackney on January 30, 1633/4.  With Sir John resident in the Manor House at Battersea, it is believed that Oliver and Catherine made their home at Lydiard Park where their three young children grew up.

Following Oliver's death in 1640/1, Catherine speedily remarried and took her two surviving children to the home of her new husband, John Baron Poulett in Hinton St George, Wiltshire.  Catherine died in 1653, her daughter Mary the following year, leaving John somewhat adrift.  Never particularly close to his St John relatives, John moved in with his grandmother, the wealthy Lady Vere who lived at Kirby Hall, Essex.

Twenty year old John made his will on April 7, 1656 and died six days later, leaving bequests to the doctors who attended him in his last illness.  He was buried at Lydiard Tregoze on May 8.

The Will of John St John, 2nd Baronet
Aprill the Seaventh day 1656

In the name of God Amen I Sr John St John of Lydyerd Traygouse in the County of Wiltshire Barronett beinge weake and Sicke in body but of good and perfect understandinge and memory (Thankes be to God) Doe make and ordaine this my last will and Testament in manner and forme followinge Imprimis I give and bequeathe my Soule into the hands of my deare Lord and Saviour Jes Christ fro whom alone I expect redemption and salvacon And my body to be buried in the Church of Ledyerd Traygouse Item I give to my verie good grandemother the Lady Mary Veare one thousand pounds Item I give to my Aunt the Lady Elizabeth Clayer, my Aunt the Lady Westmorland Mary, my Aunt the Lady Anne Fairefaxe, my Aunt Mrs Dorothy Worsham, my Aunt the Lady Wilmott and my Aunt the Lady Vilers Three Hundrd poundes apeece     Item I give to Mr Timothy Felton one hundred poundes Item I give to mr William Sparrowe one hundred poundes Item I give to my Servant Adrian Scrope one Hundred poundes Item I give to Richard Shropshire my Coachman one Hundred poundes Item I give to Mr Francis Bartlett one hundred poundes Item I give to Daines Lewes wife to Richard Lewes Twenty poundes Item I give unto Venus Scrope wife to Adrian Tenn poundes Item I give to Richard Lewes the elder Tenn poundes Item I give to Elizabeth Lewes tenn poundes And Richard Lewes Junior tenn poundes Item I give to Doctor Bates Twenty poundes Item I give to Doctor Wetherburn Twenty poundes Item I give to Samuel Shropshire my footeman Tenn Poundes Item I give to John Ferwell my footeman Tenn poundes Item I give to Little Jacke my footeboy five poundes Lastly I doe nominate ordaine and appoint my loveing uncle Walter St John esquire Sole and onely executor of this my last will and Testament which I desire hee will See fullfilled  In witnes whereof I have hereunto Sett my hand and Seale the day and yeare above written  John St John 

Signed Sealed and delivered in the presence of us

The marke of John Ferwell
The marke of Elizabeth Boulton

Despite his generous bequests, the beneficiaries of young John's estate were to be disappointed.  Like so many other St John's, the under-age heir had been living beyond his means and had racked up a few debts.  He died bankrupt.

Sir Walter, John's uncle, renounced the executorship of the will in favour of the two principal creditors Henry Street and Francis Rainsford.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bridget St John

Bridget St John signed her will at her home in Lydiard Millicent on April 15, 1672 and in this document gives us a glimpse of an extended branch of the St John family line.

Bridget describes herself as the relict of Nicholas St John whom she married in 1655. The wedding is quite unusual as it appears in two sets of parish registers, All Saints Church, Lydiard Millicent and Elcombe in the parish of Wroughton where Bridget grew up. Bridget was the daughter of William Sadler, a member of a large landowning family with property in Elcombe, Over Wroughton, Purton and Broad Hinton.

But which Nicholas St John did Bridget marry? Styled Nicholas St John of Lydiard Millicent and Marlborough, he is supposedly the son of Oliver St John of Lambeth, Winchelsea, Marlborough and Lydiard Millicent by one of his three wives. However this Nicholas was born in c1587 and would have been at least sixty eight years old at the time of his marriage to Bridget. Unusual but not unheard of, and if Bridget was a more mature lady would also account for why there is no mention of any children of the marriage. Other researchers have suggested that Bridget’s husband might be the son of Nicholas by his first wife Alice Goddard and also named Nicholas.

This branch of the St John family, descended from a second son of John St John and Joan Ewarby, included Parkside Farm in Lydiard Millicent among their properties. It is believed the house was built on the northern boundary of Lydiard Park as a dower house. The coat of arms and supporters above the porch is dated 1581. And it was probably here that Bridget composed her will in April 1672.

Bridget begins her list of bequests having described herself as ‘Sick in body but of good and perfect memory’ and with the usual preamble thanking God for His benevolence and commending her soul to ‘my Saviour and Redeemer.’

