Monday, 28 December 2009
St. Mary's Church, haunted by a menacing cowled figure
A friend of mine recently challenged me to write something spooky about Swindon. Now I'm not one to shrink from a challenge but I have to say, on this occasion, trying to find anything remotely ghostly to write about Swindon was proving quite a challenge in itself. I guess I should not have been too surprised, when Swindon’s only claim to fame appears to be a series of mini-roundabouts unimaginatively christened ‘the magic roundabout’ - sorry Swindon, just kidding. That aside and after some arduous searching, I was lucky enough to receive a tip-off from another friend who duly pointed me in the direction of Lydiard House on the outskirts of the town in the village of Lydiard Tregoze. As it turned out, Lydiard House and the adjacent church of St. Mary's have acquired quite a haunted history over the years, especially the church with its sinister spectre.
Lydiard House and Grounds
Lydiard House was built in the 17th century and is a fine example of Palladian architecture. It was occupied for some 200 years by the St. John lineage, pronounced sin-jin. Today, the house is owned by Swindon Borough Council and used primarily as a conference centre. The council have done an admirable job in renovating the grounds and lake, and are to be commended for their efforts in making Lydiard House and park a pleasant experience when visiting.
Haunted Lydiard House
Probably the most frequently seen of Lydiard's ghosts, is that of Sir John St. John. A staunch Royalist who’s life had been marred by tragedy when he lost three of his sons in the English Civil Wars. His misfortune continued after the war, as he was reduced to poverty by the parliamentarians because of his Royal support. His gusto and determination however proved the driving force which enabled him to rebuild his fortunes and restored his wealth.
His ghost has been spotted in the Morning Room and the adjoining Library, where staff and visitors have reported seeing him leaning casually against the fireplace. A former caretaker by the name of Mrs Ingram said of the ghost, 'he appears quite solid, just like you or I and if it wasn’t for his sixteenth century clothes, then he would quite easily be mistaken for a living person'. Sir John’s ghost is not confined to the house it would seem, as he has been seen several times outside strolling about the estate and sometimes offering assistance to startled visitors. His presence is frequently preceded by a strong sweet smell of tobacco. His ghost has been describe as morose and melancholy, not surprising given the tragedies and misfortunes he endured in life.
There is a splendid effigy of Sir John inside the church of St. Mary's, together with those of his two wives and also a stunning gilt statue of his son Edward. This particular statue is often referred to as the ’Golden Cavalier’, now what a splendid ghost he would make.
Back inside the house, the spectre of a woman dressed in white has been seen several times on the staircase. No one knows for sure who she is but some speculate she could be the ghost of Lady Blunt, who’s apparition is said to appear every 30th October on the anniversary of her fiancés murder. This story is not confirmed however, but the ghost certainly is.
The grounds are also said to be haunted by the ghost of the little drummer boy who has been seen silently tapping out a beat on a drum slung across his shoulder.
A phantom coach and horses haunts the avenue that leads up to the House. These stories were started by park rangers in the 1940's but continue to this day.
St Mary's Church
The church of St. Mary’s, which is situated in the grounds of Lydiard Park, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a grey-cowled figure. Many who have witnessed the apparition report a strong feeling of malevolence. There have been several members of staff who, in the past, have refused point blank to enter the church alone after experiencing feelings of someone watching them, or being followed. There have also been reports of organ music emanating from within the church after it has been locked up and secured. Other phenomena include the sound of a weeping woman and flitting shadows perceived peripherally.
Lydiard House and park is open to the public but if you wish to visit the church, then you will have obtain permission from the house reception.