Standing outside, looking at what appears quite a plain English parish church, it might seem a surprise to learn that the congregation is about to embark on a £1 million conservation project with the support of Heritage Lottery and other funding. Open the door however and what is revealed is one of England’s most historic churches full of monuments to the St John family and the walls bristling with medieval wall paintings, in need of serious conservation and recognised by the Church of England as one of the 100 artworks currently most in need of conservation in its 100 Church Treasures Appeal.
When the St John family built Lydiard House in Wiltshire in the 17th and 18th centuries, they swept away the medieval village of Lydiard Tregoz, leaving only the parish church of St Mary’s which dates back to the 13th century. Inside is a fine collection of 17th century memorials to members of the St John family (later Viscounts Bolingbroke) including the ‘Golden Cavalier’, a gilded effigy of Captain Edward St John, plus a triptych attributed to William Larkin in the chancel, to which was added later a family tree and allegorical figures.
The church’s chief glory are the wall paintings from the 15th century which include depictions of St Christopher, St Michael and St Thomas Becket in the nave and a figure of Christ in the south porch. Naturally, they have faded over time and now are in need of conservation, which will be undertaken by the conservator Jane Rutherfoord and her team as part of the overall project which will include conservation of the monuments, plus improvements to access and interpretation, enabling the church to be opened up to more people and, as part of this, young people will be trained in conservation skills.