Some Treasures from the Lacock Archive
Over the last few months, I have been cataloguing the Lacock archive with the help of several volunteers and just about every day I come across some interesting documents, some of which I hope to share with you over the next few months.
Recently, for example, I have been able to find out information gained from wills and other legal documents about the identity of illegitimate children of John Talbot (1717-1778), one of the owners of the Lacock estate who was married but widowed after only two years, and had no children from the marriage. He did, however, have at least four children with local women. At least two of the children were provided for in John Talbot’s will (another had died, and it is assumed that the fourth did too but no evidence has been found). However, he was clearly very concerned about the welfare of his children and tried to ensure that they would be provided for not just in a legal sense. A very touching letter has been found in the archive, dictated just before his death to his friend John Santer, which shows his concerns. This is a lovely thing to find in the archive as it shows the human side of an aristocratic family who, especially with the issue of illegitimacy and inheritance, tended to keep very discrete.
A transcription of some of the letter shows John’s troubled mind:
Finding my self extremely ill and not knowing the consequences is the occasion of this
The counterpart of my Will is left for you at Crofts the Bankers my Book will shew the state of cash in his Hands
Send to Dr Popham your Brother Trustee at Lacock near Chippenham Wilts – my man will go – For Gods sake remove my poor Girl to some private Family till a proper one can be got where she may Board – The Furniture of Greek Street is hers which together with the arrears of Lacock Charlton and Salwarp and the sale of the last; will give a Pretty Fortune both to her and Brother who I could wish if possible tho very expensive might compleat his Education at Lochees – Dr Davenport my Brother in Law will be a friend to both him and his sister or he breaks his Word...”
Most letters in the archive are matter-of-fact, although there are many between members of the family which do show emotion, especially in the Davenport material (the Davenports married into the Talbot family and, through them, Lacock continued to be owned by members of the same family). Many have a suggestion of the author being really desperate, as this does but for different reasons. This letter is to a friend, who was to be the legal guardian and representative of John Talbot’s boy and girl. It is not a pleading letter from a daughter who has eloped and wants her father’s forgiveness, or from a family member grieving over the death of a loved one. It is simply a desperate letter from a father realising his own mortality and realising his role as a provider for his children, even if he could not provide for them officially as he did not marry their mother.
On a lighter note, other things included in the Lacock archive have the effect on myself and my volunteers of “How and why did it end up here?!” – such as this lovely illustration of a now extinct dog, called a Talbot.
Questions about this can be answered fairly easily: a branch of the Talbots used the image of this hunting dog for their family crest, and of course it was called a Talbot. However, it’s a lovely gem which was a surprising find. A small drawing on what seems to be a scrap of paper, it is wonderful that this 18th century sketch could find its way into the archive of an estate and survive to the present day. It obviously has some historical significance, as it is a drawing of a dog which has become extinct; and keeping it in the Lacock archive did not even need to be questioned as it has relevance to the Talbot family, particularly the Earls of Shrewsbury who were related to the Talbots of Lacock, who used the image of a Talbot dog for their crest at one point.
In their own way, every document found in the archive is important, whether it is a mundane-looking bill to the family for some material, or a letter about legal business, or anything else. However it is wonderful to occasionally come across the examples of the day-to-day material that are just that little bit different, and make us stop and share the information with each other, and also look forward to when the information can be shared with everybody, next year when the collection is fully catalogued and accessible.
Project Archivist, Lacock Unlocked Project