2023 marks the 80th anniversary of Swindon Corporation’s visionary purchase of Lydiard Park for the people of Swindon in November 1943. Against a backdrop of World War II, Swindon Corporation purchased Lydiard House and 147 acres of surrounding parkland for £4,500. It was a brave and visionary move, led by the then Town Clerk, David Murray John. It was also controversial, given the needs of the town, the presence of an American Hospital Camp in the park and the potential cost of restoration. However, Murray John and the Corporation had a vision for the future in which Lydiard Park would play an important role, providing access to the countryside and recreation as well as culture, heritage and education.
From 1950 to 1960 Lydiard Park provided temporary homes for hundreds of local people in the converted military camp. The parkland was a children’s paradise. Many had left cramped housing conditions in the town and surrounding villages and the huts with inside toilets, heating and new kitchen appliances were a boon.
The House opened to the public in 1955 and the park began to draw a wider town-wide audience enjoying picnics and walks. It also became an exciting destination for Cub Scouts and Brownie camps. In the 1980’s the council introduced sports pitches, purchased a further 113 acres of the original parkland and built the Visitor Centre with its refreshment facilities.
In 2004-7 over one thousand local people got involved in the £5.3 million Lydiard Park Project Restoration Project which reinstated the lost lake and Walled Garden and installed miles of paths and new woodland. The restored park was formerly opened by HRH Princess Anne in June 2007. Since then, the popularity of the park has soared and it provides a venue for music festivals, steam and vintage rallies, Parkrun and many other community activities.
“In 1943, an estate that had belonged in private hands since medieval times became a people’s park. The restoration of the landscape and the rescue of the house took decades to achieve and the journey has been shared by local people. We are grateful to all those who have recounted their memories and opened their photo albums to relive their experiences of Lydiard Park over the last 80 years. We hope you enjoy this special collection and do keep sending us more!" Sarah Finch-Crisp, Chair, Friends of Lydiard Park.
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