Thursday, 25 October 2012

John Talbot Clifton 1868 - 1928

John Talbot Clifton 1868 - 1928

John Talbot Clifton was the penultimate Squire of Lytham.  It was a young Talbot, of only 14, who inherited the family estate on the passing of this grandfather in 1882 as his father, Thomas Henry, predeceased his own father by two years.  The premature death of his father and frequent absenteeism of his travelling grandfather had left Talbot without appropriate guidance and understanding, regarding his future responsibilities (and certainly of economy). Concerted effort was made by Talbot's mother and strict Grandmother, Lady Cecily, but their attempts at discipline were rebuked.

Although at the time of Talbot's death the estate was still reasonably solvent, there is no doubt that it was his reckless spending and lack of interest in affairs at Lytham that started the Clifton's sharp descent into financial ruin and obscurity.  That said, you'd find it hard to find a more colourful, eccentric character with such an appetite for adventure and such an intriguing story.

Talbot studied at Eton then Cambridge...
...and when not studying would spend much of his time at Lytham Hall.  It is here that he acquired his love of nature and the outdoors, taking particular interest in riding and shooting.With his schooling finished Talbot embarked on two cruises in 1887 at the strong suggestion of his mother, ensuring he was at sea for most of the year.  These cruises took him to Australia, New Zealand, China and India thus circumnavigating the globe twice by the age of  20.  It is here that Talbot demonstrates the first signs of his disregard to economy, as although accompanied by an elder on both occasions, he still managed to vastly overspend on his allowance, on one occasion loosing £200 on a gambling debit.  Before the year was out Talbot had managed to spend nearly four times his annual allowance.  A catch-22 situation had arisen, as in theory, the Clifton Estate was not obliged to settle Talbot's debts falling outside of his allowance and indeed Thomas Fair (manager of the Clifton Estate) would ask the permission of Talbot's mother (executor of her husbands will) to proceed.  If payment had been refused Talbot would have been disgraced in society therefore leaving his mother feeling duty bound to oblige.

Talbot came of age in 1889. Now free from the hindrance of his mother's attempts at financial restraint his spending continued relentlessly.  Unknown to his family Talbot was having an affair with the famous actress Lillie Langtry.  It's hard to tell exactly when their affair took place but we know that Lillie's letters / telegrams to Talbot were mostly written from 18 Pont Street which she bought in 1890 and that Talbot set sail for America in May of that year.  Although their affair but brief they stayed in touch via letter but it's unsure if they every met again.  Talbot bought her a dog named Oudia which she often mentioned in her correspondence.

Talbot's impulsive travellings took him to Canada, Siberia, Burma, Malaya, Indonesia, Africa and South America to name but a few destinations.  By 1893 Talbot's spending (a large proportion spent on the purchase and upkeep of his yacht Soprano) was having serious consequences on the viability of his estate as we can read in this correspondence from Thomas Fair in December.

"Matters are coming to such a serious crisis that I cannot answer for the consequences unless you return shortly...No arrangements can be made to provide the money in your absence and unless it is provided I fear that you will very shortly see the Bailiffs in possession of Lytham Hall." 

In 1907 he married Violet Beauclerk who he had met in Peru the year before.  Violet was a tall, strong, able woman who Talbot had fallen in love with after hearing she had shot her horse because she couldn't bear the thought of anyone else riding it.

In 1908 Talbot and Violet settled at Lytham (much to the relief of the estate manager) and planned to make this their principle residence until 1922.  This didn't quite go to plan due to outbreak of the First World War, during which Lytham Hall was used as a military hospital.  During this time they had five children.  A deed of settlement had forced Talbot to economise, although he and Violet still travelled abroad (but not to such an extreme as in the past).  Talbot spent his time at Lytham growing Orchids and shooting pheasant.  Many local tales have been told about the the Squire's colourful behaviour whilst at Lytham, including; playing the organ at all times of the night,  motorcar races and crashes and even punch ups with the mayor of Blackpool's chauffeur!  I won't go into detail here but a full account of these can be read in John Kennedy's 'The Clifton Chronicle'.  It could be said that Talbot was bored and unsettled at Lytham, so much so that on the outbreak of The Great War in 1914 Talbot, without prompt, immediately travelled to the war office in  London to offer his services in any capacity.  He would have been about 46 at the time so he was too old for combat although one couldn't see him turning down the opportunity if it was offered.  A position of command was also out of the question due to a speech impediment, this was not a stutter but more of a hesitation.  His offer of his fast cars for dispatches was accepted and took great relish is his assignments.  Violet also aided the war effort by caring for the wounded at Dunkerque.

In 1917 Talbot bought Kylemore House in Connemara. It is here the Clifton family lived until, in 1922, they had to flee owing to Talbot shooting, and seriously injuring, Captain Eugene Gilan of the IRA in a disagreement regarding the alleged theft of his Lanchester sports car.  Eventually Talbot would makes peace with the republicans who even returned his Lanchester.

1922 saw the purchase of Kidalton Castle and Estate in the Isle of Islay.  Talbot had always wanted to own land in Scotland and according to Violet Clifton Kildalton was the only home in which Talbot was truly happy.

This is unsurprising considering the vast amount of game on the vast 16,000 acre estate.  The Kildalton stags were famous and 'in 1926 the best stag shot in Scotland met his end at Proaig'.  In 1925 the urge to travel came yet again and Talbot and Violet left Kildalton for Baghdad.  They jouneyed on to Bahrain where they stayed with the Sheik who took a liking to Talbot, so much so that he promised him one of his horses.  The Sheik was to visit Talbot at Kildalton not long after.

Kildalton Castle

Talbot's wanderlust never really left him.  In 1927 he set off to fill a long-held ambition to visit Timbuktu but due to ill health was forced rethink his plans at Mali.  When Violet suggested that they turn back Talbot replied, 'I do not go back'.  They sailed to Santa Cruz where he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  He died three weeks later.  Violet accompanied Talbot's embalmed body back to Islay where he was buried at Cnoc Rhaonastil overlooking his beloved estate.  At the funeral his wife placed a wild violet and bunch of orchids into the grave.

Although the penultimate , it is safe to day that Talbot Clifton was last great squire of Lytham.



John Kennedy - 'The Clifton Chronicle' - 1990
Violet Clifton - 'The Book of Talbot' - 1933
Carl Reavey - 'Talbot Clifton Kildalton Castle' Isle of Islay (blog)
The Tour Guides at Lytham Hall


  1. David does it again with more information about this very colourful family. An extremely interesting read which makes one wonder what the next chapter holds!

  2. Well I was born Dec 30, 1956 in 'The Lodge', one of the estate houses to Lytham Hall at the end of the 'Green Drive' and I was bitten by the wander lust in several very interesting places from an early age. I too escaped to France like one of Clifton's Ancestors to escape religious persecution (possibly religious but certainly ideological) and only returned to Britain in 1992. I now live as tenant in a small Scottish town with gardens approximately 120ft by 15ft and a one-bedroom house pestered by lunatic Scots neighbours. And to think, if I'd just played my cards right, and not taken off overland to India, as I did during 'Gap Year' from St-Annes College of F.E in ~1972, or been dealt the right cards in the first place (sic), I could instead be living inheritor of a fine example of Clifton Estate property. Almost a living example of the landed gentry ... Damn!