Swindon’s Lydiard House is one of the South West’s lesser known historic houses, which deserves greater merit, writes Emma Kay.
As a dedicated city dweller with a fifteen year career living in London and working in senior roles across major National Museums, including the British Museum, Lydiard House became a haven on relocating to Swindon.
Lydiard offers a fantastic range of opportunities for volunteers and lovers of the historic environment to share in its wonderful history and beautiful architecture.
As a former Museum educationalist, a course with the V&A and a vocational position at Lydiard House enabled me to transfer my skills into more conservation based practice. Originally trained as a museum interpreter it is impressive to observe a small team, as well as volunteers dedicated to educational provision at the house; providing a wide range of schools and families activities including regular trails, workshops and quizzes, alongside specialist events for adults including talks and tours.
Lydiard has an ongoing conservation policy and plan in place, of which I have contributed both in terms of my part-time museum assistant role and by way of my training through the V&A. A committed acquisition policy means that the Collections Manager is always alert to sourcing items of the collection pertaining to the house country-wide.
In 2010 a portrait of the Third Earl of Warwick was acquired with the support of external funding, a portrait that had been absent from the house for almost seventy years. The entrance has been re-configured over the years to accommodate wheelchair users and large print guides are available for those with visual impairments, together with audio guides in almost every room. Pictured centre, Collections Manager Sophie Cummings with the Warwick portrait surrounded by others decorating the house
The face of the house is represented by the wonderful team of front-of-house staff who attend to the needs of visitors, balance the books and care for the collections, applying basic cleaning and maintenance on a daily basis.
Over the years Lydiard House has developed a considerable volunteer network throughout the community, providing research, display and collections care under the guidance of the Collections Manager. The site offers both locals and surrounding communities to participate in large-scale local events such as the Big Arts Day and Heritage Open Days, in addition to opening its grounds for regular concerts, theatre and specialist days including re-enactments and archaeological digs.
I recently discovered that my great grandfather was born in Swindon, just a few hundred metres up the road from where we live. He left Swindon for Wales where he worked as a railway clerk and became instrumental in building the small town of Neyland in Pembrokeshire which was founded by Brunel.
So I now feel that my own heritage is closely connected with Swindon and working at Lydiard House is a privilege, as a historic building that remains at the heart of our community.