Matilda Talbot

Matilda Talbot

on Tuesday, 24 March 2015. Posted in Matilda Talbot

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 Talbot in Wren uniform 1914-1918

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”.

Matilda Talbot and the Hünerson family in Estonia

on Wednesday, 13 April 2016. Posted in Matilda Talbot

In the 1930s, Matilda Talbot sailed to Estonia three times to stay with the Hünerson family who welcomed her like a member of their own family. Less than a decade later, the events of World War II were to cut this relationship short, bringing heartbreak for Maltilda and her ‘Estonian family’.

Matilda Hunersons 1

Photograph of Matilda Talbot (1871-1958) and the Hünerson family in Estonia in winter 1938. (1) There is no caption with the photograph but we could surmise as follows: Matilda Talbot second from right next to Mr. Jaan Hünerson. On the left - the Hünerson girls with the youngest daughter, Öilme at the front. Far left - Helgi’s husband, Elmar Just. Eleonore Hünerson is not in the photograph and may therefore be operating the camera.


Matilda Talbot in the Wrens (1918-1919)

on Sunday, 19 June 2016. Posted in Matilda Talbot

Matilda Talbot's entry into the newly formed Women's Royal Naval Service, or simply the Wrens, would have surprised few, for it was entirely in keeping with her character. She was deeply patriotic, thoroughly modern in her outlook, and inspired by a line of illustrious women at Lacock Abbey.


Matilda WRENS uniform WSHC

Photograph (detail) of Matilda Talbot in Wrens uniform, circa 1918, probably at Cranwell, Lincolnshire. [1]


‘To sing, to dance and to cook in all languages’ (1) : Matilda Talbot's passion for languages.

on Tuesday, 05 April 2016. Posted in Matilda Talbot


Matilda in Vezelay with on terrace

Matilda Talbot (B. Jul. 15, 1871. D. Mar. 25, 1958) (2) seated on the terrace of the Cheval Blanc, Vezelay, May 1957. Photograph taken by Mr Sam Walker (3).

"My own life has been rather like a kaleidoscope" (4), writes Matilda Talbot in her autobiography. For somebody who experienced the two world wars at first hand, travelled in three continents, and went on to unexpectedly inherit Lacock Abbey, her life was truly kaleidoscopic; a constantly changing sequence of patterns punctuated by bursts of colour.

It was perhaps due to her natural flair for languages, combined with her kind and down-to-earth manner, that many of these colourful experiences came about. She readily accepted invitations to visit old friends and new acquaintances in far-off places, sometimes travelling with her family, but never fearful of travelling independently. When she did travel on her own, she was never alone, striking up friendships with passengers and crew, on-board boats as she tried out her language skills.