Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Anne Furnese

John St John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke had his own Grand Designs for Lydiard House. But it was only when his wealthy wife Anne Furnese came into her inheritance that he was able to call in the builders.

Born in c 1711 Anne was the daughter of Sir Robert Furnese and his first wife Anne Balam. During the early 18th century Sir Robert served as MP for Truro, New Romney and Kent. Rather too fond of the good life Robert hardly made his mark on politics, unlike his father, and was described by fellow Whig Sir George Oxenden who wrote to David Polhill in 1727 that he was “as active as a fat man can be. He sits at home most part of the day surveying the field of battle, and reviewing his forces as they are drawn out on paper and gives his directions to his agents and attendants who are writing for his success and assure his Honour of success.”

Sir Robert’s father Sir Henry Furnese had made his money as a capital merchant, dealing in hosiery, linen and fine lace. His support of King William in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 proved good for business and soon Henry was involved in some innovative experiments in public finance. Henry served as Sheriff of London in 1701 and was created a baronet in 1707. When he died in 1712 his son Robert became a very rich man indeed.

Anne probably grew up at the mansion house at Waldershare in Kent, bought by her grandfather in 1705. The Furnese family were dab hands at remodelling out of date mansions and Sir Henry had done a pretty good job on the 17th century mansion house to designs attributed to William Talman.

Following the death of Anne’s mother, Sir Robert married Lady Arabella Watson by whom he had a son Henry and a daughter Catherine. His third wife was Lady Anne Shirley who had two daughters, Selina and Anne who died as an infant.

Sir Robert died in 1733 and his 19 year old son and heir two years later. Anne brought at least £20,000 to the Lydiard coffers, worth something in the region of £32.9 million today.

Building work on Lydiard House began in 1738.

Like most enthusiastic house renovators, Lydiard wasn’t the couple’s first project. Prior to his marriage, John occupied 49 Brook Street in salubrious Mayfair. Following their marriage in 1729 John and Anne moved into a new build at 51 Brook Street, a house sited in approximately the middle of modern day Claridges.

For nearly ten years they divided their time between Lydiard, Battersea and Brook Street until 1738 when they moved to 75 South Audley Street. John paid builder Edward Shepherd £4,000 to complete two houses which the St John’s occupied as one property.

Documentary evidence survives suggesting that Roger Morris was the architect of the remodelled house. Morris was assistant to popular architect Colen Campbell whose commissions included Wilton House and Longford Castle in Wiltshire.

It is thought that Nathaniel Ireson was the builder engaged on the Lydiard project. Henry Cheere is suggested as the sculptor of fireplaces in the Drawing Room, Dining Room and State Bedroom, which have features very similar to those in Ditchley Park, the home of John’s cousin George Henry Lee, Earl of Lichfield.

The remodelling of Lydiard was constrained by financial restrictions and it is believed that the house is only half the original design.

Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke wrote scathingly to his half sister Henrietta – “They have made them selves a proverb in the country for their stingyness.”

The house was pretty much finished by 1743 according to masonry in the attic. But after all their hard work, the couple had scant time to enjoy their new country seat. Anne died in July 1747. Less than a year later John remarried only to die within four months of the wedding. Anne is buried with her husband and his second wife in the family vault at St Mary’s Church.

Following Anne’s death Henry offered to help his widowed brother, but not surprisingly John chose to make his own arrangements for his young family.

Henry was to write to Henrietta: “He took no notice of the offer, and I am satisfied with having done what I thought became me. I wish that the prejudices and habits which his late wife gave him, & which are none of the best, do not stick by him, she had sense and cunning , but I never knew a creature so avaricious, more selfish or more false.”

Lydiard House is a tribute to Anne Furnese for without her money it is unlikely the rebuilding would have taken place. Yet sadly the only comment on the lady herself comes from the brother in law who loathed her.

Images Anne Furnese and John St John in Coronation robes are published courtesy of Lydiard Park visit www.lydiardpark.org.uk

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walled Garden

It would appear that the Lady St. Johns had a penchant for gardening. And while it was down to the men to make sweeping changes to the parkland, it was the women who attended to the finer details.

