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Bridget Talbot – the 20th century
Admiral Carpenter died in May 1904, leaving most of his estate to his daughter, Sarah. In August, she sold the first pieces of land. Sarah Carpenter married Christopher Turnor of Stoke Rochford in Lincolnshire in 1907, taking with her paintings and other items of which there is no record, and the Hall was rented to tenants. Five further sales of buildings and land took place between 1905 and 1930, until the estate was reduced from over 5000 acres to 120 acres of gardens, parkland and woodland immediately around the Hall, its outbuildings and a few nearby cottages. There was now very little income for maintenance and the estate began almost a century of decline.
In 1938, Sarah Turnor made her cousin, Bridget Talbot, joint owner of Kiplin, as she was already sharing the struggle to find a use for the Hall and estate. Bridget was the second child of Admiral Carpenter’s youngest brother, Alfred Talbot, and his wife, Emily de Grey, sister of Beatrice Carpenter. Bridget’s family visited Kiplin frequently from her early childhood, and there are many photographs of her and her brothers and sister in the photograph albums and scrapbooks.
Bridget Talbot’s social and political activities began during the First World War, when she organised the Little Gaddesden Cooperative Allotment scheme in her home village near Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. She attended training courses in home nursing and first aid. When Belgian refugees fled to England after the German invasion in August, Bridget was on the Belgian Refugee Committee, which organised depots at Alexandra Palace and Earls Court in London to house them.
In January 1916, Bridget travelled through France to the Austrian-Italian war zone. She worked with Mrs Watkins, who set up first aid stations and canteens at Cervignano and Cormons to assist wounded Italian soldiers as they went by train to the base hospitals. Her report of April 1918 says:
Our principal work was feeding and tending the wounded in the trains, administering first aid in our chalet and assisting the Italian Red Cross Doctor in the station….over fifty thousand passed through in six months.
In 1917, when Mrs. Watkins ran out of funds, the Red Cross took over these operations and Bridget remained with them until 1919, then moved to Turkey to work with Russian refugees. She was awarded the Italian Medal for Valour, the Croce de Guerra, and an O.B.E. in 1920 for her work with the Red Cross, and remained an active supporter of the organisation all her life.
Passionately committed to changing the systems which she felt had failed, Bridget Talbot’s political allegiance moved from being born into a Conservative world to joining the National Labour Party in 1931, then standing unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for Bermondsey in 1950, and in 1964 considering standing as an independent candidate for Richmond in the general election. In another major campaign in the late 1920s and during the 1930s to preserve the lives of Merchant Seamen, she invented a waterproof torch for lifebelts to give men lost overboard after an attack or accident a chance of rescue. She then used her political and social connections to badger Parliament to make their provision compulsory for all Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel, which saved many lives during the Second World War.
From the 1920s onwards, Miss Talbot also worked tirelessly to save the threatened country houses of her youth. Her first efforts were on behalf of the Ashridge estate opposite her home at Little Gaddesden. It had been inherited by her aunt Adelaide’s husband, Earl Brownlow of Belton House, Lincolnshire, but death duties forced his executors to sell. A campaign by Bridget Talbot and other supporters encouraged the National Trust to purchase a magnificent area of woodland to save it from felling for housing development and helped to ensure that the house became an educational institution. The National Trust now owns 5000 acres of the Ashridge estate and the house is an international business school.
Miss Talbot’s struggle to save Kiplin lasted for more than 40 years. She tried to interest many organisations in using it, from educational to social welfare and environmental bodies. She advertised it as a conference centre in the 1930s and as a guest house for visitors from America and the Dominions in the 1950s. Her constant efforts to keep interest alive in Maryland brought expressions of support, but no funding was available to help with repairs and maintenance. In 1953, she wrote a pageant called Farewell Kiplin to be performed by local people, and local and national newspapers carried the story of the imminent demolition of the Hall.
The National Trust was Miss Talbot’s greatest hope and letters were exchanged between them from 1938 until their final rejection of the estate in 1958. The Trust’s officers were never keen to accept Kiplin, stating that it was of no particular architectural or historic interest. In the somewhat unlikely event of its acceptance, conditions would include the provision of a suitable endowment to maintain the estate and the demolition of the post-Jacobean service and library wings. Miss Talbot was vehemently against knocking down the Library and had her own set of conditions for the Trust. A mutually agreeable solution was impossible and in April 1958 an article in The Times carried the headline Yorkshire Mansion to be Demolished. But Bridget Talbot had been knocked down on a pedestrian crossing and was in a London nursing home with a broken leg. She did not telephone the demolition firm and the Hall remained standing.
She visited Maryland in 1963 and made one last attempt to enlist help from there in 1967. When nothing came of this, Miss Talbot set up the Kiplin Hall Trust and registered it with the Charity Commission in February 1968. Its purpose was To hold Kiplin Hall and its appurtenances upon Trust permanently to preserve the same for the benefit of the nation as a place of beauty and historical and architectural interest… Her cousin, Hugh Chetwynd Talbot, was the first Chairman of Trustees. Bridget Talbot died at Kiplin Hall on 29 November 1971, leaving the contents of the house to the Trustees in her will.