William Talbot, Vicar and Church Restorer

There is no memorial to William Talbot, vicar of Kineton from 1746 to 1768, yet he was not only a man who achieved fame for his evangelical preaching all over England, but also the man who was responsible for the greatest changes to the church building in its long history. In a way, the church building as a whole should be thought of as his legacy, and though he has no tangible monument, that to John Welchman, Kineton’s doctor, and his family, reflect the society in which William Talbot moved.


William Talbot entered Exeter College, Oxford in 1737, at the age of 20. His grandfather was Bishop of Durham, and another ancestor had been Lord Chancellor of England. His family owned Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. After graduating, little is known of him until he was presented with the living in Kineton. It seems likely that he had spent the intervening years studying in Oxford, where he would have met members of the strong evangelical movement established there. Talbot was known to be a friend of John Wesley, but like Wesley until the very end of his life, Talbot remained strictly within the Anglican fold. He proved very popular in Kineton, where most people enjoyed his relaxed services and fiery sermons. But for some his style was thought to be eccentric, and he is referred to as ‘The Hot-brained Methodistical Vicar of Kineton’. One Mr Trotman of Shellswell Manor found ‘the Evangelist’, as Mr Talbot was called by his friends, rather long-winded – for he remarks in his diary: “Stayed at Kineton, and went to church, when Talbot preached both long and tediously.”


One of Talbot’s close friends was Sanderson Miller of Radway, and although he was at times critical of Talbot’s evangelical style, he still appreciated the power of his rhetoric

That day Talbot preached a sermon on the success of the war, and a noble thanksgiving it was. Nobody ever preached a better. It was quite free of that Methodistical doctrine that has so sadly sunk the character of our friend. I was so pleased with the discourse that I gave Mr Talbot 2 guineas to be given to the poor of Kineton, and 5 guineas towards building a bridge over the brook where carriages had been in great danger of being lost.


It was Sanderson Miller who Talbot asked to bring the church bang up-to-date, at his own expense. Sanderson Miller was a ‘gentleman architect’ who, though an amateur, had become a leader of the development of the new ‘Gothick’ style, characterised by ogee arches and delicate tracery. His work can be seen in extensively in Warwickshire, for example at Radway Manor, Arbury Hall, Farnborough, and Walton, and across a large part of central England, from Buckinghamshire to Somerset. So Kineton church was, in 1756, the height of fashion, with an enlarged nave, new transepts, and a great deal of Gothic tracery around the windows. Unfortunately before too long fashions changed, and much of Miller’s work was swept away 130 years later at the next restoration of the building.


In about 1763 Talbot was moved to St Giles, Reading. To the parishioners dismay, his successor clamped down hard on the relaxed ways that Talbot had introduced, with the result that many of the congregation moved to the new independent chapel.