Amelina Petit de Billier

on Wednesday, 23 September 2015. Posted in Other

Amelina Petit de Billier was born in Paris in 1798. In 1820, she moved from France to England to join the Feilding family as their governess at Lacock Abbey.

The Feilding family consisted of Charles Feilding, his wife Lady Elisabeth (previously Talbot, nee Fox-Strangways), their two daughters Caroline and Horatia, and Lady Elisabeth's son William Henry Fox Talbot. Amelina was a similar age to William and not much older than the two girls, so she seemed to live as part of the family even though she was originally engaged to be their governess. She enjoyed her life with the Feildings very much, remaining close to the family and actually was buried in the same plot as William Henry Fox Talbot.

Amelina Petit de Billier

Cats in the Lacock archive

on Monday, 11 April 2016. Posted in Other

When I visited Lacock recently, I was privileged to meet the lovely Morag, whom I had seen featured a few times on the National Trust’s Facebook page and was delighted to meet in person. She was taking this in her stride, used to being fussed over, as one of the resident cats of Lacock.

Morag paint

Morag outside Lacock Abbey. Photo courtesy C. Hardy

The Lacock archive is as full of references to cats as there are currently cats living in and around the abbey. Although these are mostly photographs, there are also text references to cats. The earliest reference I’ve found is from the 19th century. Charles Henry Talbot, who owned Lacock from 1877, kept most of the letters written to him (although sadly didn’t make copies of the ones he sent) and from there we can find several interesting references to his home life and relationships with his family and friends – and animals! We know from correspondence that Charles had at least two cats in the last part of the 19th century, called Stripy and Bunny. It appears that he was very fond of them. Matilda Talbot, who inherited Lacock from her uncle Charles, was equally fond of them and many photographs of cats have appeared from amongst her papers.




Charles Feilding: On His Majesty's Service

on Wednesday, 09 August 2017. Posted in Other

Charles Feilding (1780-1837) was the stepfather of William Henry Fox Talbot. He married the widowed Elisabeth Talbot, nee Strangways, at Penrice church in Wales in 1804. Charles was a serving naval captain at the time of his marriage and later became a Rear Admiral.


Charles Feilding was the youngest of three children born to Commodore Charles and Sophia Feilding. His sisters were Sophia, born in 1773 and Matilda, born 1775. His mother was the sister of the Earl of Winchelsea and a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte. Charles Feilding senior was the grandson of the Duke of Denbigh and his family were descendants of the Earls of Hapsburgh. Charles Feilding senior was also a naval officer who died of gangrene due to an infected minor wound in 1783. Young Charles was only three years old when his father died.

Ela, Countess of Salisbury

on Tuesday, 24 March 2015. Posted in Other

Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. She had inherited the land following the death of her father the Earl of Salisbury who died when she was a minor. The village of Lacock already existed in some form, as it appears in the Domesday survey of 1086 where it is assigned to Edward of Salisbury. When eventually it passed to Ela and her husband, William Longspee, she decided to build a nunnery there.

Lacock Abbey

Grace Mildmay

on Wednesday, 23 September 2015. Posted in Other

Grace Mildmay (Grace Sharington) was the sister of Olive Sharington. The sisters had been daughters and coheirs of Sir Henry Sharington, the second owner of Lacock Abbey. Grace does not appear much in the Lacock archive because she was involved in other estates, but she was an important part of Olive’s life.

Grace Mildmay

John Jones: attempting to carve a career in India

on Wednesday, 02 December 2015. Posted in Other

John Talbot (1717-1778) fathered four children outside of marriage, the third of these children was John Jones, who appears in the Lacock Parish records on 23 September 1764 as b.b.s (base born son) of Catherine Jones. John’s sister Ann, also the daughter of John Talbot had been born a year earlier. His half siblings were Thomas Elms (1758–1783) and Louisa Spicer Talbot, born and died at three weeks in April 1778. John Jones’ life is the most documented of the four, due to his correspondence with Martha Davenport.

John Talbot

John Talbot, the father of John Jones

Matilda Caroline Gilchrist-Clark

on Saturday, 18 July 2015. Posted in Other

According to Matilda Theresa Talbot, the last private owner of Lacock Abbey, her mother Matilda Caroline Gilchrist Clark (born Matilda Talbot) had "a breadth of outlook and a great love of liberty". Her memories include her mother painting well in oils and water colours; having pretty hair; being a good botanist, with a special interest in fungus and not worrying about tidiness.

