John Ivory inherited Lacock Abbey estate in 1714 on the death of his maternal grandfather, Sir John Talbot, and took the name John Ivory Talbot. The following year he entered Parliament as a Tory and served as MP for Ludgershall for 7 years. Later he served as an MP for Wiltshire from 1727 - 1741. His career as an MP was less than distinguished. His entry in 'The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754' is brief. It records that he voted consistently against the Government and made only one speech in the House of Commons, against the Quakers title Bill in 1736. It is also noted that he was a possible Jacobite supporter in the event of an uprising against the new Hanoverian king. The last remark in the entry is, however, intriguing and reads:
'In 1735 the mother of his nephew, Thomas, 2nd Lord Mansel, then aged 14, objected successfully to his being made sole guardian of her son because she ‘did not care that Mr. Talbot, whose wife is mad ... and is himself driven to drink, should have the sole management of her son’s education’.
Evidence for these assertions have been sought in the Lacock Abbey archives and is found in the Account Books of the Lacock estate and in the correspondence between John and his wife, with John's brother-in-law, Henry Davenport.
In July 1716, John Ivory Talbot married the Honourable Mary Mansel, the daughter of Sir Thomas Mansel, 1st Baron Mansel of Margam in South Wales. Together they had 4 children; John (b. 1717), Thomas (b. 1719), Martha (b. 1720) and Ann (b. 1723). The early years of the marriage appear to have been happy and trouble free and Mary appeared to be running the household and engaging in country pursuits such as riding to hounds. However, problems with her health became evident within a few months. In a letter to Henry Davenport in January 1717, John noted 'you must excuse both me and my wife for not answering yr letters, for she has scarce been a day without some disorder, & yesterday worse than ever, but I thank God she is pretty well to day; these fitts follow her so fast' (1). Mary herself, in July 1717, at this time half way through her first pregnancy, wrote to Henry reporting that 'I have been extream ill all this week my self' (2).
Surprisingly perhaps, in view of this, the meticulous accounts that John kept of expenditures incurred in the running of his household and the Lacock estate show only one entry for a doctor's bill over this period so little medical help was thought necessary at this stage.
The birth of their first child, in November 1717, did not apparently pose any particular medical problems either, as judged by the total lack of doctor's bills, and there is no evidence that Mary's health was of concern during and immediately after her second child, Thomas, was born in March 1719. However, in November 1719, in a letter to Henry Davenport, John Talbot mentioned that 'My wife continues very weak in her limbs tho' well as to other respects' (3).
From this time on, Mary's health deteriorated. Doctor's fees and apothecary's bills began to feature prominently in John's account books from 1719 onwards with most of the entries being 'for my dear' or 'for my dear wife', rather than for the children.
In March 1720, John wrote that 'My wife is better than she was, but so weak as not to stir out of her room or dine at table, but I don't doubt but she will soon pick up if ye children do but continue well, for it is ye frights for them that is ye occassion of all her illness' (4). In August, he reported that 'she had a relapse almost as bad as ye former' (5).
This situation prompted a move to Bath, for in a further letter to Henry at the end of August, John records 'I took lodgings this day sennight, it was a sudden resolution taken, not for ye sake of drinking ye water but only that she might be near help in case of danger, & that she has been so open in that it has sufficiently terrifyed me. We were dissappointed of a horse litter after expecting one three or four days, but by filling up ye bottom of ye coach wth bedding & being near six hours in coming we made ye journey almost as easy to her wch she bore very well & is much better since her lameness still continues' (6). Mary, in her third pregnancy, and so big 'that some say I shall have two added to my family' (7), remained in Bath for several months and gave birth to a daughter, Martha, there in November 1720. A Doctor Bane was in very regular attendance, at a guinea a visit, during the period immediately after the birth and there were also expenditures recorded for nursing, although it is not specified whether this is for Mary or the baby. One entry in the accounts in December 1720 is half a guinea for 'bleeding Jacky', presumably their son John.
