Long-term followers of Bath Newseum will know how, during the Pandemic, l became very familiar with St Mary’s Church at Upper Swainswick.
It was a resting point on my daily walk out into the countryside during lockdown – a charming little 12th-century church nestling on the slope of a beautiful valley on the southern edge of the Cotswolds.
It didn’t take me long to spot two very important ledger stones bearing a very famous Georgian name. It’s the burial slab of John Wood the Elder and – alongside – that of one of his daughters.
Though uninscribed, it’s believed his son John is also buried there. Together they were the architects and developers of 18th-century Bath including the Circus, Royal Crescent, Queen Square and Prior Park.
No one knows for certain why the Woods should choose this last resting place a fair distance away from their architectural achievements but it’s known John Wood Senior believed every word of the Bladud legend about the leper prince being cured in the thermal waters his pigs had discovered.
Bladud was said to have tried to fly on homemade wings from nearby Solsbury Hill and fell to his death – John Wood believed – at the site where this Christian church was built.
This morning we were excited because archaeologists from Bristol University were coming to do some ground radar above the ledger stones.
We wanted to know whether this might reveal a family vault or give some indication as to how many people were buried there.
Initial soundings were not looking too promising when l spoke to historian and John Wood specialist David Crellin who – like me was watching Alex and Costas carrying out this specialised ‘geophysical imaging.’
I’ve long thought that the tomb of John Wood at Swainswick was a holding
grave until an intended chapel was built at the back of the Royal
Crescent. It’s on the plan that goes with the indenture that Wood the
Younger signed with Margaret Garrard in 1764. I’m feel it’s likely he
meant it to be the family vault – so that his father would be buried
close to the amazing piece of town planning that the two Woods designed.
And it would explain why the grave at Swainswick is so tucked away out
of sight. Sadly, Wood’s chapel was never built. This is purely my
opinion – please don’t quote it as a fact.
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