Local historian Steve Williams takes a detailed look at the life of intrepid adventurer John Talbot Clifton...
John Talbot Clifton was born on December 1 1868, the son of Thomas Henry Clifton and Madeline Agnew.
Talbot had an unhappy childhood and at the age of seven he ran away from home; he was found four days later in Preston.
These were early signs of his adventurous and independent character.
At the age of 14 he became heir to the great Clifton Estates based at Lytham Hall, after the premature death of his father and then, two years later, the death of his grandfather, his namesake Colonel John Talbot Clifton.
He was educated at Eton and then went on to Cambridge. Fellow Etonian Sir John Stirling Maxwell described him as having ‘extraordinary determination and utter contempt for danger’.
To control his exuberant spending and gambling sprees it was considered that he should be at sea as much as possible.
And by the age of 20 he had been around the world twice.
Whilst he was in London, Talbot had a relationship with Lillie Langtry the socialite, 16 years his senior.
She had been the mistress to Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, later Edward VII. From letters sent by Lillie it is clear she was keen to catch him. In 1890, to impress her, he purchased the 138 foot long steam yacht S.Y. Soprano.
Four years later Talbot went to San Francisco, where he learned the ways of the ‘Wild West’.
He tried is hand as a jockey and loved to drive around in his private coach with four horses in hand, the first person to do so for pleasure in the city. His generosity and spending were legendary, putting the Lytham estate into huge debt.
He visited Canada’s Yukon region in the search for gold but as unable to raise funds to buy from two gold prospectors. The year after, the Great Gold rush erupted and 100,000 prospectors flooded the area.
Whilst in Canada Talbot travelled to the Barren Lands, north of Hudson Bay in Canada, in hopes of finding evidence of Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845. He spent seven months with Eskimos in the freezing Arctic winter, cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice, surviving by hunting Musk Ox.
Talbot left England for Beira in Africa, late 1898, where he trekked in a wagon with Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia. The following year he nearly died of blackwater fever but carried on and wandered from Cape to Cairo and found a new route to Victoria Nianza. In 1900 he returned to South Africa as a war correspondent during the Boer War.
His health was in bad shape butTalbot set off to St Petersburg in March 1901. As a weathered traveller, he preferred to travel alone and sent his valet back home. He travelled across Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He then trekked through Eastern Siberia, north of the Arctic Circle, discovering a new species of wild sheep which he named Ovis Cliftoni.
During his travels he killed a bear that was terrorising a local village and it was sent back to Lytham Hall as a trophy and was placed in the entrance hall for many years. Soon after, Talbot had a second brush with death when his lungs became inflammed.
On his road to back to health and to celebrate his partial recovery, he hosted a Christmas feast. On the menu was soup from the meat of the great bear, roasted meat from the Ovis Cliftoni and flesh from an 8,000 year old woolly mammoth dug out of the permafrost. Talbot then travelled 1300 miles by sleigh despite still being ill, eventually arriving back in the England in March 1902.
In 1906, during a trip to South America, in the hope of finding hidden pirate treasure, Talbot found his true treasure in Violet Beauclerk. She was the daughter of the Government Minister for Peru and Ecuador and had lost her mother at a young age. In February 1907 they married in Brampton Oratory, London and had five children together.
Talbot continued with his travels after the children were born and Violet often put him first and travelled with him.
He was an avid hunter and stalker and loved the beauty and solitude of Western Ireland and the Isles and Highlands of Scotland. He was never a great lover of the flatlands of the Fylde and regularly got the wanderlust when he returned to his ancestral Georgian home of Lytham Hall.
He bought the estate of Kylemore House on Connemara during WW1 whilst patrolling the West of Ireland for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He was eventually chased out by the old IRA when he shot one of their captains after he tried to ambush and recover his own motor car. The family then moved to Kildalton Castle on the Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides. He became Laird of the estate 16,000 acres. This is the only place he ever really felt at home.
In 1925, he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Lytham St Annes and over his lifetime he made a significant contribution to the success of the growth of the Borough.
Talbot lived life to the full. He was a determined and driven individual, that ‘just kept going’ through incredible levels of adversity and illness, which would have killed many a lesser man. His stories are immortalised in Violet’s writings after his painful death from lung cancer in 1928.
n An exhibition is underway at Lytham Heritage Centre documents the timeline of Talbot’s incredible life.
It’s at Lytham Heritage Centre until November 24, Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 1pm and 2pm until 4pm. To learn more about John Talbot and his family Lytham Hall offers tours of the Georgian hall where he lived. Winter tours - Sunday 3rd November 2019 to April 2020 are open Saturday and Sunday at 11am, 12:30pm & 2pm. www.lythamhall.org.uk