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Lacock Abbey

Visited May 2016

Location Lacock, Wiltshire
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby No 
Parking Yes 
Facilities Cafe, Shop , Toilets


Lacock Abbey was once a nunnery founded by Ela, Countess of Salisbury in the 13th century. She was the widow of William Longespee, an illegitimate son of Henry II. She retired to the abbey after her husbands death, and it prospered due to the lands she had donated. The dissolution of the monasteries saw it sold off as a private home, and all the alterations and additions since then have left it looking every inch a stately home of wealthy residents. The most famous owner was William Fox Talbot, early pioneer in photography. The abbey houses a museum of photography in recognition of his contribution to the science.






Although it was converted into a home many years ago, Lacock still very much retains its ecclesiastical features. The cloisters are fantastic, and if they look familiar it is because they were featured in the Harry Potter films, Wolf Hall and The Hollow Crown, which were all filmed at Lacock. There are other parts of the abbey which were left untouched by the families who inhabited the building as a home. For example a small niche in the cloister wall which was once the abbey book cupboard. Books were rare and valuable during the time of the abbey, so would have needed to be stored safely. There is also a 'warming room', the only place in the abbey which had a fire. It contains  a 500 year old cauldron  which seems to have such an obscure history no one seems to really know how or why it came to be there. Possibly the nuns occasionally washed their robes?


In fact because the property was once an abbey it was in a rare position of being in possession of a Magna Carta, one of the few to survive to this day. The original was given to the National Trust by the Talbot family in 1946, but a copy has been made and is on display at Lacock. Amazingly the document was kept in a box at the Abbey from the time of  Ela, the founder. Her husband was half- brother to King John, hence the connection. It passed down through the various owners , never leaving  the premises until the NT loaned it to the British Museum in the 20th century.


The Abbey also has some interesting Tudor additions, such as the brewhouse, bakery and courtyard buildings. These would have been added when the abbey was originally converted into a private home.




Several families lived a Lacock over the centuries, but the most important and well known were the Talbot family. Relations of the Talbots of Margam Abbey in Neath, South Wales, it was William Fox Talbot who made history at Lacock by taking the first ever photographic negative. The photo was of a leaded window and you can stand at the very window today and contemplate how things have moved on (or take a selfie there, just to compare the modern with the old)


The photography museum is interesting and hands on for children, but does get very busy during peak times as it is not huge. Luckily the grounds are substantial so you can spread out once outside. The abbey remains and house are free flowing, but there are guides in each rooms to advise on the history of the building. 






The National Trust also own the village of Lacock which is a picture postcard setting, much favoured by tourists. The houses are quaint and picturesque and virtually every visitor seems to wander around trying to calculate if they could sell up and move there. There are a lot of tourists  so it might be like living in a goldfish bowl in reality. No harm in dreaming though. It was after all one man's dream to be able to capture a permanent image on paper which led to the birth of photography at Lacock.





More info:  National Trust Lacock Abbey

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