For most of 1721, Mary appears to have been better, although there are some entries in the accounts for medical expenses, specifically one in July for £5-10s 'for bleeding my dear'. The size of this bill would indicate that several bleedings were administered. John Talbot was not noted for paying bills on time so this payment could refer to an earlier illness. Letters between John and Henry Davenport during this year are largely positive about Mary. In October 1721, Mary is described as 'perfectly well' (8). In November, the reports are even better, John Ivory reporting that 'My wife thank God is very well & grows fatt' (9).
Within a few days, however, the situation changed, as, by mid-December, Henry was informed that 'My wife was yesterday a little out of order & has return of a giddiness & fainting again today I hope it will go off again for otherways she is in perfect health' (10). A month later, the message became 'My wife has been very ill these ten days, taken much after ye same manner she was before she went to Bath last year, but she mends now' (11). The name of Dr Bane appears in the expenditure column of the accounts in December 1721. It is clear that Mary's condition was now chronic.
No correspondence survives between John and Henry in 1722, but the accounts show numerous payments to doctors and apothecaries during the year, and also payments to a Mr Sagar (or Segar) for bleeding Mary. John conveniently provided a complete summary of his 1722 accounts (March 1722- March 1723) which included the entry 'Doctors fees, Sagers and Apothecarys bills & belonging to Illness £58-12-6'. Sickness clearly was not cheap at this time!
For my blog on Lacock this time I want to look at a bundle of documents only recently discovered in the Lacock archive, during my listing of some final boxes. The documents concern the 200th anniversary of the commemoration of the Great Hall in Lacock, which was rebuilt by John Ivory Talbot, the owner of Lacock at that time.
Talbot and the architect Sanderson Miller designed the Great Hall in a Gothic style and anyone who has been to Lacock will vividly remember the prowess of the room, with its great high ceilings, coats of arms decorating the ceiling, and breathtaking sculptures adorning the walls. Outside, Talbot built some grand steps.
In 1755, Talbot invited the friends whose coats of arms he had had put on the new ceiling to a commemoration event at Lacock Abbey to celebrate the completion of the work. Talbot invited 40 of his friends and neighbours to the event. An article in the Wiltshire Times 200 years later said that the emblazoning of the coats of arms “was most original, and a graceful compliment to his neighbours”. Whilst many sceptics would say that it was a way of really getting in with the local nobility, it is clear that Talbot himself was a high-standing member of the community and I’d like to think that his neighbours were pleased to be represented on that ceiling. The party brought together the local nobility and must have been a very grand event – if it happened. Unfortunately only a letter suggesting the possibility of an event was found, not any documents confirming that it had taken place.
200 years later, the final owner of Lacock Abbey before its presentation to the National Trust, Matilda Talbot, decided to host an anniversary event to commemorate the commemoration, and her intention was to recreate the event of 200 years earlier, by inviting representatives of those friends and neighbours of Matilda’s ancestor to the party. Although Matilda no longer owned the abbey, she continued to live there from 1944 until her death in 1956. Members of her family, the Burnett-Brown family who were descendants of her brother William, were living at the abbey as well and they also attended the event. The family and some acquaintances did some tireless research to find representatives of the 1755 party. Peter Summers of the Kingswood School did most of the research, which involved firstly trying to work out who some of the coats of arms on the ceiling were for anyway, and then painstakingly tracing their descendants down to the family member who appeared to be their most ideal representative. Those representatives were then invited to the commemoration event.
The Lacock Unlocked project is well under way now and the cataloguing and indexing side of it now has over 30 volunteers. These volunteers are either listing and indexing bundles of documents, or putting information onto our database. It means that instead of unlocking and exploring one thing per day, we are unlocking and exploring six, so to speak!
I love it when the listing volunteers show me something that I had no idea existed, or parts of a story that I didn’t know were there. We keep discovering new words for things and ways of saying them, finding information about places and families through bills, deeds and other items in the archive. I particularly enjoy finding information about people who crop up in the archive, and the example here is a letter from John Ivory Talbot to his cousin Henry Davenport in 1725, which gives anyone interested a wonderful insight into John’s family life, his way of writing, what annoys him (apparently, Henry Davenport’s not writing to him is on his mind!). Just a simple letter like this provides great information about a personality.
We are attempting to piece together many clues and it is fascinating when these jigsaws are completed but also when someone finds a new piece that leads us or them down a different route.