The 400th anniversary celebrations of the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park continued in October with a family reunion the like of which has never been seen before at Lydiard House, writes Fran Bevan.
Forty two American descendents of the St John family gathered at the Palladian mansion by invitation of Palmer Hamilton, a lawyer from Mobile, Alabama and Prior of the United States Order of St. John.
He can trace his ancestry back through the Tucker family, who founded Bermuda, to Sir Richard St George, the uncle of Sir John St John, 1st Baronet who commissioned the St John polyptych, installed in the church on 20 July 1615.
Referring to his visit to Lydiard last year Palmer said: “I travelled to Swindon with my daughter and we were so well received by the Friends of Lydiard Park and the congregation of St Mary’s. I said I would organise an event for family members to learn more about our connection with Lydiard Park at the source.”
Paul Gardner, chair of St Mary’s Building and Conservation Appeal, opened the multi panelled memorial
to the gasps of the American visitors and described how Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted after his visit to Lydiard in 2014: “I am enchanted at St Mary’s.”
The packed day of events included tours of Lydiard House, the walled garden and church, as well as talks about the link between the St John family and the Royal House of Tudor.
Speakers included Canon Brian Carne who talked about his fascination with the polyptych and his detailed research over 50 years.
Peter O’Donoghue, York Herald, talked about the St George dynasty of Heralds, in particular Sir Richard St George who married Elizabeth St John and was responsible for compiling the St John genealogy on the outer panels of the memorial.
Palmer said: “The talks have been so well done, we’ve all learnt so much or seen our existing knowledge reinforced. Over the years I’ve written hundreds of pages about the family tree but listening to descriptions about the family from others always provides fascinating insights.”
A Choral Evensong at St Mary’s was followed by a reception in the house hosted by the Friends of Lydiard Park.
This is the third visit Palmer has made to the St John ancestral home. He said: “We’ve always known about Lydiard Park as the St John family country residence; coming here in 2009 was like a pilgrimage. Up to now we’ve been coming down [from London] for the day. On the next occasion I’d like to stay in the area because of the welcome we are always given.”
Fundraising for essential conservation of St Mary’s continues and more than £186,000 has now been secured. This includes all the funds required for the urgent conservation work on the 18th Century Reredos which begins in early November.
The refined and refocused bid of about £790,000 for the larger conservation project was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund in August, with a decision expected in December.
Top, St John family descendant Palmer Hamilton holding up personal banner awarded after he was created a Knight of the Order of St John by HM the Queen in June 2014, with the polyptych at St Mary’s Church in Lydiard Park in the background, pictured by Richard Wintle of Calyx. Below, family members outside the church