Lady Johanna, wife of Sir Walter St John was a keen gardener. Letters written from her home in Battersea to Thomas Hardyman her steward at Lydiard indicate how involved she was with the planting and development of the garden.

I bid richard brown send down some slips of the Austrian rose if he hath sent them set them betwen the lawrel tre in the court if ther be any that stand far enough asunder …

Another letter to Hardyman gives instructions for Rudler, the gardener, regarding a consignment of seeds.

…to send him a noat of the number and how to use them but the seed must not be s[own] till next yere tell him he must not brag to much least he lose them and tel him I would have all the white and yelow crowns planted in the outward garden as wel as thos that are turned plaine red or yalow or white bid him also save some of his white stock seed to us …

Following his marriage to wealthy heiress Anne Furnese in 1729, Sir John remodelled the manor house and landscaped the parkland at Lydiard. Anne’s dowry didn’t extend to a complete rebuild of Lydiard House and the garden makeover had to come within budget as well - the new walled garden to the west of the house was constructed using bricks from the old one. Sadly the formal gardens that his grandmother Lady Johanna presided over were swept away.

The unhappy Lady Diana Spencer who married John and Anne’s dissolute son Frederick, sought consolation in the walled garden and added her contribution to its design and content.

Inside, the walls enclose a surprising large area of 4,500 square metres. The unusual parallelogram shape of the garden was designed to maximise sunlight throughout the year. The north eastern wall is slightly higher than the rest, providing a barrier against the winter winds, while the corner of the eastern wall is curved, a perfect place to sit and watch the setting summer sun.

The main gated and pillared entrance is approached via an avenue of incongruous fir trees planted in the 20th century. A small arched doorway in the north eastern wall is linked by one of two footpaths crossing south west to north east. The 1766 estate map shows an outer footpath and others crossing south east to north west.

In 1886 only the perimeter pathway and the one between the main entrance and small door remained. By then the garden was no longer a place of recreation for the Lady’s of the house to take a little exercise, but a Victorian vegetable garden complete with glass house and potting shed.

In 2004 Wessex Archaeology made an excavation of the walled garden in advance of an ambitious four year restoration programme.

Evidence of many of the original features was revealed and a well with a stone cistern was discovered. Many sherds of Romano British pottery were found during the course of the archaeological dig, dating from the 2nd to 5th century when there was a large production site in the Shaw Ridge area of West Swindon.

Sherds of wheel thrown medieval pottery produced in nearby Minety were also discovered. And just one small piece of Tudor Green ware produced in great quantity in the early 16th century - perhaps a jug from the table of Margaret Carew who married John St John in about 1525.

Two sherds of Creamware reveal that the St. Johns were buying from 18th century pottery mogul Josiah Wedgewood, hardly surprising as Lady Diana contributed designs for the potter’s Jasper ware.

Fragments of clay pipes, the cigarette butt of an earlier age, less offensive and a useful dating device, were discovered. As tobacco prices dropped, bowl sizes increased and this along with pipemakers marks make pipes easily dateable.

More than 300 years on, the letters of 17th century Lady Johanna St John have contributed to the design of the restored walled garden. Those responsible for the 21st century planting have where possible selected plants that would have been popular in Lady Johanna’s day. In the 17th century the purchase of a tulip bulb could lead to bankruptcy. Thankfully today they are a tad cheaper.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yet another John St John (c1746-1793)

This John St John was born in about 1746, the youngest child and third son of John 2nd Viscount St John and his wife Anne, daughter and heiress of Sir Robert Furnese. It was this couple who set about transforming the medieval mansion house and deerpark at Lydiard – John had the vision and Anne had the money.

Anne Furnese

Their eldest son was Frederick, the infamous ‘Bully’ who married and divorced Lady Diana Spencer. Second son Henry was a General and MP for Wootton Bassett. Daughter Elizabeth Louisa, born in 1744 married William 1st Baron Bagot and tragically lost three of her children across a three day period during an epidemic of scarlet fever in June 1773. John completed the family. Sadly his mother Anne died in 1747 and his father just a year later.

Elizabeth Louisa
Young John was educated at Eton 1756-63, the school favoured by successive generations of the St John family. He then attended Trinity College, Oxford before studying law at Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple. He was called to the bar in 1770.

