When we visited Stoneleigh Abbey they were very proud of their box pews, but I am proud of those in my old local church at Lydiard Tregoze in Lydiard Park, on the edge of Swindon. You may have seen the walled garden in the news last autumn when it became a memorial garden for members of the services who have died in Afghanistan, which Prince Harry visited. It became the memorial garden because it is so close to the soon to be – Royal – Wootton Bassett. Lydiard House belonged to the St John family – sometimes also known as Bolingbroke due to an award of a second Viscount title for services to the crown negotiating the end of a war with France. This family owned this property and land from the age of the Normans forward. However it is now owned by the Borough Council and open to the public. At one point in the St John’s history Lady Diana Spencer lived there, not Prince Harry’s mother though, his several times Great, Grandmother who married into the St John family. Unfortunately her marriage also ended in a scandalous divorce. However it is not really the St John family that I am writing about.
There used to be a medieval village about Lydiard House but as it spoilt the aspect, the St John family cleared it away. However they left the church and made this appear as their chapel. It is highly decorated with monuments to the St John family and many of the medieval wall paintings have survived. The box pews were actually put in a lot later but never-the-less they give a good visual picture of box pews which were in some churches in the 17th and 18th century. Having sat in one for many years with my young daughter they are wonderful for hiding in. Children can play to their heart’s content, I have even heard of people playing chess. As long as you are quiet no one knows what you are doing within them, all people can see are your heads and sometimes the sides are so high you cannot even see people’s heads until they stand up – although remember you are not always hidden from the vicar if he is in his pulpit.
The first picture below is that of the side aisle showing smaller box pews, although the smallest are a single pews width and length. The second is of a larger box pew before the altar. This was probably occupied by upstairs servants or perhaps a wealthy tenant farmer’s family. The third picture is of the outside entrance of the St John’s family pew. In the fourth picture I have included the St John Triptych just one of the monuments the family left in the Church. On the fourth you can see another monument which is at the back of the St John family pew, the family pew runs the length of the right hand side of the picture. This pew cannot be seen into, but the family can easily see the pulpit and the vicar can see them. On all the pictures you can see elements of the medieval paintings but the last picture I have included, which also shows the beautiful screen, shows my favourite painting of the cross and if you look closely you can see the apostles looking up at it, as well as a script on the left hand wall.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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