Fox Talbot family with Amelina

Matilda Caroline, born in 1839, was the third child of William Henry Fox Talbot and Constance Mundy, and she was known as Tilly to the family. She had two older sisters, Ela and Rosamond (called Monie), and a younger brother Charles. The family lived at Lacock Abbey with their paternal grandmother Lady Elisabeth Feilding (died 1846) and a French companion/governess Amelina Petit de Billier (called Lalla by the children). The three girls were educated at home whilst Charles went to Harrow School and then Cambridge University. The evidence from their later correspondence is that they were given a good education, which included botany, literacy, French, science and art. Although the family were privileged they were very aware of the state of others and the children grew up with a feeling of responsibility to help others. This manifested in the charities that they supported, especially for the welfare of women.

Robert Raworth's rebellion, 1713

on Saturday, 18 June 2016. Posted in Other

“Robert Raworth late Deputy Governor of Fort St. David has contrary to all Law and Justice assumed a power to himself to keep Fort St. David in his Possession and not render it as it is his duty to the Order of the Honble. Presidt. Of the Council of Fort St. George to whom he is subordinate therefore he can be found none other than a Rebel and a Traitor to his Queen and Country and an Enemy to the Company.” 

These were the opening lines of an arrest warrant issued by the Governor and Council of the Honourable East India Company, 13th October 1713. Nine days earlier Henry Davenport had been dispatched from Fort St. George, Madras (1) to become Acting Deputy Governor and send Robert Raworth back to Madras to answer charges against him. Henry and Robert had been colleagues and friends in the Company, but letters and documents in the Lacock archive attest to the complete reversal in their relationship. They also beg the question: why did Robert Raworth as Deputy Governor of the Company in Madras choose to rebel in October 1713?

Fort St George

Fort St George

The Banks family

on Friday, 25 September 2015. Posted in Other

Masons and labourers of Lacock

Matilda Talbot, in a broadcast made on the BBC Home Service on 13th September 1954, said: “The medium in which most of the Lacock men liked to work was stone, and the quarries of the famous Bath stone were within four miles. Many of them, therefore, became masons and were very good stone carvers”. Masons were commonly found in and around Lacock doing work on the Lacock estate and to the abbey well before Matilda’s time. Everything needed to be kept in good condition and it seems from bills we have in the Lacock archive, and some letters, that some owners of the estate were extremely concerned with the maintenance of the cottages and the abbey itself. We have masons’ records from the 17th century and particularly for the 18th and 19th centuries, when we find large bills submitted to the Talbots for building and repair work all over the estate, at farms, in the small village cottages, mills and bridges. We can also find references to masonry work from even the earliest records, as any reference to building work would have been looking at local masons and builders. The most common family to do masonry work for the Talbots were the Banks family.

George Banks bill to Lady Feilding

The Gale family

on Friday, 25 September 2015. Posted in Other

Lacock carpenters through the centuries

The Gale family are of particular interest because in the 19th century it was John Gale who built the camera obscura for William Henry Fox Talbot’s research into photography. The Fox Talbot Correspondence project has transcribed several letters to or from William Henry Fox Talbot which refer to John Gale and his carpentry work, showing that he was a trusted local carpenter and he was obviously very trusted by Fox Talbot if he was given the honour of doing some of the work which would later be seen as an important time in the development of photography but which at the time probably seemed very strange to Gale. They must have also seemed strange to William’s wife Constance as she called them “Mousetraps” and there were several of them made and probably dotted around the house. John Gale also did a lot of valuations on the Lacock estate, valuing furniture in houses including Lacock Abbey and often valuing timber that had been sawn in the various forests on the estate.

William Henry Fox Talbot with camera obscura

The letters from George Eden to Lady Elisabeth Feilding, 1817-1820s

on Monday, 21 December 2015. Posted in Other

This article looks at letters which exist from George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, to Charles Feilding and his wife Lady Elisabeth. Most of the letters are to Lady Elisabeth, and can be found in the Lacock archive, references 2664/3/3B/8, 10, 11 and 14. The letters are of great interest because they refer to current affairs, but are also friendly and sometimes flirtatious, which gives them further intrigue.

George Eden

George Eden