Thursday, 30 July 2015

Gilbert Talbot and Toc House

One of the most frequently visited graves in Sanctuary Wood British Cemetery is that of Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot.  Gilbert served with the 7th Rifle Brigade and was killed at Hooge (Ypres Salient) 100 years ago, leading his men during a counter attack. 

Gilbert Talbot his life in brief

Picture of Gilbert Talbot from his mother's diary

Gilbert was the youngest son of Rev Edward Stuart Talbot and Lavinia Lyttelton, daughter of 4th Lord Lyttelton of Hagley Hall.  He attended Winchester College and then went on to Christchurch, Oxford in 1910.  He played a prominent role in the political and social life of the University, becoming president of the Union in 1913.  He completed his degree in 1914 and had just started off on a tour around the world when war broke out.  He returned at once and obtained a commission in the 7th Rifle Brigade. He went to the front in May 1915 and was killed just a few weeks later on 30 July 1915.  His body lay where he fell for a week until his brother Neville, also serving in the forces, was able to bring it back for burial.  He was aged just 23.

One of his friends at University was former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.  He wrote in his autobiography Winds of Change (1966) of Gilbert's death  'Among the most grievous to me of the losses in 1915 was that of Gilbert Talbot. I had known him well at Oxford. I had stayed with him at Farnham, where his father – the Bishop of Winchester – and Mrs. Talbot lived, and savoured the rare quality of that atmosphere. I feel certain that if he had been spared he would have made a great mark in our politics.'  Certainly the people who contributed to a memoir of Gilbert's life felt had he lived, he was destined for greatness. In the memoir they drew attention to his excellence as a speaker, debater and storyteller, his skill as a leader of men, his great sense of humour, his generous friendship and his vitality. For many Gilbert Talbot became the symbol of a “Golden Generation” of young men whose lives were cut short by the First World War.

One of Gilbert's last letters recorded in the memoir was to his cousin Hermione Lyttelton in June 1915.  In it his thought turned to home:

'At times one's thoughts fly back to all the precious things in England, a thousand times more precious now.  I think of Farnham, Winchester, Oxford in summer.  What Winchester meads are like on a holiday in June or Magdalen cloisters on a May evening.  And one thinks of all the family and the happy times we've had, the love that binds us all, and Mother and all she is to me, and I don't feel ashamed of wondering fairly often if I shall see them again and if so when.'

Lavinia Talbot's diaries

The Lyttelton collection at the Hive includes Gilbert's mother Lavinia's wartime diaries.  Lavinia records in some detail her thoughts, feelings and opinions as the events of the war unfolded.  She had three sons serving – Neville, Edward and Gilbert - and her diaries are full of what they are doing as well as more general comments on the conduct of the war.  Her diary entry of 1 August 1915 recorded that 'Gilbert has been in pretty hot fighting in the Hooge trenches, winning & then losing again.  Liquid fire has been used'   She continued later in the entry 'Gilbert & his Co meantime are mercifully being returned to Poperinghe for a week off.'  Tragically Gilbert was already dead as she recorded this.  On 2 August she received an 'anxious' letter from her son Neville about the Battle of Hooge.  On the same day she received and recorded the dreadful news of Gilbert's death and felt that 'most of the light in my life had gone out'. 

Part of Lavinia Talbot's diary entry for 2 August 1915 recording the news of Gilbert Talbot's death

Lavinia's diary entry for 11 August 1915 recorded that she had received news that Gilbert had been buried and information about the circumstances in which his brother Neville found his body. 

Lavinia Talbot's diary entry for 11 August 1915

Lavinia never got over the loss of Gilbert.  She wrote a memoir of his life which was privately printed in 1916.   She recorded the age he would have attained on each of his birthdays and marked the date of his death with a cross in her diaries.  When the war ended at last she recorded honestly and poignantly the internal conflict within her - the intense joy at the war finally being over, but also the intense longing for the son who would never return. 

