Visitors flocked to St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze to see the unique 17th Century polyptych during special viewings this summer.
Usually locked shut, the rare and priceless artwork was on show on Sunday afternoons in May and June, with members of the congregation describing the church’s treasures.
Visitors were particularly captivated to hear that Elizabeth I worshipped at the church in 1592 on a visit to the St John family in Lydiard House. Most were surprised that one of our greatest monarchs had been to Swindon, although the hilltop town was three miles away at the time.
Right, the portrait of St John family matriarch Margaret Beauchamp in St Mary’s.
St Mary’s Conservation Appeal coordinator Hilary Gardner said: “Our visitors, including those who came to the flower festival at the end of June, were generous in donating to the appeal.
“The Link recently reported that the church has submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. If successful the grant will enable the historic interior of the church and its many treasures to be preserved for future generations.”
However the appeal needs to raise £370,000 to match-fund the grant. The application decision is due to be delivered in a few weeks, shortly before a visit to St Mary’s by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on 13 September, which coincides with national Heritage Weekend, when the polyptych and the ‘red queen’ panel will again be open for public display.
The Archbishop of Canterbury will give his blessing to Lydiard Park’s Heritage Open Days when he visits the park.
Justin Welby will be visiting the Swindon Borough Council-owned park on Saturday, 13 September as part of a three-day visit to the Diocese of Bristol, and will cut the ribbon to officially announce the start of Heritage Open days.
Archbishop Welby will be at the historic stately home after having met for breakfast and prayer with clergy and church leaders from Swindon Churches Together, an ecumenical group of churches which work together across Swindon.
Heritage Open Days is a national annual event celebrating England’s architecture and culture by allowing visitors free access to interesting properties that are either not usually open, or would normally charge an entrance fee.
Lydiard House and Walled Garden will be open between 11am and 5pm on Saturday, 13 and Sunday, 14 September.
Visitors can tour the restored ground floor State Rooms to discover more about the lives of the St John family, who lived at Lydiard Park for over 500 years.
Next to Lydiard House, St Mary’s Church will be open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and 12noon to 5pm on Sunday. Visitors are welcome to come in to view the exceptional St John family monuments inside the church. The famous polyptych, which consists of 15 painted folded panels celebrating the heraldry of the St John family, will be opened up showing the huge inner painted panels depicting Sir John St John and his family.
Pictured right by Richard Wintle of Calyx, the rarely displayed ‘Red Queen’ panel in St Mary’s Church recording the St John family connection with Queen Elizabeth I
Outside, the Georgian ornamental fruit and flower Walled Garden will also be open to visitors free of charge, offering the chance to admire the late summer flowers, bedding plants and unique garden features including the sundial and well.
In the woodlands close to the house, you can find the Ice House. This fascinating historic structure will also be open both days giving visitors the chance to go in and find out how it was used in the past to store snow and ice to provide a way of preserving food in the summer.
Archbishop Welby will also be starting a sponsored walk and bike ride outside St Mary’s Church at 10am as part of the Ride+Stride National Churches Trust initiative in which people from all over the country walk or cycle between churches, exploring and enjoying the countryside from Cornwall to Northumberland.
The money they raise helps to preserve some of Britain’s 47,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses which are at risk of falling into serious disrepair.
The Bishop of Swindon, the Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield said: “Everyone across the Diocese is excited about the forthcoming visit of Archbishop Justin Welby and I know from conversations with him that he is really looking forward to meeting people in our local churches and communities. This event will be an excellent opportunity for just that, as well as celebrating some of our incredible local heritage and history.”
Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Economy, Regeneration and Skills, said: “Heritage Open Days are always extremely popular at Lydiard and I’m delighted Archbishop Welby has offered to take time out of his busy schedule to support this year’s event.
“The Open Days are a great chance to see an important part of Swindon’s history for free and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t seen Lydiard House, St Mary’s Church or the Walled Garden to visit them during this national celebration of our heritage.”
Click to take part in the Ride+Stride or call 01672 514301.