Matilda Theresa Talbot (born Matilda Gilchrist-Clark in 1871) was the last owner of Lacock Abbey. She inherited it from her unmarried uncle Charles Henry Talbot. He died in 1916 and left it to her in his will. She had an older brother William (her other brother Jack predeceased his uncle) and it was expected that William would inherit because he was older, a man, and married with children. Matilda, on the other hand, was unmarried and had no children, but it can be assumed that the reason she inherited the estate was because she had spent so much of her life living with her uncle at Lacock, with her aunt Rosamond Talbot until her death and then for the next ten years. She continued to live at Lacock until her own death in 1956, although for a decade of that she actually lived as a tenant of the National Trust having given the abbey and most of the estate over to the public in 1944. She offered the estate to William when her uncle died, but he declined it, saying that he would always be on hand to give advice if she needed it. There are letters that survive from William giving very good advice, and there are also some documents which show the influence and assistance of the agent, Richard Foley, who had been employed as a young man by Charles Henry Talbot and continued to work for the estate until the early 1940s. It appears from the estate records that she did very well being a Lady of the Manor. She ran the estate well, taking advice when she needed it and letting her agent help as much as he could. But she enjoyed running a large estate and the significance that came with it. She certainly put her own stamp on Lacock Abbey and its part in 20th century history.
Matilda was a very colourful character and this comes across in the sources in the Lacock archive as well as through personal memories – there are many people still alive today who remember her clearly even if they were young children when she was still living. Her autobiography, My life and Lacock Abbey, is another good source of knowledge of her character. The book describes her early life and her association with Lacock as she was growing up, and then how she took over the abbey and enabled the estate to flourish in the 20th century. Lord Methuen, in his introduction to her book, writes “She has been a great traveller, with a passion for learning foreign languages. A woman of many parts she has been, amongst other things, a professional and highly qualified cookery instructor. After inheriting Lacock Abbey from her uncle, she proceeded, after paying off the death duties, to put the house and estate in order and on an even financial keel and to live there: eventually, in 1944, making the property over to the National Trust as a measure of assuring its future existence and continuity”.