Here we are, almost at the end of September. This month has passed quickly. Mr THL has been gone for almost five weeks, deployed for the foreseeable future to the Baltic region. It’s never easy when he goes away for a long one and this year, of course, everything is a bit strange. No self pity, but all of that to say it’s felt a little rough at times.

Everyone who has a loved one who goes away, military or otherwise, finds their own way of coping with the down days. Mine is to do something. Take action. And if ever I need a bit of inspiration from a woman who knew the value of action and getting things done, I’ll look to the achievements of one Bridget Elizabeth Talbot.

Must admit, I hadn’t heard of the formidable Miss Talbot until very recently. Just before Mr THL left, we went off on a Champing adventure, sleeping in a historic church in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Before we settled in for the night, we took The Wolf for a long walk across the fields and stumbled across this…

Things Helen Loves, image of memorial stone for Bridget Talbot

It’s an understated tribute to an immense achievement, isn’t it?

Bridget Elizabeth Talbot was born in the family home in Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire. That’s only about six miles from the place where we came across her memorial. Why is the stone placed here, rather than at her family home or in the village? I wondered that, too. The answer is quite touching. This little spot in the pretty English countryside is where her ashes were scattered.

The stone in her memory may seem an understated celebration, but the sweeping views across the countryside and the downs are also a tribute to her actions and tenacity. Much of the land belonged to the nearby Ashbridge Estate. Following the death of Earl Brownlow in 1921, the estate was put up for sale and at risk of falling into the hands of developers. Bridget Talbot, determined that the countryside should be preserved for all, led a campaign to preserve the estate for the National Trust. She also put her money where her mouth was and made a substantial financial contribution.

So, Bridget Talbot began and ended her days in the place that she managed to save for future generations to enjoy, but she didn’t stick around around for a quiet life in the Buckinghamshire countryside herself. Born into a wealthy, well connected family I’m sure she could have married well and filled her days with entertaining and country pursuits. Not a bit of it. Fasten your seatbelts folks, her life was quite the adventure…

During the First World War, she went off to work with the Anglo-Italian Red Cross. Her work on the Italian-Austrian front led to her being awarded the Croce de Guerra, or Italian Meal for Valour. An OBE followed for further work with the Red Cross and she remained a committed supporter of the organisation all her life.

She didn’t put her feet up after a spell on the frontline, though. She went on to work with refugees in Turkey and Russia, before becoming interested in the conditions of those sent to serve at sea. Initially she campaigned for improvements in the conditions for merchant seaman, but upon learning more about the dangers they faced she took a more pragmatic approach. She invented a watertight torch for life belts to give sailors gone overboard a better chance of rescue.

Monument alongside the memorial stone.

A brilliant invention, I think we can all agree. Interesting though, that it took a woman from the English countryside to push the creation that has probably saved thousands of lives. Where did she gain the insight that led to the invention? Experience. When she developed an interest in improving the lot of the merchant mariners, she took herself off for a stint on a ship. Living the problem before she cast the solutions. Modern day politicians and policy makers could learn a thing or two, hey?

Having nailed down the invention and determined the need for it, Miss Talbot then used her political and family connections to get the case into Parliament making the torches compulsory kit for the Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Air Force. Given what came next in the form of WW2, her timely campaign saved a lot of lives.

Bridget Elizabeth Talbot as a young woman.

Bridget Elizabeth Talbot died in 1971, following a life of tireless campaigning and a career in politics. I’m slightly embarrassed that I’d never heard of her until I happened upon that simple and understated stone on a country walk. Goes to show, doesn’t it, that stories are waiting to be discovered everywhere.

Exploring the countryside that Bridget Talbot campaigned to save.

I’m fascinated by Bridget’s life story. I love that she could have taken the path of least resistance, but didn’t. I love that she wasn’t afraid to put herself out there and rattle a few cages in the name of a good cause. The big take away for me is the reminder that what we do today can have a huge impact on someone else’s tomorrow. I think that’s more relevant than ever in these strange times.

Take care, stay positive & stay safe.

Helen x

 

 

8 thoughts

  1. What a truly inspiring and lovely story and it leaves me in a rage that her invention hasn’t been acknowledged as it should. If she’d been a man he would have been garlanded with medals and honours but a mere woman? Phfft. I’m so grateful that you’ve brought this to public notice, so thank you. My nephew works with one of the largest lifeboat suppliers in the world (operating out of Sweden) and watertight torches are one of the things he has to make sure are packed. I shall make sure he reads this.

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  2. I knew Brigitte Talbot when living in her house with my parents as tenants in 1957. She had a blue coloured Austin 7 which she repainted by hand in yellow and white with waste paint. When she went to Berkhamsted, she parked as she pleased and never paid a fine as being part of the local gentry. A real local police officers’ night mare.
    I used to play in a sttable, sill having straw and a horse drawn trap. Also In another storage location a large Brougham horse drawn type carriage. She put the carriage alongside the village road to indicate the entrance to her house. I believe the coach eventually fell to bits with time.

    With a childhood friend we used to sneak into the largest reception room of which I remembered tattered curtains and sofas like something out of the 1946 “Great Expectations” film. The telephone was one on a stand with a separate ear phone (about a 1921 model).

    The primary memory I have was the damp-cold in the house. There were enormous reception rooms with fire-places, however the maids to light the fire had since left the previous century. We resided in the smallest rooms we could find and crowded around an electric heater in the evenings. I remember recovering from chicken pox in one of those rooms.

    Miss Talbot addressed people, in a derogotary fashion as no doubt educated, by her noble rank. I remember her asking my father what rank he had held during the war.

    Luckily our family moved on from that manor house after about 18 months. In sum it was a living introduction on how people lived and spoke in those types of houses in the 19th century.

    A plaque in a wood to this lady is one thing, actually knowing her was another !

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    1. Oh wow, what brilliant memories thank you so much for sharing! Such different times. I think her achievements are still remarkable, but your recollections bring a different perspective. Thank you so much for taking the time read and comment. Much appreciated.

      Like

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