'Lacock Unlocked' is unlocking secrets already!

on Tuesday, 20 August 2013. Posted in Archives

It is about two months now since I started working on the Lacock collection and every day I am finding something noteworthy in the boxes. The collection contains a range of beautiful and informative documents: legal documents and correspondence are particularly good at providing valuable insights into the Talbot, Davenport, Feilding and related families who are associated with the Lacock estate. Different documents appeal to different researchers according to their area of research but also their personal preferences. An example here is a series of letters discovered as part of the Davenport collection.

Henry Davenport (1678-1731) was married twice, the second time to Barbara Ivory, the younger sister of John Ivory Talbot who was one of the owners of Lacock. Later, the Lacock estate would come into the hands of Henry and Barbara’s descendents, first in trust to their daughter-in-law Martha (Talbot, who married their son William) and then to their grandson William Davenport Talbot. Sharington Davenport (1709-1774), Henry’s son by his first wife Marie-Lucie Chardin, attended Eton and many letters have survived from his school days and into his time at Cambridge, written to his father and stepmother Barbara Davenport from him and also from his tutors and servants at Eton. These letters are fascinating, and show his character as a slightly rebellious and highly amusing schoolchild, also displayed from various letters written to his father by his aunts (spinster sisters Arabella and Leticia Davenport). Henry Davenport kept many varied letters especially from family memmembers and Sharington’s schoolboy writing is particularly clear and consistent.

When Sharington married Gratiana Rodd in 1731, the same year his father died, the correspondence dwindled and we can assume that his own material is held elsewhere, if it has survived at all. However, from his schooldays we have been spoilt for interesting letters to his parents. He could be sarcastic, for example in this letter to his father dated January 20th (1720): “I have write to you twice before which you have not answered it is not for the neglect of not writing but no doubt you are planting trees and other necessary things for the good of us children...”.

This letter is written to his father after hearing the news of his half-brother Harry’s death, on November 8th 1725: “I am mightily concerned to hear the melancholy news of the death of my dear brother Harry who I all along thought would never recover that terrible fit of sickness ... I hope dear Papa you will always find me dutyfull to you, in every thing, and making up the loss of so fine a boy and if should please God to take me away that I may enjoy hereafter eternal felicity with my dear brother in Heaven, and shall always make it my prayers that I may prove a double son...”

It is a particularly poignant letter when read in context. In the end, of Henry and Barbara’s four children, only William (later Reverend Doctor) was to survive beyond the age of 7 years old, and previous letters written by members of the family show clearly that Harry was a delightful child.

There are probably more of these letters in the collection not yet found, and it will be wonderful to piece together an even bigger picture of this young man we know so little about from this collection after his marriage.

This is just one insight into one member of one family, from one small series of letters from a son to his father, and it is not just me who has been delighted by the wit and character of Sharington. There are so many more, not just from Sharington but other members of the families and other people associated with the Lacock estate, and one of the aims of the cataloguing of this collection is to allow as many people as possible to discover individuals and events that will really interest them.

Ally McConnell
Project Archivist
Lacock Unlocked Project


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