In her own words, Gina Akers, great granddaughter of Francis Akers, who gifted Lydiard Park to Swindon, talks about what the site means for her and her family.
In 1943 my Great-Grandfather Councillor and Alderman ‘Francis Elliott Akers’ gifted Lydiard Mansion and handed over the Park to the community stating: “I am glad that the community may be possessed of 150 acres of one of the most beautiful spots in the county”.
He was well loved by the community and renowned for standing up for the welfare of people. One story tells of him calling into work houses on the way to Warminster unannounced to check that good standards of food and provisions were maintained at all times, and not just put on for when he made official visits!
He was particularly recognised for his support of the elderly. After he died a portrait of him was commissioned from donations by around 1000 pensioners, it was given a place of honour in the old Penhill Common Room and inscribed “Our champion fighter and great gentleman.”
Akers Way, Akers Roundabout and Akers Court were name after him and he was the proprietor of the Vastern Sawmills. He was Mayor of Swindon from 1949-1950 and his Christmas Card as Mayor in 1949 featured a photograph of Lydiard Mansion House.
His funeral in 1965 was so well attended by the community it became a civic occasion. Lydiard House and Park was hailed by newspapers as his memorial as it still is today.
In 1943 in his own hand written account of his involvement with the Lydiard estate he writes of how he was prepared to “take whatever the Corporation had fixed as a fair sum”. This allowed the Swindon Corporation to just pay what they could afford to obtain Lydiard Park so it would be entrusted to Swindon Council for the benefit of the community.
He went on to write of how he assured the Town Clerk “that the Corporation should not be financially worse off because I had bought the whole and that it should have Lot 9 (the Park) at whatever figure they had arranged, this irrespective of the fact that I obviously had given more for the whole than the Corporation were prepared to give”. He also stated how the arrangement “does not include one penny for the Mansion” so it was truly gifted to the community.
The Swindon Corporation offered just £4,500 which was really a small notional sum for such a vast site of 150 acres of Parkland, and he accepted it. This was a real leap of faith and true gesture of altruism.
To put this figure into context in 1946 The Swindon Corporation paid a huge £16,000 for Lawn Mansion including only 52 acres of land, with the mansion in such bad condition it had to be demolished. They had only given around a quarter of this price for Lydiard Park (150 acres) and ‘not a penny’ for Lydiard Mansion House. The Lydiard arrangement included almost three times as much land as the Lawn purchase but had been handed over for £11,500 less than what was paid for Lawn, and included the gifted Lydiard Mansion House.
It’s unlikely he even made his money back on Lydiard Park when handing it over to the Swindon Corporation and he clearly didn’t on Lydiard Mansion House. Speaking of Lydiard Park in 1943 he told the North Wilts Herald & Advertiser that “he had purchased the estate in the hope that it would be acquired by the Corporation and preserved for all time for the benefit of the community”
If he hadn’t bought Lydiard at the auction that day it would have been bought privately and the land developed. In a letter detailing his own account of the auction day he tells of a Mr Maundrell who was looking to buy the ‘whole lot’ with designs to utilise the land for private business.
Today we all have free access to Lydiard Park and have the House and Park to enjoy thanks to my Great-Grandfather Francis Elliott Akers.
Like my Great-Grandfather I was born and raised in Swindon and attended Lydiard Millicent school. Just as he did and in a long standing family tradition I have run my own businesses. As a local business person I have sat on the board of InSwindon (the town centre management company) and from start-up owned and ran aqua-G Salon in The Brunel Centre in the Town. I was in the Channel TV series The Salon and I am now a TV & Radio Presenter having presented on ITV’s This Morning, BBC 1’s Fake Britain, ITV’s Alan Titchmarsh show and QVC.
My family are distressed that Swindon Borough Council have decided they can no longer provide a subsidy to cover the running costs of the House and Park, and bids for the management of the site are in progress.
Lydiard House and Park must stay for the benefit of the community and freely accessible by the people of Swindon and beyond. I can’t imagine not being able to visit Lydiard Park as we do today and I find it bizarre that I’m having to strive to protect for the community something that a member of my family has already given them.
The ideal scenario would be that Swindon Borough Council would find a way not to lease out Lydiard Park at all. In failing that my family and myself hope to see a real community bid by a credible group with no conflicts of interest, that are truly representative of the people, that consults with and engages the community, is transparent to the community and openly accountable to the public.
It has to be a substantiated sustainable bid that will protect the future of Lydiard House and Park for the community, and maintain the jobs of the staff through a genuine community lead proposal that honestly serves the people Lydiard House and Park was intended for.
Gina is keen to hear from people about their love for Lydiard Park and concerns for its future, she’s also happy to answer questions and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org & on Twitter @ginaakers