A volunteer's experience

on Thursday, 07 May 2015. 1

Jackie Butler, a volunteer for the Lacock Unlocked project, describes her experience of listing one of the 120 boxes that needed to be catalogued for the project. She started volunteering in October 2013 and listed the box, mostly containing late 19th century letters, and then moved on to do some research for the project's website.

The box was a mixed box of items covering the whole of the 19th century - private letters between members of the Fox Talbot family, business letters, letters of community interest, architectural interest letters, photographic processes discussed and enquired about, bills, receipts, pamphlets and booklets and various advertising leaflets about medicinal items.

Lacock High Street

Some items may look a bit dry and boring but even the lengthy bundles of bills and receipts show how money was spent, what was purchased, where from and the cost, all of which are very interesting. I found the very long bills showing the various works carried out on Lacock Abbey, the estate, the farms and the cottages were a wealth of information about the type of work carried out, the materials used and the amounts, the man hours it took to complete the work and how much the workers or contractors were paid. I found the time that it took for these people to be paid for their work – sometimes weeks or months or even the following year truly amazing. How did these people live in the meantime? For anyone studying a working life in a rural area these bills have a great deal of information.

There is a set of instructions on how to obtain and erect Danger and Caution Boards for intended use upon hills which an average rider, a stranger to the district, would regard as dangerous and are provided gratis by the Cyclists Touring Club. It is the attention to detail I found quite remarkable for what are just street signs.


The Talbot family were generally very interested in local and world affairs. They were caring and liberal in their opinions and thoughts. As Charles Henry Talbot was part of the parish council there are letters showing an early interest in drinking water, laying various types of pipes, what can be done about taking away sewage, the need to keep rivers clean and an awareness of disease if this did not happen. The interest in having a doctor set up his practice in the area. The interest in National Schools and education for the local children – and there are income and expenditure sheets which show which worthy people in the area contributed and how much as schools were obviously privately funded. I did wonder how some worthy people justified the fact that they said they could not afford to make contributions and wrote this in letters to Charles.

The family letters showed the closeness between them and the general affection they had for each other. They travelled a great deal in this country and abroad and were very interested in the architecture of churches and other buildings wherever they visited. The box includes some letters from William Henry Fox Talbot himself to his son Charles.

There were several items I really enjoyed handling – some lovely small Christmas cards and some very small calendars enclosed with them as little gifts – beautifully printed with a whole month on each tiny page. But I think the item which I found most thought provoking was a book written by Charles whereby he was discussing certain points in the Book of Genesis. He was writing this several years before Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was published. His belief in the Bible was so very real and came across the page as honest and deeply felt. I admire the fact that he had such a belief but was still questioning things he felt were not quite right.

Jackie Butler, Lacock Unlocked volunteer