The formidable campaigner who saved lives and heritage

A woman whose inventiveness and passion saved lives during both World Wars is the latest subject of Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters.

Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters is a North Yorkshire County Council project to highlight and celebrate figures from the past who were immensely influential within the county. It draws on County Record Office archives and the work of local history groups.

The latest nominee is Miss Bridget Elizabeth Talbot, the last owner of Kiplin Hall, near Scorton. She spent her life channelling her energy, innovative mind-set and influence into addressing injustices. Born in January 1885, her father was the son of the 18th Earl of Shrewsbury and her family home was in Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire.

Bridget played a crucial part in supporting the war effort during the First World War. In 1914, she qualified as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, and assisted with the influx of Belgian refugees in London, finding them emergency shelter.

Two years later she travelled to look after wounded soldiers on the Austrian-Italian front line. The mountainous terrain and extreme climate worsened soldiers’ injuries, and Bridget’s role was to provide initial medical care and to arrange the soldiers’ transfer to base hospitals. As recognition of her work during the war, Bridget was awarded the Italian Croce di Guerra and the OBE. After the war she went on to work with refugees in Turkey and Russia. 

In the 1930s, Bridget invented a watertight torch. Believing so strongly in her design, she campaigned for several years for her invention to be recognised. Her persistence paid off, and eventually the torch was made a compulsory addition to all lifebelts for men serving in the Navy and the Royal Air Force. Her invention saved hundreds of lives during the Second World War.

Sarah Mayhew Craddock, curator at Kiplin Hall, quotes an extract from a letter to Bridget which shows how important her invention was for saving lives at sea: “While serving in the Channel in 1943 a Norwegian destroyer was blown up. We picked up the survivors – over 100 – and believe me, we would never have seen them except for the little red lights.”

Throughout her adult life, Bridget led campaigns to save the threatened country houses of her youth. As a child, Bridget would often visit the wider family, including trips to Kiplin Hall, home of Bridget’s uncle, Admiral Walter Carpenter, and his daughter, Sarah. She remained interested in Kiplin Hall throughout her life and continued to visit into adulthood. It was clear that she was emotionally attached to Kiplin, and to the north of England and its people, in general.

In 1937, it was agreed that Bridget would buy Kiplin Hall and its furniture from Sarah for £5,000. This secured the estate’s future. The Kiplin estate, between Richmond and Northallerton, has been owned by four fascinating families, it offers almost 400 years of history, showing life in North Yorkshire over four centuries. Bridget was the last family member to own Kiplin.

As the years passed, Bridget’s commitment to Kiplin grew. She ran as an independent candidate for Richmond in the 1964 general election and continued to campaign tirelessly to save Kiplin Hall. She had managed to keep the Hall running until after the Second World War when maintenance costs became too great to sustain. In 1968, she reached the decision that she would register Kiplin Hall with the Charity Commission and set up the Kiplin Hall Trust.

She died at Kiplin Hall in 1971, leaving the contents of the house, including many personal and creative possessions, to the trustees. Kiplin Hall and Gardens provides the legacy that allows for Bridget’s innovation, creativity, insatiable appetite for knowledge and her feisty and formidable disposition to live on. The estate is an attraction in North Yorkshire which teaches us about history and heritage and life over nearly 400 years.

The Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les, said: “In addition to her bravery in the First World War and her invention that saved lives during the Second World War, Bridget Talbot saved the historic Jacobean hall and estate that is Kiplin Hall and Gardens for future generations so that her story, the fascinating stories of her Kiplin relatives, and their relationships to the Kiplin estate, the local people, and the rest of the world could be told.

“She was a very influential individual who channelled her energy and innovative mind-set to address important issues of the day.

“Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters showcases those who were influential in making the county the place it is today. We are still looking for nominations of people who made a difference in the past. If you know someone who deserves to be celebrated, please contact us.”

Nominations can be sent to MadeInNorthYorkshire@northyorks.gov.uk

Ten life stories will be featured in the series, after which the public will be invited to vote to find the greatest son or daughter.

Read more about Miss Bridget Talbot and Made in North Yorkshire