She leaves ‘my house and all my Land thereunto belonging situate and being in Luddyard Millicent [sic] in the County of Wilts which was the Estate of my late husband Nicholas St John Esq unto my two sisters Ann Tooker and Joan Madockes to be equally divided between them only the Comon belonging to the said Land excepted.’ To her ‘kinsman’ Walter St John she leaves 'Comon in Clintons Wood and Braydon.'

But it is the list of more personal items left to various relatives that is most evocative. ‘Item I give my Cozen Katherine St John Daughter of Henry St John my Rought bed,’ a valuable piece of furniture in the 17th century.

‘Item I give and bequeath to my Cozen St John my husband’s Goddaughter my pearle necklace Item I give and bequeath unto my Cozen Johanna St John my Amatist Ring Item I give and bequeath to my Cozen Barbara St John my Little Saphier Ring.’ And then, most intriguingly ‘Item I give and bequeath unto my Cozen Ann St John my little picture of the Kings set in gould.’ Had this picture actually once belonged to the King?

At his coronation in 1626 Charles I revived an ancient law called the Distraint of Knighthood. All men with landed income worth more than £40 a year were required to present themselves for knighthood at the King’s coronation. Nicholas, whose father Oliver had died the previous day, failed to turn up and subsequently received a fine. It seems unlikely that this monarch would have handed out presents to a tax dodger.

Bridget leaves £100 to be distributed for charitable purposes and cash amounts to her mother Ann Sadler and various relatives and servants including ‘to Ann Colman my servant over and above her wages ten pounds.’

She also makes a bequest to Sir Walter St John’s Servants, left to her sister Ann Tooker to sort out as she thinks fit. Did Bridget end her days at Lydiard House or perhaps Sir Walter drafted in servants to care for her at Parkside Farm at the end of her life.

Bridget made her two sisters Ann Tooker and Joane Madockes her sole Executrixes and her last will and testament was witnessed by Walter St John, Casar ffreeman and Susanna ffoot.

Bridget’s will reveals a woman at the centre of both her birth family and her husband’s, whichever Nicholas St John he might have been!

Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire 1810

Picture postcard view of The Street, Lydiard Millicent -

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sir Walter St John School

The end of the 2011-12 academic year will see big changes at West Swindon's Greendown Community School.

The secondary school, which opened in September 1986, took its name from land that once belonged to the St John family. Green Down was a 39 acre field of pasture on Wick Farm where Jonas Clarke senior and junior farmed during the middle of the 19th century.

When the school officially adopts academy status after the long summer break it will open with a new name. It is only fitting that the governing body looked to its near neighbours yet again and in September 2012 Greendown Community School will be relaunched as the Lydiard Park Academy.

But this isn't the first school to take its name from the St John family.

Sir Walter St. John, 3rd Baronet was the son of Sir John St. John 1st Bt and his wife Anne Leighton. Elected Member of Parliament for Wiltshire in 1656, Sir Walter served as an MP for the county and Wootton Bassett until 1695.

Walter married his cousin Johanna, daughter of Sir Oliver St. John, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, in 1649 and the couple made the old Manor House on the river at Battersea their main residence.

A supporter of Oliver Cromwell, Walter fought on the side of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, unlike three of his brothers who died for the Royalist cause. His brother Edward, whose memorial the Golden Cavalier stands in St. Mary’s Church, was said to be Sir John’s favourite son.

While Walter may not have been the apple of his father’s eye, he took his responsibilities seriously, overseeing the financial security of his extended family and endowing a school for 20 poor boys on his Surrey manor at Battersea.

A free school existed as early as 1670 in a house Sir Walter had provided and for which he paid £20 a year in upkeep. In 1700 he confirmed his commitment to the school when he bought 31 acres of land in the Parish of Camberwell near Peckham Rye Common costing £570. The income from these lands would fund the school.

The endowment spells out how the school would operate. The twenty poor boys ‘should be elected from the Parishioners or Inhabitants of the Parish’ and should be aged between eight and fifteen years old.

The school master would teach the boys reading, writing and accounts payment for which he would take from “the Rents and Profits of the said Premises to his own use.”

Sir Walter and his heirs, reserved the right to appoint the schoolmaster. Nathaniel Gower MA, vicar at St. Mary’s, Battersea is mentioned as being the schoolmaster in the endowment and Sir Walter stipulates that all future masters must be graduates from Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

In 1859 the original schoolhouse was demolished and a new building designed by William Butterfield added two large and three smaller schoolrooms and a Headmasters House to an 1840’s refit.

After a number of changes, including an amalgamation with a neighbouring school Sir Walter St. John’s eventually closed in 1986. The buildings stood empty for several years reopening in 1990 when Thomas’s London Day School acquired the freehold.

For more about Sir Walter St John's school visit

Harry Hiscocks - Gamekeeper

One of the striking features of the £5 million restoration project at Lydiard Park is the crenellated walkway along the renovated dam wall overlooking the former gamekeeper’s cottage.

Robert Hiscocks, born in Lydiard Tregoze in 1809, was employed as gamekeeper on the Lydiard Park estate through much of the 19th century. At the time of the 1841 census he lived at Brook Cottage with his wife Mary and their four daughters Elizabeth, Susannah, Hannah and Emma. Ten years later and the family had increased by three, another daughter Charlotte and two sons, Giles and Henry, also known as Harry.

