St Mary's Church Lydiard Tregoze

St. John Family Monuments

Image Credit: Keith (M), Swindon Photographic Society

Nicholas and Elizabeth St. John monument

The first of the great series of St. John monuments was erected in 1592 by John St. John in memory of his parents, Nicholas St. John and his wife Elizabeth (Blount). Their eldest daughter married Richard St. George, who was a professional herald and genealogist. He provided the information for the heraldry on the monument. Richard’s son and grandsons also became Garter Kings of Arms, which meant there were three generations of expert genealogists able to advise on heraldry — a major feature in the church and particularly the St. John Polyptych.

Polyptych

It was in the 17th century that St. Mary’s became famous for the quality its monuments. Sir John St. John of Lydiard Park, a wealthy country gentleman, employed artists of the highest calibre to create a range of Renaissance monuments.  The most notable of these is the St. John family Polyptych.

Behind its huge doors bearing heraldic tables that demonstrate the family’s pedigree, the central panel (1615) reveals a life size painting honouring his parents, John St. John and Lucy (Hungerford). They are seen kneeling on a sarcophagus. To one side stand Sir John himself and his wife, Anne (Leighton). His six sisters appearn the other. Sir John’s father had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth 1st at Lydiard Tregoze in 1592 and it would have been an additional source of family pride that all his sisters made marriages befitting their rank.

The painting is believed to be by the court painter William Larkin, who painted other contemporary portraits of members of the family. The Polyptych is open on special occasions, including Heritage Open Days — see our Events section for details.

A full history is available in Curiously Painted – An illustrated history of the St. John family polyptych at Lydiard Tregoze by the late Canon Brian Carne.

East Window

This beautiful window was commissioned by Sir John St. John in memory of his uncle and benefactor, Oliver 1st Viscount Grandison, who died in 1630.  Unlike the largely secular Polyptych, this memorial contains religious references in the depictions of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. However, they no doubt feature due to the St. John (pronounced Sinjun) name. The window also traces the descent  of the manor of Lydiard Tregoze to Sir John through several families that had held it.

The window was created by the master glass painter Abraham Van Linge, the greatest glass painter in England in the first half of the seventeenth century, whose distinctive sign is a Dutch barge. Van Linge was also responsible for an extraordinary window in Lydiard House. This contains over a hundred different diamond-shaped quarries, exquisitely painted with animals, fruits, flowers, birds and figures. The barge motif is visible on both windows.

St. John Chapel

Divided from the Chancel by a Tuscan colonnade, the 17th century St. John Chapel is home to many of the family monuments, including Sir John’s own splendid tomb.

Were it to be removed lock, stock and barrel to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London it would cause a national sensation.

Simon Jenkins, England’s Thousand Best Churches

The chapel walls are richly painted to simulate a burgundy-coloured marble, the ceiling a picture of bright skies and painted clouds. Over the years, the paintwork has become obscured by layers of dirt, but conservation work is currently revealing the chapel’s original vivid colours and decorative schemes.

Sir John St. John Monument

In 1634, Sir John commissioned a splendid eight-poster tomb to himself and his two wives. In order to make it fit, the South Chapel had to be reconfigured.  The monument’s exceptionally fine and delicate craftsmanship is attributed to Samuel Baldwin, a highly regarded stone-carver from Gloucester.

On Sir John’s right, we see his first wife Anne (Leighton), holding a baby. She was to die after giving childbirth. On his left lies his second wife Margaret (Lady Grobham).  Surviving sons kneel at their heads, daughters at their feet. Children who did not survive infancy are shown beneath. In pride of place above the decorative canopy is the St. John family emblem – a falcon. You can see numerous St. John falcons in both the Church and Lydiard House.

In 1970, disaster struck when iron cramps gave way and the canopy, complete with falcon, came crashing down inside the monument. Major work followed which saw the whole monument being taken apart and re-erected on a damp-proof base. An exciting discovery made at the time was that the railings around the monument had originally been a vivid blue, now restored, rather than the uniform brown which was introduced into the church in Victorian times.

Mompesson monument

Also thought to be the work of Samuel Baldwin, a monument to Sir John’s eldest sister Katherine and her husband Sir Giles Mompesson can be seen over the family door in the South Chapel. Sir Giles had accumulated great wealth, thanks to obtaining a patent from James 1st for the licencing of inns, as well as a lucrative monopoly for making gold and silver thread. On account of this he was publically loathed, a symbol of all that was considered corrupt in the courts of both James 1st and Charles 1st. Sir Giles escaped proceedings against him in 1621 and fled to a life of exile abroad. He commissioned the monument in memory of his wife Katherine, following her death in 1633.

The Golden Cavalier

The last great St. John family monument commemorates Sir John’s son, Captain Edward St. John, who was fatally injured fighting for the king at the second Battle of Newbury. Edward died 5 ½  months later at home at Lydiard.  The statue was erected in 1645 by his grieving father, who had already lost two elder sons fighting for the Royalist cause, though Edward is the only one to be commemorated at Lydiard.

Edward is seen emerging from his battle tent wearing an exactly modelled cavalry officer’s uniform of the day, right down to the string across his shoulder from which the spanner to wind his wheel-lock pistol would have hung. His glittering figure was a late 19th century introduction: paint investigations show the statue was originally a marbled black. Underneath, a stone relief shows Edward leading his cavalry into battle.

The monument inspired a striking painting by the 20th century English artist John Piper, which can be seen in the Library of Lydiard House.