History lovers have cause to celebrate after St Mary’s Church in Lydiard Park has been removed from the English Heritage Buildings and Structures At Risk Register, following completion of the first phase of renovation work begun in 2011, writes Fran Bevan, and members of the congregation will be opening the building on several Sundays between 27 April and the end of June – see below.
With the building now weathertight, Paul Gardner, chair of St Mary’s building and conservation appeal, is looking forward to the second stage of restoration work.
The cost of the project is an estimated £1 million, and was started with a £50,000 English Heritage grant.
Financial support for the continuing work is being sought through various funding bodies, including a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Paul said: “The next phase is to restore and reorder the pews, some of which date from the 18th Century, and to continue with the conservation and restoration of the wall paintings.”
There are also plans to create an historical interpretation area to tell the story of this nationally important parish church.
Paul added that visitor numbers increased in 2013 as a result of the The White Queen series on the BBC.
Although the remarkable family tree is referred to as the St John tryptych, it is in fact a polyptych with more panels hidden away under folding screens.
Pictured: Paul Gardner with the usually hidden section of the unique multi-panel genealogical table in the church. Photo: Richard Wintle www.calyxpix.com
Rarely on display is a panel which illustrates the story of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king. Arguably the most powerful woman in the 15th Century, she shares ancestry with the St John family of Lydiard Park, through her mother Margaret Beauchamp.
Margaret Beaufort – the ‘Red Queen’ played by actress Amanda Hale – was a central character in the BBC drama, and her place in the St John family tree has fuelled people’s imaginations today.
Visitors are encouraged to look out for other Tudor references in the church, including the Tudor roses set in the ceiling. Whilst Queen Elizabeth I is central to the Red Queen panel you won’t find any mention of Henry VIII. Apparently, there are some relatives that everyone would rather ignore.
Paul and members of the St Mary’s congregation will be provided guided tours and talks to the treasures of the church between 2pm and 4.30pm on 27 April and 25 May.
The artwork will be open each Sunday afternoon in June, as well as during the church flower festival on 27, 28 and 29 June.
The Friends of Lydiard Park hold their Annual General Meeting at Lydiard House on Saturday 17 May, 2.30pm, and will includes a news update, refreshments and a talk about the £1 million Conservation Project at St Mary’s Church – the church in the park – by Sarah Finch-Crisp, formerly head of heritage at Swindon Council and recently retired as director of Chiswick House and Gardens Trust in London.
Her talk will outline a major bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and will describe the church’s plans to secure and preserve the building’s fine fittings, paintings, glass and monuments as well as introducing new interpretation and improved access.
The charitable trust is dedicated to the protection, restoration and conservation of Lydiard House and Park, including St Mary’s. To join and attend the AGM, download a membership application form from lydiardparkfriends.org.uk and return it to the secretary, Julie Holland: email@example.com or post it to The Secretary, The Friends of Lydiard Park, Lydiard House, SN5 3PA.
Annual membership is £10 for individuals and £18 for joint/family membership. Benefits include free entry to the house and walled garden, newsletters, invitations to events and visits to other historic properties.