With brother Henry taking the family parliamentary seat at Wootton Bassett, John was elected as MP for Newport on the Isle of Wight in 1773. The newly elected MP made his maiden speech on June 10, 1773 in defence of Lord North’s East India Regulating Act – an act of parliament which sought to overhaul the management of the extensive and powerful East India Company. Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guildford, who served as Prime Minister between 1770-1782, shared a kinship with the supportive John St. John. Frederick’s stepmother, Catherine Furnese, his father’s third wife, was half sister to John’s mother Anne.

John went on to serve as MP for Eye in Suffolk for six years before being re-elected for Newport in 1780. He was also Surveyor General of Crown Lands, a lucrative post estimated to be worth £1,400 a year, from 1775-84.

So what kind of man was this junior member of the St John family? Opinions varied widely. John’s eldest brother Frederick wrote to George Selwyn in 1766 - “The intricacies of law, which may puzzle some of the peers on this occasion, I fancy are great, and I do most heartily lament with you that my brother has turned his thoughts to intrigue, dress, and all the personal accomplishments of the most refined Macaroni. Had he not done so, I doubt not but his clear apprehension, and very distinct and short method of explaining himself, would have made him a match upon this occasion, for a Mansfield or a Camden.” Perhaps he could have even followed in the footsteps of his famous uncle, statesman and orator Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke.

However John was described as delivering “a legalistic speech, precious and precise” when he spoke on the third reading of the Massachusetts Bay Bill, which may or may not be a compliment, while A M Storer wrote to Lord Carlisle on June 28, 1781 that “John St John is more dull, more tedious, more important than ever.”

John turned his hand to writing and his work includes a quantity of blank verse, a book entitled Observations on the Land Revenue of the Crown and a pamphlet against Paine’s Rights of Man. He also wrote two plays - a tragedy called Mary, Queen of Scots starring the celebrated Mrs Sarah Siddons in the title role and The Island of Marguerite, an opera in two acts, both produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1789.

Described as both a fop and a Macaroni (an 18th century English Dandy and fashionista) you get the impression that our John was a complex character.

John died at his home in Park Street, Grosvenor Square on the night of Tuesday October 8, 1793. He was interred seven days later in the family vault at St Mary’s alongside his brother Frederick. His brother Henry raised a marble mural tablet with an affectionate verse. The memorial can be seen in the south aisle, close to his John's burial place.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

John St John (1702-1748) 2nd Viscount St John

John St John 2nd Viscount St John is the man we have to thank for Lydiard House as we know it today. Well actually it's his wife,wealthy heiress Anne Furnese, we should really thank as while he might have had the vision it was her money that paid for the remodelling of the old medieval mansion.

John was born on May 3, 1702, one of four surviving children from the marriage of reprobate Henry St John and his second wife Angelica Pelissary.

John studied at Eton before being sent to complete his education in Paris in 1720. On his return to England he took up the position of Comptroller of the Customs of London in reversion, a post his father had negotiated with the Duchess of Kendal, George I's mistress. It is believed Henry had paid the Duchess £4,000 for the reversion of the customs sinecure worth £1,200 a year for the lives of his two younger sons John and Holles. This wasn't the first time Henry had used his royal connections to advantage. He was said to have bought his title from the Duchess in 1716 as well.

John married Anne in 1729 and the newly weds set up home at 51 Brook Street in a new property that today lies beneath the foundations of  Claridges. Once Anne came into her inheritance the couple began work on Lydiard, dividing their time between these two properties and the manor house at Battersea. One can't help but wonder how much time and effort John put into his role as Tory MP for Wootton Bassett as he completed his grand designs on both a London and a country property.

This portrait of John in his coronation robes is one of two that hang in Lydiard House. I suppose once you've shelled out on a bit of ermine you want to get your money's worth out of it.

The coronation of George II took place in 1727 which would tie in nicely with the youthful appearance of John in this portrait and the lifespan of the artist, Scottish portrait painter William Aikman who died in 1731.

Anne died in the summer of 1747 and within a year John had remarried. He married his second wife Hester Clarke at St Anne's, Soho on June 19, 1748 but within less than six months he was dead. John is buried in the St John vault beneath St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

A plan of the new and the old

Lydiard House as it is today.