Lavinia's diary entry for 11 November 1918

Talbot House later Toc House
Neville Talbot was an army chaplain at the time of his brother Gilbert's death.  He, together with a fellow army chaplain 'Tubby' Clayton established a place of rest and relaxation for soldiers regardless of rank at an old town house in Poperinge, Belgium which they called Talbot House in Gilbert's memory.  Talbot House opened in December 1915 so will be marking its centenary in 2015.  It became known by its initials 'TH' and then as Toc H the signal terminology for T and H.  Tubby Clayton tried to make Talbot House a cosy home from home with rugs and vases of flowers, a stark contrast to the muddy trenches.  A notice was hung up bearing the message "All rank abandon, ye who enter here.” Harry Patch 'the last Tommy' recalled of Talbot House  that 'a lot of us used to call it "the haven" because that’s exactly what this place was to the men – a place of peace where you could relax, and that’s the only time you could forget the strains of war for a couple of hours.'  Gilbert, whose thoughts were often turned to home, may well have concurred.

For further information
For accounts of Gilbert Talbot's life see: 

 For information on the battle of Hooge see:

For information relating to Talbot House see:

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Training by the trainee

Sarah is our Skills for the Future trainee on a 15 month placement here at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service.  We introduced Sarah back in December 2014, and in April she blogged about the Infirmary Workshop she was creating, which went really well - but what else has she been up to?

This has been an exciting traineeship. It is far from over but some of my projects are coming to an end now, and I just handed in my last assignment for the postgraduate certificate at University of Worcester. So now seems a good time to look back, on what I have done and what I have learnt during my traineeship, especially my favourite bits when I get to pass on my knowledge to other people.

Sarah with the Reader Printer Guide she produced to help customers

At the archives I get to help customers, teach digital champions, conduct inductions for new users, and support volunteers.  I love helping customers with their enquiries and I even get to do little bits of research, as I learn more about the archives all the time.  I help on the Explore the Past desk when the original archive area is open, in the self-service area with inductions on the days the archives are closed, and by email when people contact us for help.  I have taught the Digitial Champions to use the microfilm printer, having written a guide to help people use. I always smile when customers are using my guide, because it's nice to be helpful, even secretly.  And I have been supporting volunteers on a transcription project.  This is what I wrote about for my last assignment for our university course but the project will be ongoing probably until the end of my traineeship.  I recruited a group of volunteers then showed them how to transcribe the absent voters lists from 1918. These will be updated on the WAAS website when finished, but also available on

With the other trainees I have been attending university, sharing skills and organising an exhibition, and writing blogs about all my adventures. The university course has now come to an end, with our last assignment handed in at the end of June.  Outside of our university course and normal work duties, we also attend training, which includes the opportunity to train each other.  I have learnt about wrapping books for storage at the cathedral library, and evaluating an exhibition at the Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery.  Then I shared my skills at conservation work, showing the other trainees how to sew past and clean documents. Now we are working hard to organise an exhibition as part of the Worcester Festival.  This has been a great opportunity to find lots of lovely documents and show them off to the ladies from the WI. The exhibition will be in Reindeer Court in August and the documents the ladies chose will be on display in the hive, but also featured on future blog posts, so watch this space.

I am still enjoying my traineeship every day, and as you can see, by far my favourite tasks involve passing on my knowledge to other people.  I really don’t want the traineeship to end, but I hope when I find my next job I can find one where I still get to share my love of history and archives, and to help people do their own research.

