Today the historical passion I'd like to share is for Lydiard House and Park, near Swindon in Wiltshire. If you like to visit places that are off the beaten tourist track then Lydiard is for you.
Once the home of the rich and powerful St John family, Viscounts Bolingbroke, Lydiard is a beautiful Palladian Mansion set in stunning grounds. The ground floor apartments are open to visitors and show the original furnishings and decoration, with portraits and photographs of the St John family. The "Blue Closet" is of particular interest as it is devoted to the 18th Century society artist Lady Diana Spencer who shares a common ancestry with the late Princess of Wales. Lady Diana married into the St John family - becoming the 2nd Viscountess Bolingbroke, and by her second marriage, Diana Beauclerk. Her delightful wall panels, pictures of her children and Wedgwood China incorporating her designs are on display. There is also a fascinating 17th Century painted window by Abraham Van Linge which contains over 100 pieces of exquisitely painted glass figures, flowers, tiny flies and even an elephant. I thought it was absolutely gorgeous.
The church of St Mary is close by and is considered to be one of the finest small churches in England. It contains tombs of the St John family and the spectacular Golden Cavalier, a full-size effigy of Edward St John emerging from his tent in full battledress!
The walled garden at Lydiard Park has recently been restored to it's 18th century glory, with a planting scheme based on the orginal plans, a well and a sundial centrepiece that is a replica of the orginal. The pleasure gardens were my favourite aspect of the park, though, with a beautiful duck pond and lake with ornamental cascade and a plunge pool. The plunge pool in particular was extraordinary. Built around 1820, it was intended as an aid to health although rushing outside in the winter and plunging into the lake would surely be enough to kill you if you weren't of strong constitution! Cold water cures were recommended for over-eating as well as a general aid to good health and apparently plunging into the lake at your stately home was thought to be as efficacious as sea-bathing with a very naughty 18th century poem promising it could reach the parts that other cures could not and even revive a flagging sex life! There has to be a story in there somewhere...