The duties of the Lydiard Park gamekeeper included the rearing of his lordships pheasants, controlling predators such as foxes and warding off poachers. Victorian gamekeepers were known to shoot at anything that threatened the birds under their protection.

Sporting rights across the estate were protected in the farm leases, reserving all game and the exclusive right of sporting for the titled family at the mansion house.

Harry worked alongside his father as gamekeeper and by 1871 he was married, still living at Brook with his parents, unmarried sister and his niece, (Mary Emily) Elizabeth Howard in the census taken the same year.

Like his father Robert, Harry continued in the employment of Lord Bolingbroke when the fortunes of the Hiscocks family took a surprising turn from which Harry’s son Edward would ultimately benefit - but he had to wait a long time.

In 1881 Henry, 5th Viscount Bolingbroke, already engaged in a clandestine relationship with another woman, became acquainted with Mary Emily Elizabeth Howard, Robert Hiscocks twenty-two year old granddaughter. Insistent that this affair, like his other, should also remain secret, Lord Bolingbroke moved Mary to Bath where the couple lived under the alias Mr & Mrs Wilson. On their occasional visits to Lydiard Park Mary resumed her former role as Miss Howard, housekeeper, with the two sons she had borne Henry remaining in Bath.

Lord Bolingbroke did eventually marry Mary and a third, legitimate, son Vernon was born in 1896, but the saga did not become public knowledge until after Henry’s death in 1899.

Left to manage the debt ridden Lydiard estate, Mary turned to her cousin Edward for help, installing him in the mansion house as her ‘estate agent.’ Less than popular among the tenant farming families with whom he had grown up, Edward’s arrogant, overbearing attitude earned him the derisory title of Lord Ted. Edward did rather well out of his improved circumstances and the Inland Revenue returns of 1910 saw him occupying 134 acres at Parkside Farm, Lydiard Millicent and another 198 acres at Flaxlands in Lydiard Tregoze.

As executor of Mary’s will, it was Edward who brokered the sale of the mansion house and 147 acres of parkland to Swindon Corporation in 1943.

Mary died in 1940 and with Lydiard House falling down around them, Edward and his cousin Vernon moved out and down the lane to Brook Cottage. Vernon, 6th Lord Bolingbroke spent the last of the family’s 500 year reign at Lydiard Park living in the cottage once occupied by his great-grandfather, gamekeeper Robert Hiscocks.

Vernon eventually made his home in Ringwood, Hampshire where he died on May 1, 1974.

Images are courtesy of Lydiard Park visit

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lydiard Park Paperwork

When Lady Bolingbroke died in 1940 she left the remodelled Palladian mansion house and what remained of the Lydiard Park estate to the administration of her trustees.  Her son Vernon inherited the silver, pictures, furniture, books - and 500 years worth of paperwork.

The St John family roots in Lydiard Tregoze date back to Oliver St John born in about 1428, the son of Margaret Beauchamp and her first husband, also named Oliver.

Subsequent generations divided their time between their country estate in Wiltshire and homes in London, all of which generated an awful lot of documentation. But sadly today the family archive is surprisingly thin in content.

The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz, established in 1967, are responsible for collating and transcribing many of the surviving papers, among them tradesmen's bills such as one from an unnamed dressmaker. Dated March 28, 1629 the account is for 'the Lady St Johns of Lideard' which refers to 'canvas stifning and whalbone for Mistress barbares soune and white rough grosgram cote.'

A valuation of land held by Sir Walter St John, his son and grandson dated 1702 also survives and mentions tenants 'Rich: Doare, Thomas Skull and Wm Templer' and property called 'Salters peice, Seymores Close & Land and Windmilleaze,' all valuable information for those interest in local history.

Goodwyn & Son, land agents to Lord Bolingbroke, preserved documents such as the 27 deeds of farms and cottages in Hook and Lydiard Tregoze now held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. But what happened to all the rest?

A letter from Vernon St John, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, to his solicitor Mr Dale of H. Bevir & Son dated January 13, 1943 solves the mystery of why so few personal and estate papers survive for the St John family.

"I have personally handled and compiled some two and a half tons of War Salvage which the Wootton Bassett RDC collectors tell me constitutes a record for any house in their district," writes Lord Bolingbroke.

What went into that wartime skip? The everyday paperwork of running a large estate, no doubt, but what other priceless gems were lost in the dispersal.

It is said that Vernon was devastated by the loss of his inheritance. At the time of his mother's death the only surviving trustee of her will was her cousin Edward Hiscock, known among the Lydiard farming tenants as Lord Ted for his pretentious attitude. It was his decision to sell Lydiard Park to Swindon Corporation.

Many of the St John treasures have been returned in recent years due to the tireless work of former keeper Sarah Finch-Crisp and the local authority. But sadly not the paperwork, pulped more than 70 years ago.