By Sarah Ganderton

Monday, 13 July 2015

Explore The Past: Bromsgrove, People & Places

The Sound Domes on Level 2 at The Hive contain clips of oral history interviews, edited by Julia Letts, that are activated to play out when people walk underneath them. The Domes have recently been updated to include new excerpts from interviews about Bromsgrove. As part of the District Council's Townscape Heritage Initiative, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service recorded around 70 short audio stories from 19 local people who shared their memories of the shops, cafes and pubs along Bromsgrove's High Street from the 1940s onwards. Justin Hughes, one of our Project Officers, worked with Bromsgrove Library and local students from the Bromsgrove School to train them in how to carry out interviews. Four of the 11 students were also interviewed to provide a comparisons between the generations. Interviewees remembered details about life in the town before and after the High Street was pedestrianised. There were discussions on the High Street's former alehouses, the hallelujah lamp, mods and rockers, and bakeries and butchers. Bromsgrove Library and The Bromsgrove Society were also heavily involved in supporting the project, going into the School to help facilitate the interviews and publicising the project.

The sound domes contain a sample of 24 clips to listen to on the 3 domes, which you can do by standing under them, as demonstrated by Justin. We hope that some of these will be available online soon, but in the meantime there are six clips already here on our blog, which were included as one of our Worcestershire Treasures. You can also hear interviews here.  There are CDs including the interviews available to purchase from Bromsgrove Library.
You can find out more about the Townscape Heritage Initiative here
Do you have memories of Bromsgrove High Street that you would like to share with us too? Comment below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Now booking: Behind the Scenes tours at Explore the Past

Late 16th Century German stoneware jar

The annual Festival of British Archaeology is about to start, and as part of this we are offering another of our Behind the Scenes tours here at Explore the Past, where you will be able to go into our Finds Room and handle a selection of artefacts discovered in the county. Our Treasure Box might not contain gold or silver but does contain real examples of pottery, tiles and other objects found locally which help tell the story of the county.

You will also go into our Conservation Studio to find out how our Conservator cares for and repairs precious documents and books in the collections, and see some of the highlights of the archives in one of the strongrooms. These will include Shakespeare's marriage bond, medieval royal seals and a letter from the Titanic.

The tours take place here at The Hive at 2pm on Tuesday 14th July and cost £5. Book your place online now!

Severn Valley Ware jar

You can also find out about other archaeology events in Worcestershire and around the country at

If you would be interested in booking a tour for your own group or society please email

Friday, 3 July 2015

Stray gnashers in the archives

Today we bring you another post inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. A story which has been picked up elsewhere is the somewhat grisly one about 'Waterloo teeth', which serves as a stark reminder of just how far we have come with dental practices today. The story goes that in response to a growing need for replacement teeth, thanks in large to an increase in sugar consumption; scavengers descending on the site of the battle of Waterloo took not only money and jewellery from the dead, but also extracted their teeth so that they could sell them on. 

For many years there has been suspicion that a set of false teeth we hold in our archive collections are actually Waterloo teeth, but we have never been certain.

One of the dentures we hold in our collections - not your usual find in an archive!

The dentures came to us many years ago when one of our archivists went over to Tenbury to see a solicitor who had just bought a new practice. He had two rooms full of records and said we could take what we wanted, having no real idea himself of what was there. After having a quick look we said he could keep the one room, full of records which fell outside of our Acquisitions and Collections Policy, but that we would take the other. We arranged for those boxes to come back to Worcester, and two students helped us to go through the boxes, and it was they who came across the teeth! We also found a pistol, but as well as not coming under our collection policy we were not licensed to keep firearms, so we had to pass that on to the Museum.  

The teeth are currently housed in a display cabinet in one of strongrooms and can be seen by visiting tour groups

It was suggested at the time of discovery that the teeth could be Waterloo teeth, due to the documents they were found with dating from the same period; however, there was never anything to prove this. At the time we knew little about the appearance of Waterloo teeth. With the recent anniversary we did a bit of investigating, and have been able to compare our own to a number of sets online and in books. Upon further inspection ours do not appear to match, and look to date from a later period. Although we now know they are nothing to do with Waterloo, we still do not know why a pair of dentures were ever stored with the archives!

Have you ever come across an old pair of dentures like this before? Can you tell us when these may date from?